Making things happen for Aston University’s international postgraduate degree offering

Aston University is a TEF gold-rated institution located in Birmingham, UK. The University offers a wide range of degree programmes across four academic schools.
The University’s line, “Here’s for making things happen”, reinforces Aston’s close ties to business, industry-based learning, and emphasis on entrepreneurial thinking which empowers students to succeed in their chosen career.
Building on a successful trial campaign for the Business School, we were asked to deliver an expanded digital recruitment campaign across both the domestic and international marketplaces, and inclusive of Aston’s entire Postgraduate degree portfolio.

The Brief

  • Devise a digital marketing strategy to support recruitment for Aston University’s postgraduate degree programmes with start dates in September and January
  • Identify international markets with the potential to grow applicant numbers
  • Recommend appropriate tracking and attribution methods to monitor the impact paid media has on Aston’s postgraduate portfolio

Approach

  • Insight and media planning tools enabled us to create a bespoke digital strategy which prioritised Search, Programmatic and Remarketing as the most effective means of increasing recruitment for specific postgraduate courses
  • Implemented Google smart solutions, including responsive ad creative and segmented Audience targeting to deliver highly targeted, dynamically advertising to in-market leads that yielded strong CTR%
  • Our online reporting portal made tracking campaign delivery, performance, and conversion simple and easy to align with University applicant data

Results

  • 30% YoY increase in engagement with Postgraduate course content on the Aston University website
  • Generated leads across 30 Masters degree programmes specified as targeted by Aston University
  • Nurtured 12,000 unique individuals throughout the application cycle via re-targeted communications at a low CPM
  • Identified hotspots of interest in areas of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Far East with a direct correlation to the Universities applicant/enrolment data
  • Successfully delivered a cohort of students for January-start courses, the first time programmes had started at this time

Experience has shown that postgraduate recruitment has many distinctions from undergraduate campaigns. Postgraduate students are more focused on their chosen academic niche, meaning our campaign had to promote courses directly – a generic approach simply would not address the expectations of our audience.

Because the application process for Masters degree can be owned entirely by the University – rather than via UCAS – there is more opportunity for staggered communication and conversion optimisation. To make sure Aston University had an end-to-end overview of the influence our campaign had on the applicant journey and the actions prospective students took on landing pages, we built detailed UTM tracking and cross-channel attribution into every ad and audience targeted.
This was particularly important as Aston University’s postgraduate programmes had start dates in both September and January – bespoke tracking meant we could attribute enrolments to each start date, and carry learnings forward from one cohort of students to the next.

We consulted a variety of planning sources including Google and HESA data to identify hotspots of interest in postgraduate study in the international market. Using this data, we combined Aston University’s own applicant CRM data from previous years and tracked trends in search interest, allowing us to gauge where digital campaigns would deliver the best quality of leads at a sustainable cost.

With target markets established, we worked closely with Aston University to ensure key messaging and landing page experiences addressed the concerns of international students – like logistic, scholarships, and what to expect moving abroad and studying in Birmingham. This was a successful tactic allowed the campaign to double its response rates over the course of the campaign, which correlated to an increase in on-site engagement (Time on Page, Site).

We devised a media strategy which took into account all of these factors.
Search marketing in combination with custom audience targeted Programmatic ads were identified as being the strongest channels to secure high quality leads of a course-by-course basis within a target Cost per Acquisition (CPA).

By allocating varying levels of media budget to different countries and prioritising degree programmes with varied bid strategies, we were able to deliver a direct response campaign which could quickly be adjusted to meet Aston Universities evolving recruitment targets – either by up- or down- weighting bid biases on specific programmes. Remarketing allowed us to nurture prospects with follow-up messaging at key periods and influential moments in the recruitment cycle – like scholarship deadlines or degrees with an early January start date.

Targeted digital activity accounted for a 30% increase in course-specific postgraduate visitors to the Aston University website, and the campaign successful generated enough leads to launch an additional postgraduate cohort in January.

New event tracking added by our team to Analytics now provides the University a greater understanding of how prospective students interact with their content, and how landing pages can be better tailored to their expectations.

Our international marketing campaign remains a part of Aston University’s postgraduate recruitment strategy. Digital channels have allowed the University to effectively enter, test and begin to recruit applications from new marketplaces without the expense of using in-country reps, while still providing the flexibility to support country-specific initiatives like scholarships and events.

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