Insights — The Trust Predicament

The Trust Predicament

Thought leadership , Media Planning / March 01, 2021
Sara Wallace
Sara Wallace

How can institutions build and sustain trust with students and influencers in a fragile, virtual environment? 

In this age of impending cookie-less environments, heightened demands for data privacy, and a widening gap between brand safety measures and inflammatory online rhetoric, brands are navigating a field of landmines in an effort to connect with their audiences. This is newer territory for most institutions who are eyeing digital channels for the majority of their FY21 and FY22 budgets as a lifeline for marketing and enrollment. While it may seem overwhelming, there are some fundamental approaches that institutions can use to remain strategic with their available funds and support short term enrollment and yield, all while keeping their sights set on long term brand objectives. 

1. Keep It Simple

From strategy to CTAs, imagery to body copy
The world of online advertising may be continually evolving, but the foundations of an ad remain steadfast: less is more. Overcomplicating ad strategies by spreading small budgets across multiple channels or placements, or by introducing cluttered or complex visuals and messaging, will water down a campaign's impact. If you find yourself trying to introduce multiple messages through visuals or heavy body copy, it's time to go back to the campaign and audience objectives and decide if you're trying to accomplish too much. It may take a few cycles of review, but frequent check-ins to compare paid media strategies against institutional goals will help to manage expectations and maximize campaign performance. To make the most of your campaigns, repurpose content and creative across both owned and paid channels; to build frequency, support both strategies, and remain efficient with time and resources. 

2. Prioritize your audience targeting parameters 

Before diving headfirst into digital marketing and media strategies to support enrollment, it's important for  teams to have an understanding of the challenges their brands face online. Do you have a solid understanding of what your audience's media and content habits are? Or, are you looking for more of a test-and-learn approach?  The former will allow for faster scaling and engagement and a quicker burst of conversions, while the latter means more conversation will be needed before and throughout the campaign to figure out what works and what doesn't, versus focusing solely on conversion or engagement numbers for an individual campaign.

3. Remember the value of an integrated marketing campaign 

Many brands are flocking to digital platforms in an effort to assuage concerns about retention and enrollment. Quick campaigns focused on low funnel actions do provide short term value for key audiences like inquirers or current students in some cases, but it's critical to consider how short term campaigns can and will continue to support longer term objectives- and, how these short, quick campaigns make you appear to your audience. Every low funnel strategy benefits from mid and upper funnel tactical support that can come in many forms, including owned content promotion through social media and/or the web site, multi-purpose tactics like display that can increase reach and frequency, existing comms flows like email that offer consistent campaign and brand messaging, and offline media and communications like viewbooks, print, or out-of-home. Take time to double check where you're driving users on your website to make sure CTAs are clear and page content matches that of the ad. Paid media campaigns can drive users to owned platforms, but it cannot enhance the complete user experience to ensure your audience engages in the most effective ways. 

4. Understand where and how you're showing up 

One of the more significant challenges that brands face today is that the channels that tend to drive strong engagement through advertising also tend to be the most volatile. For example, Facebook and Instagram offer enormous reach across all ages, broad inventory options, and rich targeting for advertisers; making them a pillar of many media campaigns. Yet, Facebook ranked ninth (out of nine) in Business Insider's 2020 Digital Trust Survey. Users critiqued the platform for its inability to provide a safe space for people to post, for not protecting users' data, and for misleading users regarding the type of content posted in-platform.  Twitter and YouTube ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, and Instagram came in fourth. With social channels driving an estimated $37 billion in ad spend in 2020, the onus is on brands to decide where and how they want to show up online, to provide clarity to audiences on what their message is, and to manage internal expectations during the strategy phase re: which social media platforms will have the most impact.
2020 pushed higher ed marketing and enrollment teams into overdrive, with huge shifts in the media and marketing landscape. It also uncovered the strength of Gen Z's values and expectations, during a critical time for institutions grappling with enrollment and retention concerns. The institutions that will thrive during this time are the ones who remain committed to understanding the audiences they are trying to reach (and therefore which messages and platforms will be most effective), and who maintain a birds-eye view of the importance of their brand, and of building lasting trust with audiences.

Sara Wallace is our Director of Marketing & Media Strategy and leads the Media Planning Division at SimpsonScarborough. Previously at Butler/Till, she holds an MA from SUNY Oswego and a BA from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Sara lives with her husband and daughters in Rochester, NY. Learn more about Sara and the rest of our team here.

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