The University of Washington wanted to boost undergraduate enrollment. They couldn’t have imagined how successful we would be.

After the Great Recession sliced funding for higher educational institutions around the country schools had to raise tuitions to make up for the shortfall. Students no longer saw the savings on education for staying local, so many saw the opportunity to leave for schools farther from home for that sense of independence. Washington State was one of the first states to aggressively fund schools and its universities to the point where UW and WSU were able to cut the cost of tuition by up to 25%, yet in-state applications didn’t increase. How does a major research institution remind its local populace that some of the best research in the world is happening in its own backyard?

The birth of Be Boundless

A partner agency was chosen to lead a major rebranding and messaging initiative to write the new message, but they didn’t have the experience to get the message out, so they turned to partner with D2. D2’s vigilant use of data-driven decision making to measure campaign performance. Even though the university had a new message to get out, it is still a not-for-profit organization with limited budgets. But before any advertising could begin, we had to know who to target.

As a state-funded institution UW’s stakeholders are pretty clear: all residents of the State of Washington and alumni. UW has lots of data of where their alums live, along with which high schools feed the best applicants to UW, so D2 had to sort through the high school data and make judgements in which areas to serve ads for the best results. School leadership had a good idea of where that was, but when D2 crunched the numbers we found evidence to say their beliefs were incorrect. D2 mapped out school locations to zip codes and found if we did exactly as leadership wanted, we’d be targeting precisely the wrong areas because they were only looking at select metrics. After reviewing all the data leadership agreed with D2’s targeting recommendations, but there remained questions about which ad would work the best. D2 proposed making digital versions of the most popular versions and measure their impact via click rates to see which ad was the most engaging.

The results were clear...

...and the winning ad was quickly promoted to billboards, busses, print in full confidence knowing we chose the ad that resonates with the intended audience, not just the stakeholders.

D2’s approach uses real data with statistical significance to help make creative choices. It helps identify which ads grab attention vs the that ads drive action.

Driving a Campaign in Flight

Launching the campaign is only the beginning. Over the course of several months D2 monitored performance and optimized the channels based on data as it was collected. It started with digital ads. As ads are in flight we can see where they are placed and the resulting performance, leading to a string of campaign additions and exclusions based strictly on metrics and performance. We tweaked search ads, adjusted display ads, and optimized placements in real-time to maximize performance.

We used web analytics to see how people were engaging with content after the ad to measure audience engagement. We adjusted targeted to ensure the right people were seeing the ads and what parts of our targeted regions had the best responses.

With new data in hand, we could go back to our offline channels and make adjustments. Creative was locked in at this point, but we negotiated arrangements with our environmental partners for billboards and busses to move the ads around the target markets at key times. Once the digital ads told us what neighborhoods were seeing the best results, we then switched billboard placements to reinforce second and third impression touch points. We moved bus ad placements to different fleet bases to build exposure in softer areas to ensure everyone had the best chance of seeing the ads.

This year we offered 19 scholarships and 16 accepted! Which is an amazing achievement from our admissions team, but also from all of our partners, including you, who helped us reach students in all phases of the admissions process. So thank you!

Tori HernandezAssoc. Director of Brand & Media Strategy, UW

Results

The Be Boundless campaign convinced 5,000 more people to apply for freshman admission to UW than the year prior. In the ensuing 5 years applications continued to grow and surpass records even as the school decreased marketing budgets. In a year where the state’s other universities saw applications jump 10%, UW’s jumped 16.5% with the provost crediting the campaign as the source of the surge. The increased applicants also had a higher average GPA and higher average SAT/ACT scores. D2 has taken information learned from incoming data to modify and tweak channels and deliverability to keep reaching the right audiences even while budgets were lowered.