How do you brand and market 5 new master’s programs?
In the summer of 2017 the USC Thornton School of Music, one of the world’s premier music institutions, approached UNINCORPORATED to launch five, new professional graduate degree programs.
As a music school, admissions are largely audition-based. Because these new programs are non-performance programs, USC Thornton needed to not only reach a large and diverse group of prospective students, but educate students why they needed to consider these career-driven degrees.
Before Inbound Marketing
Since being founded in 1884, USC Thornton, the oldest continually operating cultural institution in Los Angeles, has relied on their reputation of rigorous musicianship and expert faculty members to attract the world’s most talented artists.
Because these vanguard degrees required USC Thornton to articulate their value to potential students, they couldn’t rely solely on their reputation to build an applicant pool for their inaugural cohorts. This challenge required us to augment their traditional recruitment marketing methods with a digital-first approach that attracted students, educated them, and nurtured them through the application process.
With a such a complex campaign and limited resources, we knew we had to use every tool at our disposal. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to put inbound marketing to the ultimate test.
We saw a huge opportunity to get in front of prospective students from the very beginning of the awareness and research phase by organizing an integrated marketing campaign that leveraged inbound marketing tactics, paid advertising, and email marketing communications.
First, you establish your foundations.
The first step to executing such an ambitious campaign was to truly understand our target audience. Through intensive conversations with USC Thornton, UNINCORPORATED built student personas for each of the five professional degree programs:
- Master of Science in Arts Leadership
- Master of Science in Music Industry
- Master of Music in K-12 Contemporary Teaching Practice
- Master of Music in Community Music
- Master of Music in Screen Scoring
Each unique student persona included:
- demographics (age, gender, location, job, education level)
- common objections
These buyer personas proved integral to the success of the overall campaign. They informed our paid advertising audiences, content strategy, and messaging architecture across ads, blogs, and emails.
Advance Your Music Career.
Develop your professional skills and network with an accelerated Master’s Degree in Music.
Create a career for yourself in the arts by earning a Master’s degree in Arts Leadership.
Forge your own path. Earn your M.S. in Arts Leadership in 9 to 18 months.
Accelerate your teaching career with a 1-year master’s degree.
Explore the new landscape of K-12 contemporary music education in our new master’s degree program.
Second, you build an online destination for people to engage with
Once our personas were developed, we took to optimizing USC Thornton’s website. We knew we had to build a robust marketing funnel that captured interested application via lead magnets so they could be nurtured throughout the application process.
The first step was a professional degree landing page which featured our five new programs, hosted a video introduction, and featured a brand new category of blogs titled “Career Insights” where students would have access to alumni profiles, marketing content for the awareness, evaluation, and decision stages.
Our effort with the Beyond Performance campaign contributed to YoY growth for the USC Thornton website of 32,683 more sessions, 15,617 new visitors, and 60,569 more page views.
For each professional degree program, a degree specific landing page was created to provide a degree overview, links to the curriculum and admission requirements, and an FAQ section that provided answers to common questions about each program such as degree format, requirements, deadlines, and financial aid information.
Every degree landing page was outfitted with multiple Calls-to-Action, each of which enrolled prospective students into an email nurturing automation that provided additional program information and encouraged them to “Get Started Now”.
Website traffic to the individual program pages provided key insights on which programs interested students the most. During the 6-month campaign total website traffic to the program pages was approximately 20,000 visits.
One of our lead magnets to capture visitor interest in USC Thornton’s professional degree programs was a custom built, interactive questionnaire. Based on the visitor’s preferences, they received an assessment of the best professional degree that would help them advance their career.
Once a prospective student completed the quiz, they were dropped into an automated workflow which provided additional information about their recommended degree.
Generated 34 new contacts throughout the duration of the campaign.
Throughout the course of our campaign, we created a new content channel called “Career Insights“. We populated this channel by writing and delivering search optimized blog articles, specifically chosen to either:
- educate prospective students on the problems professional degree programs solve
- educate prospective students how to choose a graduate degree
- educate prospective students on the various career opportunities for musicians
In addition to the blogs we provided, we also helped USC Thornton optimize their articles for search engines, reader engagement, and conversion rates by providing image-based CTAs.
Search Engine Optimization directly impacted the success of the campaign through the success of our topic-based blog articles, URL architecture, and conversion optimization of USC Thornton landing pages.
During our initial testing phases we observed limited engagement from social advertisements promoting the K-12 Contemporary Teaching Practice degree program. We hypothesized that prospective students did not intuitively associate the degree with its more commonly known counterparts, Master of Music in Education and Master of Art in Teaching. To test this idea we performed keyword research and deployed an advertising test to see if updated messaging would decrease our CPL and drive better results. The test affirmed our hypothesis and we updated the messaging across the entire campaign.
HubSpot’s form, lists, and workflows tools provided the infrastructure that the Beyond Performance campaign ran on. It provided our teams with a shared portal where we could easily define and capture key information about our prospective students, including program of interest and student status, and allowed us to segment our database for timely email communications. Nurturing contacts with educational, resourceful information throughout the entire application process was a key contributing factor to the ultimate success of the Beyond Performance campaign.
Moving forward we’ll leverage our contact database to generate new lookalike audiences for Facebook and Instagram advertising, continue to engage prospects interested in the 2019 academic year, and delight contacts that were not accepted.
It’s 2018 and video is one of the most effective content formats. Throughout the Beyond Performance campaign, we shot, edited, and promoted a number of video assets that supported our campaign efforts in multiple areas.
We leveraged the video in multiple channels, and social advertising proved to be one of the best use cases. Our team developed multiple 30-second sizzle video lead ads for Facebook that were our top performing advertisements.
Content marketing and SEO, although valuable, are long-term plays. We knew we had a limited runway before the application deadline which called for paid advertising.
Before we ran any advertisements we needed to outline our audiences for each of our ad sets. We leveraged:
- remarketing audiences
- lookalike audiences based off of a list of current graduate students
- custom audiences using demographic information, interests, and employment information
After running multiple tests to determine which advertising platform would be best for our campaign objectives the results determined that Facebook would provide us with the best results at the best price compared to Google’s Display Network.
The ads we ran varied in content type and format:
- Video-Based Lead Ads
- Image-Based Lead Ads
- Website Traffic Ads
- Program Brochure Lead Ads
In addition to over 45,000 people taking action and 10,000+ reactions, comments, shares, clicks, and page likes, our Facebook Lead Ads left over 1,000,000 meaningful impressions, ultimately converting 513 leads at an average Cost Per Lead of $39.01.
One of the most effective lead magnets of our campaign were downloadable program brochures for each of the five programs, which became a key piece of content during our prospective student’s “consideration” phase. Each program included a program overview, curriculum, admissions information, and an embedded, trackable call to action which lead back prospects back into our marketing funnel.
The Program Brochures were downloaded over 200 times, averaging open rates of 46% and a 36% engagement rate with the brochure’s primary call to action, “Get Started Now.”
With limited staff and internal resources we knew we had to use workflows to engage prospective students early and often. Throughout the course of the campaign we designed and developed multiple workflows to maintain our contact database and deliver timely emails. Our workflow automations included:
- Lead to Get Started Now Workflow – to nurture leads closer to completing our “Get Started Now” form that when completed would move leads to MQLs.
- Get Started Now to Started Application – to nurture MQLs toward starting their application and provided useful tips for submitting a complete application before the deadline.
- Hurry Up Now Workflow – to provide prospective students with nurture content ahead of the application deadline.
- Smart Application Deadline Workflow – update contact properties so we could leverage personalization tokens for start dates, application open dates, and application deadlines.
- Application Deadline Reminder Workflow – remind prospective students of the application deadlines for each program 2 months, 1 month, 2 weeks, and 24 hours ahead of the deadline
- Full Court Press Workflow – nurture applicants toward accepting the USC Thornton’s acceptance offer with CTAs to submitting their statement of intent and paying their deposit
Using workflow automations saved the graduate admission staff much time and energy engaging students ahead of the application deadline.
We knew we had remain top of mind for our prospective students and we achieved that primarily using email marketing. Throughout the course of the Beyond Performance campaign our team developed emails that served the following purposes:
- Route questions from prospective students to the office of graduate admissions
- Provide content offers via form follow up emails
- Nurture prospective students through clearly defined lifecycle stages
- Inform via email newsletters and blog notification emails
- Deliver application deadline reminders and application deadline extension notifications
- Nurture applicants toward accepting an offer from the University
Educating prospective students was one of our primary objectives, so we leveraged the power of webinars to demonstrate the value of our new professional degree programs. This allowed us to engage students at every level of their application and provide concierge-level service.
But what did we actually accomplish?
Launched new professional master degrees for a premier music school in the United States. Raised awareness, converted prospective students, and opened new career paths for professional musicians everywhere.
Case Study Video
After the 6-month campaign, we earned almost 300 applications across five professional graduate degree programs. While the window for admitted students is still open, initial results show promise of applicant to enrolled student conversion rates above 50%, a major achievement for vanguard master programs.
Results Over Our 6-month Campaign
engagements on social
web traffic increase