YouTube Advertising for Higher Education Marketers

When it’s time to extend the work of your new branding project, the best advertising investment is in high-impact, high-quality ad units.

For most higher education branding projects, the next step is to broadcast the new brand to the world. And while there are many viable channels to extend your brand into digital spaces, YouTube Advertising offers both reliable reach and media attributes that make it the perfect vehicle for the full expression of your brand.

Once you’ve invested in your brand for the long term, it matters where you choose to invest your media dollars, especially in our “shrinking world of advertising.” As Gian M. Fulgoni argued in the Journal of Advertising Research, “At a time when there are more opportunities to advertise than ever before…the ability to actually reach consumers will decline over the next five years.”

The shrinking world Fulgoni described is caused by modern challenges higher education marketers face when wanting to make the biggest impact with their investment–ad blocking software, emergent ad-free platforms or reduced ad load ad environments, marketing clutter and younger audiences responding more favorably to shorter ad lengths. 

In this article, we will cover what makes higher education advertising successful from a creative and media perspective, the attributes of high-impact digital ads, YouTube advertising basics and how to incorporate Youtube into your higher education digital marketing strategies. 

What makes higher education advertising successful?

To overcome these challenges, higher education marketers must combine knowledge of successful media strategies with an understanding of advertising effectiveness. In a sense, where to place your brand and the best way to communicate it have the most impact in this new “shrinking world of advertising.”

In Media in Focus: Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Age, Les Binet and Peter Field wrote that communications meant to brand build do so in five ways: Creates strong mental structures through repeat exposures, influences future sales, has broad reach, has long- term implications and relies on emotional priming.

Similarly, we must acknowledge that higher ed brands don’t live in the same space as direct-to-consumer or e-commerce brands–and stop treating our channel objectives as such. In fact, we’ve seen that the average customer journey is more than 500 days. Our world is best described as a high-involvement, with an extended customer journey– which means media success relies on continuity and well-branded media environments. 

Buy High-Impact, High-Quality Ad Units

We call the intersection of media and effectiveness the media environment. The media environment, or the context that ads are placed, is vital to capturing attention and being remembered. The best investment higher ed marketers can make, is to buy high-impact, high-quality ad units. The media attributes that most determine quality and impact are brand prominence, screen coverage and audio-on environments.

Brand Prominence

Brand prominence describes the size, frequency and speed of brand introduction. While frequency and speed of introduction are creative decisions, the ability to prominently display your branding elements – in an active watching environment like YouTube – dramatically increases sales impact and recall. 

Screen Coverage

No matter if it’s traditional or digital media, marketers should strive for viewability. Screen coverage, pixels on screen and time on screen are all important media attributes that combat clutter and increase attention of digital media. Lack of coverage encourages active avoidance, decreasing message comprehension and recall. 

Audio-On Experiences

Any time you can engage multiple senses, you increase the likelihood of being remembered. So while visual brand frequency is always important, combining visual and verbal branding greatly increases brand recall. 95% percent of YouTube ads are viewed with the sound on, making it one of the more impactful platforms to combine visual and audio. 

YouTube not only offers the greatest potential reach and is a platform that encourages active consumption, but also has the inventory that allows you to maximize each of these media attributes.

YouTube Advertising Basics

YouTube’s primary value proposition is that it’s the place where millions of people turn to for inspiration, guidance, entertainment and education. YouTube’s unmatched reach and advertising options are what make it the best online platform to steward your brand building efforts. 

Not only does it offer the tools and media attributes necessary to build your brand, the targeting and built-in media and campaign options bring an incredible amount of value. Below, we explore the types of ad options higher education marketers have at their fingertips, tips to creative more effective YouTube ads and media strategies to maximize your new brand campaign. 

Creating Effective YouTube Ads

YouTube provides multiple ad formats–either skippable, non-skippable or 6-second bumper ads–with the most popular ad lengths being 6, 15 and 30 seconds. No matter the unit or length, there are basic creative principles that will help you make the most of each second. 

Establish Early Brand Presence

Branding early and often is key no matter the format of the ad. Your investment quickly becomes misplaced if your audience doesn’t connect your message to your brand or can’t recall it when in an impactful context. Whether it’s your logo or another branded element, YouTube’s media attributes make it easy for the introduction of your brand to be impactful. 

Front-load Story Arc or Message

Regardless of whether it is in bumper format or a skippable form – even in an active viewing media environment like YouTube – your audience has a short period to process your message. For shorter length ads or when your ad can be skipped, it’s important to quickly establish a sense of place or the focus of your narrative. If a person is the focus of the narrative, create an immediate connection with your audience. 

Use Bumpers to Reinforce

Depending on your campaign assets, a format like a bumper ad may be better suited to reinforce existing messaging or targeted to audiences who may already be knowledgeable of your brand. For example, if you are targeting locations where your college or school is already an established brand, bumpers may act as a less expensive way to establish continuity throughout the year. Similarly, if you are running a larger budget video campaign, bumpers can be used to either target those who’ve been exposed to the video campaign or to follow the campaign to reinforce specific key messages to segmented audiences. 

Ensure Style Congruity

Making sure that the scenes, locations and production elements are congruent across the campaign cuts down on the need for a viewer to “orient” themselves each time they view your YouTube ad. For example, focusing on multiple locations of campus within a 6- or 15-second ad, or across multiple ads, forces the viewer to orient themselves each time, restricting their ability to attend to your actual messaging. While younger audiences favor shorter commercial lengths, the ability to quickly create recognizable narratives, scenes or locations greatly increases effectiveness.

How to use YouTube Advertising for Higher Education Digital Strategies

While there are many ways to set up successful advertising campaigns on YouTube, two that are more advantageous to higher education marketing

Sequential Ad Campaigns

As the name implies, ad sequencing allows you to serve ads in a pre-planned sequence. Essentially, you develop a series of steps that guide an audience through your video assets but, instead of steps, you use videos. There are multiple “steps” you can set,  and YouTube even provides pre-set templates for ease of setup. 

Depending on your video assets, there are two solid sequencing formats that work more strategically for higher ed brands:

  • The Follow-Up: If you have a long-form, brand anthem video, adopting the “Follow-Up” strategy can be useful for longer campaigns. This plan starts with a long-form ad unit that quickly follows up with bumpers to extend specific messaging from the long-form ad and drives to a call to action (CTA).
  • Tease, Amplify, Echo: The sequence uses shorter length videos to build brand awareness and then moves to a longer video with more information, leveraging the priming effects of the first ads. The sequence ends with another shorter video to reinforce your messaging to strengthen memory structures and drive to a CTA.

If you are concerned about having enough video assets, Google has a platform that – through machine learning – will cut longer videos into bumper ads. 

Cascaded Targeting

Cascaded targeting is more about targeting specific audiences with specific messaging – usually in bumper format – building to one longer mass campaign. Essentially, the bumpers are used to build awareness and affinity and then ramp up to a longer narrative. Using YouTube’s sequencing campaign builder, you can set up each campaign based on time or view-through. 

For example, you may start your cascade based on location in your key markets with messaging that’s very specific to each target audience. As the campaign progresses, you evolve the messaging in a way that forms a series of related benefits leading to a final longer ad unit. Each bumper ad acts as a priming mechanism to strengthen the effectiveness of your campaign and likelihood that viewers will pay attention to your primary, or longer, ad.

It’s easy to get lost in the perceived difficulty of navigating digital marketing. And while the tools at our disposal seem to change with increased frequency, the decisions we make when planning to make the best impression with our brands starts with identifying the highest quality media environment and investing accordingly. 

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