Why Colleges Need Data-Driven Creative Marketing

Your marketing should be memorable, distinct and able to reach your students through a myriad of touchpoints. It needs emotion to connect. But it also needs to be efficient and effective. Calculating the return on investment for your marketing efforts starts by asking: “What data about your audience is inspiring your creative work?”

 Creative insights inspired by data

“Data-driven creative allows marketing teams to harness the latest advances in digital analytics,” says Beth Allen, Collegis Education senior director of brand activation. “The phrase can be intimidating, but it need not be. Whereas many historical forms of marketing, such as broadcast, require a large investment just to get started, data-driven creative may be initiated in small increments at a relatively low cost.”

Another benefit of running a short-term digital campaign is that after as little as a few weeks, analytics data can offer insights into what is or is not working. Adjustments may then be quickly implemented, allowing your team to be agile and build toward a shared understanding of what resonates with your students.  

Marketers may worry that they’ll have to give up their instincts or deep-seated knowledge about their brands, but well-implemented campaigns should work in support of intuition. Recommends Allen: “The goal should never be to rely solely on data, but to allow you to build on your internal insights and create more effective marketing.”

Keep your favorites, but test digital

For marketers who are committed to traditional advertising campaigns or campus collateral production cycles, consider how small insights from digital marketing efforts could impact your future investment in other mediums. Your digital presence is the first place to find data that inspires your creative execution. On your website, for example, which pages and which elements do your site analytics say that students engage with most? Where are they clicking? What are they looking at? Look at what information is most sought after and whether there are ways to integrate messaging about in-demand information into your online advertising.

Split testing

Another approach to data-driven creative is A/B testing. Below is an example of how we approached an A/B test on behalf of Cabrini University.

According to Stephanie Peterson, digital marketing strategist with Collegis Education, “The goal of the A/B test was to find out whether messaging focused on the school’s close-knit community and campus atmosphere would perform better than messaging focused around job-related curriculum and student career outcomes.”

Example of A/B Testing

Above: Example of A/B testing.

Initial tests ran in the Northeast region of the United States over a duration of three months. This was one of several tests Cabrini ran over the course of about one year. The images involved appear above, and background on the test, as well as the test's results, are listed bleow. 

Target geographic market: Northeast region

Target population: Traditional students

As you can see in the enclosed images, the word “extraordinary” appears in two of the landing pages. The artwork in the control version focused more on the school and the people in the control photos do not face the camera. In contrast, the variation landing page included a “Request Information” button prominently displayed in contrasting color. A graphically eye-catching statistic supports a feature image of students facing the camera.


The data collected through A/B tests on the landing page and additional user testing showed that traditional students wanted and expected to be given more information during their initial research. They responded to messaging around campus life, financial aid, student outcomes, and program offerings. Providing them more robust information in these areas increased engagement and significantly improved conversions.


As a result of optimizing their landing page based on test results, Cabrini experienced the following outcomes:

  • 38% increase in conversion rate
  • 40% increase in inquiries
  • 17% increase in page engagement

Magnify your knowledge, increase connection

Data-driven creative allows you to test your theories. Such creative can magnify what you know about your audiences, and it can be easily and quickly adjusted. It also works in support of your other marketing campaigns and makes your gut instincts even more powerful. In today’s fast-moving higher ed marketplace, data-driven marketing allows schools to be nimble and responsive to the different types of prospective students they’re trying to reach. For more information about data-driven creative, see DoubleClick.com, a division of Google.

About the Author

Leah Otto

Leah Otto is a content marketing writer for Collegis Education. She holds a Master of Business Communication from the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota.

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