Adventures in Geofencing

by Jennifer Aradhya
Middlesex Community College
Bedford, MA

As the economy improves and community college enrollments decline across the country, it’s always a challenge to find new ways to reach out to future students. Meeting our audiences where they live – namely online – is now more important than ever. Geofencing is a great tool.

What Is Geofencing?

Geofencing uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) in mobile devices to build virtual boundaries around specific locations. Geofencing can reach anyone using a phone or tablet within a narrow zone, ranging anywhere from 1 to 30,000 meters of a specified location, without any beacons or apps.

For purposes of online ads, once customers are within the parameters you’ve specified, a real-time bidding process occurs, and there’s a chance they’ll see your ad while using their mobile devices to surf the web.

Why Use Geofencing?

I love the advanced targeting capability of geofencing. At Middlesex Community College, we recently used geofencing to promote two walk-in enrollment events. We found that geofencing has many advantages:

•  Location – You’re able to target ads to a location, even down to a specific building. You can even target special-event venues to create the most relevant strategy possible. We have fenced movie theaters, malls, motor vehicle departments, medical buildings, etc.

•  Interest – You can target users based on whether they’re interested in education, health care, travel and more. It’s based on sites and apps they have visited in the past.

•  Time and Day – This was a key feature. The two walk-in enrollment events were being held at two different campuses, at different dates and times. Our ads and placements reflected this.

•  Budget Control – For that campaign we didn’t have a lot of money to spend; we ended up spending the equivalent amount of approximately two local print ads. You can create your own spending limits daily and monthly. It’s very customizable.

•  Actions – We took advantage of the mobile aspect of these ads. You can choose ad actions such as: click to call; click to driving directions; click to download; or link to a landing page (microsite). We opted for a click to call (to our call center) and a link to microsite.

•  Reports/Tracking – I’m a data geek so I loved the reports I was provided. The info included the budget amount used, location intelligence, click-through rate, what actions were taken and more. This will allow me to make better decisions with our next campaign.

Some Pointers

1.  Do your research.

I reached out to colleagues to learn what they were doing, and all seemed to be working through vendors who were implementing geofencing as part of a larger college marketing strategy. I handle the media buys for MCC so the “agency” rates I receive make my budget go further.

I looked into who the agencies were using for their geofencing and contacted a company that was an industry leader. I also familiarized myself with the terminology and the ins and outs of the product so that I was able to construct a basic bid proposal before I reached out.

2.  Don’t be afraid of something new.

It would have been easier for me to place two print ads to promote these walk-in events, but it would have been silly to expect different results by doing the same old thing.
I reached out to a company that handles geofencing for major brands. I was nervous they might not consider our modest buy, but I figured it was worth a shot. I was fortunate that the company is interested in expanding into the educational market, so they welcomed my call.

3.  Keep asking questions.

Since this is a relatively new way to advertise, vendors may think that a cookie-cutter plan is right for everyone. If your vendor’s recommendation doesn’t feel right, ask for what you need. Even once the campaign is underway, keep asking for reports and recommendations. Keep the lines of communication open.

Our Results

In past years, our two walk-in events attracted about 40 students total. With the addition of geofencing (and adding onsite placement testing and extended hours to the event) this fall’s events drew 301 individuals. The campaign had a click-through rate of .35 percent (well above the .2 percent average)!

We’ll certainly be adding more geofencing to our integrated marketing strategy. I believe having the ads linked to an event with a timely “call to action” made a difference.

Jennifer Aradhya is the director of marketing communications at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Massachusetts.

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