The first of its kind in higher education marketing – Applied Arts Magazine called it "branded content unlike any we've seen for a university," – The Spirit of Discovery microsite launched by UBC's Sauder School of Business sends users into an interactive documentary-style storytelling experience filled with original video footage, impactful images and insightful infographics. Users navigate their way through the mobile-responsive site through modularized content blocks that discuss major factors influencing business and the stories of inspiring thought leaders who are contributing to shaping that change.
Rather than taking the approach of shining the spotlight on our school with blunt "brand speak," this year we decided to shine the spotlight on our people – in an unbranded, journalistic endeavor to uncover real business insights through the lens of three attributes that Sauder values and is known for: doing good, being bold and thinking global.
At the heart of the campaign – beyond the strong visual design and dynamic user experience – is inspiring content. While our primary goal is increasing awareness for Sauder in our key geographical target markets (Canada, China), we know the increased use of social media and mobile challenges us to aim higher; ; when briefing our agency (Cossette Communcations) we wanted to deliver - and receive - deeper engagement with highly qualified, targeted users. We had already recognized the strength of using authentic, dynamic storytelling methods in our own communications strategy (for our owned web and social channels), and now want to apply that learning to our brand campaign. The results have been astounding.
Though content marketing has been around for some time, branded journalism is a new and much more unconventional marketing approach (particularly in the higher education vertical). We're proud to say that thinking outside of the box has yielded great results, though it was not without its challenges, warranting The Spirit of Discovery campaign an ever bigger success.
The months were intense with deadlines looming under a relatively small marketing budget (UBC being a public, non-profit academic institution). Creative production and media planning notwithstanding, we had a mere five months to get an ambitious campaign into market for the new school year. This required that the centerpiece of our campaign, discoverwithsauder.com, be developed (design and build) in tandem with the myriad of original storytelling assets required for the site (this included all the English and Chinese copy, sixteen infographics as well as original video and photography shot in four different locations: Vancouver, LA, San Francisco and Shanghai). The nature of this project also meant engaging almost all members of our in-house team; we came together in a truly integrated approach to deliver the many pieces, from the initial creative direction, to the highly strategic media plan and content and engagement strategy required to efficiently support the launch and sustain the campaign for its 17-week duration.
The results to-date have been staggering and the campaign momentum has not waned. A primarily digital ad campaign was developed using complex targeting tactics (serving up to six different ad groups in each social channel), which has yielded strong performance:
- Engagement and click-through rates are exceeding industry norms by 4X in all of our social channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter);
- Our display ads (bearing no logo), have yielded an average 0.97% click-through rate (CTR), when the industry average is closer to 0.14-0.18%;
- We established a Chinese market strategy, launching our brand on Weibo; within three short months, Sauder became the leading Canadian business school on the platform with over 12,000 followers;
- Our 15-second YouTube pre-roll trailer has almost 200,000 views with a full view rate of 16% (double the industry average);
- Across all platforms and media, our videos have been viewed almost half a million times;
- We're spending 88% less to drive a user to our site than last year due to higher CTR and cost efficiency of our web and social ad creative.
Our overall campaign's media performance has shown incredible return, driving our costs down and increasing our campaign's reach: Based on a dollar-to-dollar ratio of media dollars spent year-on-year, this year's campaign has shown to be 25% more efficient in terms of cost-per-acquisition (brand awareness conversions being the total unique followers gained in social plus unique users brought to our microsite). In total, we've engaged over 150,000 consumers on the microsite (who spend an average of 4 minutes there – again 4X the industry benchmark for similar brand storytelling sites); in our English social media channels, we've gained – and retained – over 3200 new fans through promoted content.
Beyond ad performance, which shows our brand awareness campaign successfully resonates with new audiences, we've also seen the incredible degree of support from those we're already connected to. Our alumni, faculty and students have been an essential part in making this campaign especially successful, shown by their keenness to be involved in its development, and their enthusiasm to share and spread the word. This demonstrates to us that the brand story we're telling is truly authentic, which is ultimately our objective as marketers.