Ad fatigue. If you’ve noticed lower engagement and click-through-rates (CTRs) from your prospective students, this may be the culprit.

“Ad fatigue happens, and basically means that your audience is viewing your ads so frequently, they start to lose interest,” said Charlie Penrose, Creative Director at Net Natives. “The solution is to take time to reinvigorate your creative - take a look at what’s happening around you and update your imagery, messaging and content to better reflect the cultural and content landscape, stand out from your competitors and get your audience’s attention. The goal is to create stuff that really resonates with your target audience, helps them to connect with your brand, and ultimately boosts enrollments.” 

If you’re considering refreshing your creative, and your brand, you’re not alone. According to the Net Natives X THE Higher Education Marketing Survey, more than 50% of U.S. institutions make improving brand positioning a priority. To get answers on when – and how – to properly execute a brand refresh, we turned to Penrose and other members of the Net Natives team.  

One of the first reasons for undertaking a refresh is that your creative is outdated and feels stale or irrelevant. 

 “Content trends are constantly shifting, which means approaches and references that were once innovative and exciting can quickly become irrelevant,” Penrose said. If it’s been a few years since you’ve really looked at your design or messaging, or content themes, or if you notice your competition’s ads look and feel more relevant, it may be time to revisit your current approach, he added.

Another catalyst for updating creative is that your target audience has evolved.“As higher education marketers, you know how important it is to adapt, to connect with the newest influx of prospective students,” Charlie said.“The brand message that stood out as distinctive and attracted students five years ago isn’t going to be as relevant to today’s generation of prospective students.” 

Finally, if you have new boasts, products, programs or reputational gains to share about your institution, you will want to refresh things. “Content trends and prospective student bodies aren’t the only things that are evolving. Chances are, your university is undergoing changes as well,” Penrose said.“A creative refresh offers the perfect opportunity to present those changes to your target audience.”

So, now that you know you need to refresh things, where do you begin? Read on for our top five strategies for reinvigorating your creative.  

Research your audience. If you want to create messaging that appeals to your target audience, you have to first understand what that audience is looking for. “Target audiences are constantly changing, so it’s important to continuously gather insights about them, such as their size, demographics, and location,” said Matt Byerly, Vice President of Marketing at Net Natives. To accomplish this, Byerly recommends conducting data-based research. “At Net Natives, we use our proprietary tool, which combines CRM data with external sources to pinpoint ways of connecting with new and existing audiences. Then, you have the foundation you need to tailor your messaging.” 

Study the competition. In addition to examining your audience, you should look at your competition. If you’re going to stand out from the crowd, you need to know what that crowd is doing. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by conducting a competitor analysis. 

“A competitor analysis helps you understand how you measure up to the competition, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and opportunities to stand out and improve enrollments,” said Kas Nicholls, director of research at Net Natives. “By providing insight into how your competitors are advertising — such as their logos, fonts, and taglines — it can help you determine how to best set yourself apart.” 

Tell a story. At its core, effective marketing is about emotionally connecting with audiences. “Prospective students don’t want to feel like you’re advertising a product,” Penrose said. “Rather, they want to feel a connection to your university.” According to Charlie, to engage your audience on a personal level, your messaging should include the following: the core values of your university, what makes your university different from others, and most importantly, how all of this benefits students. 

“A great way to naturally incorporate these elements into your campaigns is by thinking of each of your prospective students as the protagonist in their own journey,” he added. “For example, for one client, the Net Natives creative team crafted a campaign called ‘Choose Your Own Story,’ which presented information about different paths a student could take - different locations, subjects etc. in a ‘choose your own adventure style.’ Students ended up loving the interactive, storytelling elements, and the campaign far outperformed its KPIs.” 

Change up your visuals. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” No matter how compelling your messaging is, it won’t be effective if it's not paired with an equally engaging visuals. Penrose advises that you take a look at your design and art direction, and see what could use an update to better reflect current trends - fonts, color palette, layouts, video or photography. It’s a good idea to do a redesign if you’re experiencing low engagement with your content, if your design is very similar to a competitor or if you simply think it feels old-fashioned.

Make a rollout plan. After investing time and effort into your creative refresh, you want people to notice it, and for it to have an impact. That’s where a rollout plan comes in. “Before revealing your updated design, build momentum to get new and existing audiences excited about the upcoming change,” Byerly said. “This could include sending emails out to your current students, posting about the upcoming change on social media and even sharing a “countdown clock” so audiences know exactly when the new look will be unveiled.” 

Looking to refresh your creative? Whether you’re trying to boost engagement or stand out from the crowd, the Net Natives team can help. Let’s start the conversation.