Convert prospective students using direct-to-device marketing

April 05, 2021  

This digital marketing tactic converts prospective students into applicants amidst changes to information privacy and online data protection. Ologie’s Director of Digital and Media Fernando Bergás-Coria explains what direct-to-device is and how to use it to reach your enrollment goals.

This year, using data to personalize paid digital marketing will start to look very different. Companies are becoming more cautious (and rightfully so) about sharing their users’ data — which is what marketers have long depended on to target their messages to people who might be interested.

Widespread privacy changes started in Europe with the creation of new data protection laws and regulations in 2018. (Think of those pop-up messages you have to agree to every time you visit a new website.) Now Apple is further prioritizing privacy: when iPhone users update to iOS 14,  they’ll now have to opt in to give their info to companies like Facebook and its partners. And next year, Google’s Chrome browser will start prohibiting third-party cookies — the pieces of code that track people across domains as they browse the internet. 

These are ultimately good changes that strengthen privacy for web users. However, these changes will also impact the way marketers use data to reach new audiences online.

As information privacy becomes more important, we’re seeing the rise of a new tactic: direct-to-device marketing. For higher education, it’s an efficient and ethical way to reach prospective students with the highly personalized messages that they’ve come to expect — by using data you’ve already collected.


Part 1: How It Works and Why

What is direct-to-device marketing?
This approach delivers messages to the specific device that a user is on, not just their profile. And since it relies on first-party data — information that users have already consented to share with marketers — it’s an ethical way for marketers to reach prospects.

You’re probably wondering how it works. Here’s how we do it at Ologie:

  • First, we sort and filter all the inquiries that an institution has received. 
  • Then, using only the information that each user has opted to share with the institution, we complete an address match to identify all the devices in that unique household.
  • Through this process, we can learn the ages of the people in that household, the types of devices they use, and much more. 
  • This allows us to create a personalized communication strategy for each interested student and their influencers. 

We’ve partnered with Ring Limited, another Columbus-based company, to achieve deep specificity with our ad placements. Our goal was to show each student that schools they’re interested in are truly paying attention to what matters to them as individuals.

For example, say you have a prospective applicant on your inquiry list named Sam. In their inquiry, Sam mentioned that they’re interested in tennis and agriculture. So when we advertise to them, we put your institution’s name in ads with messages that are relevant to Sam — including information about tennis and agriculture. We do the same for others and their own specific interests.

Here’s why it works for higher ed.
Before direct-to-device, institutions would often cast a wide net with digital ads, using very general demographic and geographic targeting. They would rely heavily on the hope that the ads would reach the right people, without knowing much about who those people were. If a college did employ specific targeting, it tended to use data from third-party cookies — an approach that will soon be obsolete.

Direct-to-device uses a different strategy. One of its key elements is that you serve ads only to people who have already inquired about your specific college or university. And this is one of the best reasons we use direct-to-device tactics at Ologie: because it allows us to respect students’ privacy while also getting your messages to them. We don’t buy lists from others, nor do we sell any of the information we have to other companies or institutions. This way, we can use data that’s truly unique to each student and each school they’re interested in attending.

Bypass imprecise, ineffective targeting by speaking directly to a specific group of prospective students about their interests. 

With direct-to-device marketing, you can bypass imprecise, ineffective ads that target general audiences. Instead, you’re speaking directly to your prospective students about their specific interests.


Part 2: Seeing It in Action

Targeted messages convert students who are already interested.
Let’s walk through a real-life example of how we used direct-to-device marketing to convert interested students. 

A liberal arts college in the Midwest — let’s call them College Z — came to us hoping to convert more of its inquiries to applications. Drawing on the data from inquiries the college had already received, we started a six-week campaign to convince those students to complete applications.

During the campaign, the prospective students we targeted (and others in their households) saw ads from College Z 14 to 16 times per week. Each ad had a call to action that was directly targeted to that particular student, on the devices they used most frequently. Throughout this time, they also continued to receive regular communications from College Z’s typical process for prospective students.

The results? Of the 6,328 applications the college received this year, 2,202 were a direct result of the direct-to-device campaign. (That’s over one-third.) And College Z’s investment was similar to what it would have spent for traditional digital marketing — but with stronger results.

We also measured the campaign’s impact by looking at cost per impression (CPM), or the price for each view of the ad. Our CPM came in very low, at under 3 cents. For this particular college, we found the most success when prospects saw the ad between 11 and 14 times per week — at a total cost of less than 40 cents per target, per week. 

And that’s the key with direct-to-device. We kept the cost per student low by being more efficient: by targeting single households instead of entire ZIP codes, and sending tailored messages instead of one-size-fits-all ads.

College Z is now partnering with us to guide their accepted applicants through the enrollment and deposit phase, motivating them to officially become College Z-ers.


It’s about showing applicants that you’re paying attention to them as individuals.
What does every prospective student want? To know that you see them, care about them, and value them as an individual. When our audiences tell us they want to be contacted, we need to take the time to understand what they’re asking for and market directly to their interests.

Generate higher engagement and lower acquisition costs.

For College Z, direct-to-device ultimately worked because we created ads that told prospective students that the school was listening to their unique interests — no matter how small. If you choose to send communications that show students that you’ve paid attention to who they are and what they’ve already shared with you, you’re bound to convert more of them into applicants.

So remember: your institution has a lot to offer. When you take the time to segment your audiences and really dig into understanding what each individual student wants, you’ll have higher engagement and lower costs of acquisition. And with increasing regulations about privacy and digital marketing, using your first-party data to employ direct-to-device tactics is going to be more important than ever.