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Targeting of mobile device users by higher ed marketer’s continues to increase as the base of smart phones in the marketplace continues to expand and marketers make more efforts to connect with prospects and students where they spend the majority of their time online.   As a result, mobile specific tactics, including mobile friendly websites, mobile PPC advertising, school specific mobile apps and SMS campaigns, are taking a growing share of overall digital marketing budgets.

Geo-targetting, as a feature in digital marketing, has been mainstream for a number of years, allowing advertiser’s to deliver content/advertising to prospects and customers based on his or her location, such as by country, region/state, city, metro code/postal code, organization, IP address, ISP or other criteria. A very common example would be the decision of a local community college to limit an undergraduate nursing degree PPC campaign to the specific geography of its target audience, for example its state, metro region or perhaps even city.

What is Geo-fencing?

Geo-fencing is a capability, within the field of geo-targetting that allows marketers to engage individuals as they enter, remain within and leave a specifically defined geographical area. Geo-fencing technology is used in applications like 4Square to engage users with location based product, services and information. Geo-fencing based marketing can be app based or network based, and typically involves receiving notifications directly within an app or through SMS text notifications.

Geo-fencing illustration


How does it work?

Geo-fencing operates on the basis of GPS or network-based location identification.  Ads or notifications are served up to individuals who cross a virtual perimeter or “fence” that is defined within a geo-targeting or geo-fencing marketing tool like . Geo-fences can range in size from countries right down to one around a specific building.  This perimeter can be defined as a radius from a specific point (i.e. a one kilometer radius out from your central campus building) or more precisely by using coordinate mapping.

Coordinate based geofencing


App based geo-fencing marketing requires that the visitor opt in and download a mobile application. The application must be open and have access to the web to receive notifications.  Network based geo-fencing requires that your phone be on and connected to the internet to operate.  New geo-fencing tools are coming out every week, from established digital marketing platforms to independent one-off players. Research is required to determine best option to fit your requirements.

What are best practices?

Geo-fencing is an emerging marketing tactic with minimal traction so far in higher ed, so I have collected these best practices more generally from a wider range of industry verticals. Common sense says they will still apply to recruitment marketing but some time is needed to see more real results in the marketplace and to learn from them.

  1. To most effectively engage your prospects and customers campaigns should always be opt-in. Remember that this is basically push marketing so you need to make sure you are on the right side of your audience’s good will, not to mention the anti- spam laws.
  2. Content remains king – Geo-fencing should be developed and applied within a larger content marketing strategy. Information, offers, coupons, etc. should all flow from your deep understanding of your prospect/customers persona, mindset and stage within your funnel.
  3. Study your analytics carefully to establish the link between location and behavior and optimize your campaigns on an ongoing basis to leverage this insight.
  4. Geo-fencing is hyperlocal marketing. Your location of interest should be no more than a few minutes away from your perimeter, walking or driving, depending on your context.
  5. Geo-fencing campaigns should prompt direct, immediate action.

Potential Applications in Higher Ed Marketing

Here are examples and ideas for applications of geo-fencing in higher education marketing.

  1. CBN Media ran a campaign for the US Army using geo-fencing to recruit students for ROTC at thirteen colleges in the US. Here is a link to the details.
  2. Transfer students represent an important source of new students and revenue for many colleges. Geo-fencing could be used to reach a well targeted audience of students at a university’s priority feeder colleges.
  3. Prospective student’s on-campus for tours and events would be a good target audience for geo-fencing campaigns. Ads and/or alerts within the institution’s branded app, would provide an excellent means to touch and inform these high priority prospects.
  4. Alumni on campus for sports or alumni events present an opportunity for alumni engagement and fundraising.
  5. Geo-conquesting is a new term used to describe targeting prospects and customers that are physically near your competition and to try to pull them away with a message in real time based on their location. Geo-fencing could offer institutions the opportunity to precisely reach prospective students at peak recruitment periods who are visiting competing institutions.

This hyperlocal marketing tactic has proven itself in generating customers and revenues in many retail market verticals. The jury is not in yet, but I believe it has good potential for use in both lead generation and conversion marketing for universities and colleges.

Have you tried geo-fencing as a tactic in at your higher ed marketing? Please let us know about your experiences and how you would recommend other approach this new tactic.