Rethink Geofencing in the Stay-at-Home Era

Posted: August 28, 2020

Joshua Dodson Vice President of Marketing & Innovation

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Reading time: 3 minutes

What is Geofencing?

Geofencing is location-based advertising. 

In higher education, schools often use it as a recruitment campaign tactic. Students who visit a predetermined boundary around a location – a college campus, career fair, testing site or otherwise – later receive ads that line up with their interests.

In a climate where more schools are competing for fewer students on limited budgets, it’s an effective way to make every impression count.

The COVID Effect

The challenge is that traditional geofencing relies on in-person presence at events: recruitment fairs, student orientation seminars, campus visits and other activities. 

With COVID-19 keeping students home, it may seem like counterproductive marketing. There’s no sense in hurling ads at an empty campus. 

Still, the hallmark of great strategy is adaptability. And the stay-at-home era is the cue for marketers to use geofencing in new ways. 

The Prodigal Audience

Students are returning home in droves. Some may be considering an online education, while others are putting their college degree on hold altogether. The challenge many institutions now face is a retention challenge: what will convince students to come back? 

A well-timed ad message may not have the answers. But it is the beginning of the right one.

Schools can use geofencing to become even more selective and personal in whom they reach and engage during moments that impact decision-making. 

A Moving Target

For example, an undergraduate business student returns home for the summer after studying at Virginia Tech. They spend the summer thinking of cost-effective alternatives to in-person instruction. They turn to Google for options. As they search, they’re served a display ad for a community college down the street, inviting them to learn about fully online courses in their field of study at a fraction of the cost. 

Basically, Time Travel 

This hyper-personalized brand encounter is the product of two spin-offs of location-based advertising: retroactive geo-framing and venue conquesting.

Where traditional geo-fencing hinges on in-person presence – that is, it relies on global positioning satellites (GPS) to create the boundary, requires users to have location services turned on and actively opt-in, and uses cell towers to correlate location – geo-framing simply requires that users be on the internet. It is essentially cookie-free, does not require opt-in and serves ads to users whose IP address matches those who entered the “framed” area in real-time (or where they were up to six months prior.) 

Higher ed marketers can bend the technology to their needs.

In our example, an institution can set up a retroactive geo-frame around a regional competitor campus, casting a net back in time up to six months before the pandemic sent students homebound. Then, those same students who fell within the geo-frame get ads that speak to their present situation. 

A New Angle

One of the most overlooked marketing challenges in higher education is retention. 

In the COVID-19 era, the stakes to find solutions are even higher. Geofencing can provide a crucial advantage in retention marketing, allowing schools to drive targeted awareness among wayward learners.

The applications are limitless. When used in concert with a full-funnel enrollment marketing strategy, this complimentary tactic can not only increase your overall likelihood of conversion; it can provide richer data on audience behavior, all while keeping your marketing campaign in the right place at the right time.