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5 Ways to Reach College Parents with Retargeting Ads

By collegemktgrp | May 14, 2019 | Universities

Whether you’re a national brand, an advertising firm, or university, the college student market is one you can’t afford to ignore.

There a number of different ways to reach this demographic, but the internet is one of the most powerful — on average, people are spending over 2 hours a day on social media alone!

And with the college advertising industry in a state of constant flux, it’s important to stay on top of the latest trends.

More and more universities are actively using social media to up their enrollment numbers. In the meantime, advertisers experiment with new approaches to brand voice, video, and more to pique the interest of this valuable demographic.

Of all the ways to reach college students online, one of the most effective may be to talk to their parents. It’s not uncommon for parents to offer advice to their student when it comes to all sorts of decisions, from the financial and personal to what to eat and even where to go to college. Plus, parents are apt to support their college-bound children by purchasing some of their necessities, from furniture and food to clothes and electronics.

Effectively marketing to the parents of college students takes a holistic approach, wedding organic efforts like SEO-driven blogging with pay-to-play campaigns like retargeting.

With tactics like pixeling from specific URLs and offering unique lead magnets, here’s our guide to retargeting to parents of college students.

What Are Retargeting Ads?

A retargeting ad is specifically for users who have visited your website in the past.

Retargeting ads are a powerful tool because most people who visit your site don’t convert into customers — at least not on the first visit.

Imagine a college dad shopping for a TV stand for his daughter’s dorm room. His Google search results lead him to your furniture business’ website (nice SEO work, by the way).

While perusing your catalog, his phone rings. He takes the call and forgets all about your website. A lost customer? Think again.

Dad may have forgotten about your website. But with retargeting, your website won’t forget about him.

A piece of code commonly referred to as a pixel throws a little tracker, or cookie, into Dad’s browser. Now, when he’s scrolling through Facebook or catching up on his news, those sites serve up your ads to him.

Since he’s already familiar with your brand and what you do, retargeting ads serve as a gentle reminder to pick up where he left off.

You can also retarget existing customers or people who’ve provided you with their email address by using list-based retargeting. This strategy works off a list of email addresses rather than pixels. The goal is the same, but with this approach, you can tailor your ads to existing customers differently than those intended to generate first-time conversions.

The numbers don’t lie — retargeting works. Google reports that adding this tactic to your digital marketing portfolio can increase sales by 50%.

5 Ways to Reach College Parents with Retargeting

You could have the most perfect ad ever, designed specifically for the parents of college kids, but it won’t matter if you don’t know how to find that audience online and show them the ad!

If you want to use retargeting ads to convert college parents, then you need to start by finding out which of your site’s visitors are actually college parents. And there are some specific tactics you can take to find these folks.

Whether you focus your retargeting ads on Facebook, Google, email, or all of the above, it helps to start your work on your website and in your email campaigns. These are the source of a lot of the data you’ll need to effectively retarget.

Here are 5 ways to build up a database of college parents and retarget them.

1. Pixel by Specific URL

Rather than leaving an anonymous cookie in the browser of just any site visitor, try pixeling specific URLs within your site.

For example, you could create a landing page specifically for college parents that features a downloadable gift guide for grads. Or you could write a blog about the challenges of becoming an empty nester, and how parents can stay connected with their student as they grow into adulthood.

Users who spend time on these URLs are very likely the parents of college students. And when you retarget these visitors on Facebook or in Google Display ads, you can create custom-tailored ads just for them.

2. Offer Unique Lead Magnets

A lead magnet is a little gift you can offer to site visitors in exchange for an email address. A common lead magnet is an eBook. For example, you could create a how-to guide on how college parents can benefit from your product or service. Or you could create an ultimate guide for helping parents prepare for their first winter break with their college freshman.

Anything that caters specifically to college parents is a good lead magnet. Not only will you get college parents’ email addresses, but you begin the process of building brand recognition and trust. You can also use this list of emails in a list-based retargeting campaign catered to college parents.

3. Customize Your Ads and Track Clicks

The more specific you make your ads, the more information you can glean about the people who click on them.

If your ad just says, “The Finest Furniture this Side of the Mississippi”, then all you really know about the people who click on it is that they’re interested in fine furniture and live on one side of the Mississippi. (Which side? We’ll never know!)

Instead, if your ad says: “Furnish Your Freshman’s Dorm with Comfort and Class”, you know right away that anyone who clicks on it has a student headed for college.

If you narrowed down the audience to people who are more likely to have kids in college, you might get a sale directly from the ad itself. But even if you don’t, you have valuable data about people who’ve clicked on your ads, and who are therefore more likely to respond to them again in the future.

4. Tailor Emails to College Parents

This is a similar approach to tailored search ads, but applied to your email campaigns. It boils down to experimenting with email subject lines and content that speaks directly to college parents, and seeing who bites.

People who open emails with the subject “Gift ideas for high school grads” are likely to have a family member or close friend headed to college. And if they click on your college student-related articles or download your eBook, that’s even more of an indicator that they fit the college parent persona.

You can then take this specific sub-group of your email subscribers to initiate a list-based retargeting campaign to advertise to those users wherever they are on the web.

5. Retarget with Facebook

You can combine your site’s user data with Facebook’s user data about age, location, and interests to further fine-tune your retargeting and up your ROI.

For example, since most college parents are probably at least 40 years old, you can limit your retargeting ad to people who spent time on your college parenting blog, and who fit the age range of a likely parent. Age is an easy way to winnow out any strange outliers who are inexplicably shopping for graduation gifts for their nonexistent child (eesh).

Next, your existing data may show that women living in certain parts of the country tend to convert more than other sub-groups of your customer base. If you really want to get mom to buy that furniture for her daughter, you can tailor your ad to speak directly to mothers of college students who have an interest in fine furniture, have visited your site, and are likely to buy.

Retarget Like a Pro With College Marketing Group

If you want to take advantage of the power of retargeting ASAP but don’t have the time or manpower to dedicate to learning and executing the finer points of pixeling and Google Analytics, College Marketing Group is here to help.

We’re a college advertising service with years of experience in digital marketing to college students and their parents. Our pros stay on top of the latest trends in college marketing and know the best practices for maximizing your advertising dollar while getting the results you seek.

Learn more about our Facebook advertising services »


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