How the Open University improved segmentation to attract new students

Tackling a long-term market decline in the UK, the Open University worked to inspire a brand new generation of distance learners.

Though the Open University occupies more than 75% of the part-time distance learning market in the UK, this position comes with its own particular challenges, particularly as it has been tackling a prolonged period of decline. So the educational institution decided it needed a new approach to help it reach a target of 22,673 new full-time equivalent students, and use media investment in particular to drive a 3% growth in enquiries.

Working with Havas Media, the Open University used historic category data to better understand what drove decisions around distance learning. It then developed a multi-tiered framework to achieve that goal: Inspire, explain and act.

‘Inspire’ focused on prospects in new growth categories, using BRTV to reach a wider audience. ‘Explain’ targeted those that may be unfamiliar with distance learning but interested partly thanks to the pandemic. Radio, digital audio, Spotify and podcasts were used to target strategic audiences, and via partnerships with Sky and Channel 5, the campaign was able to use real student voices to tell their story and success with the Open University. Finally, ‘act’ capitalised on interest created by the first two tiers, retargeting those who had engaged with ads and serving them with a harder call to action.

The tiered approach enabled the Open University to exceed its targets. A total of 28,030 new full-time equivalent undergraduate UK students were enrolled, an increase of 33% year on year, while the enquiries target was exceeded by 7%. Interactions on the Open University’s website also increased by 37% year on year. Yes Covid contributed, but with paid media accounting for 29% of total new enquiries, it was clear the project also played a significant role in generating growth in the category.

This success sees the Open University win the 2021 Marketing Week Masters award for Best Use of Segmentation.



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