Recruiting and training tomorrow’s Coast Guard leaders
As one of the nation’s top-ranked universities, the US Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) is extremely selective, accepting students who have consistently demonstrated leadership, community service, high academic standards, and outstanding physical fitness.
Choosing to attend USCGA is a serious commitment. In addition to stringent admission requirements, a challenging course load, and rigorous training requirements, students must be willing to serve five years in the Coast Guard after they graduate. As a result, cadets accepted to USCGA are a select group who are seeking unrivaled leadership opportunities and who appreciate the atypical path to placing service for one’s country over themselves. To inform and engage this community of prospective students to consider USCGA as a top choice, they enlisted Sapient to develop an integrated marketing campaign.
Seeking highly qualified applicants in a competitive market
Looking to better represent the larger population the US Coast Guard protects and serves, USCGA wanted to identify, reach, and attract an even more specific pool of students – high achieving African American high school juniors and seniors interested in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) degrees.
Additionally, USCGA understood the importance of reaching students early in their process of choosing a higher education institution. We were tasked with increasing qualified leads in the pipeline of applicants, but also influencing and informing high school freshmen and sophomores who were just beginning to consider how their path in high school might affect their higher education options.
Analyzing how students make higher education choices
To determine the best strategy for reaching these young men and women, we performed in-depth research into their decision-making processes regarding higher education – what were their ambitions? What motivated them? And who helped them make their choice?
We began by studying high achieving juniors and seniors in the target audience, then collaborated with USCGA to determine how much they knew about the school – if at all – and if learning more about it might affect their decision to apply. We detailed all of these influencing factors into a comprehensive report, which would inform our decisions on how to best speak to them.
Crafting a story that engages prospective cadets and their communities
We started with a campaign strategy that helped USCGA understand its audiences’ motivators and decision processes when selecting a university. By examining students’ critical decision factors and the way influencers like family members, pastors, and teachers played a role in their decision-making process, we were able to create a strategy that drove the number of target applicants for the short and long term.
This strategy also outlined tactics for engaging with prospective students and the community of people that influenced their decisions. Through social outreach campaigns and more targeted uses of their owned channels, we helped USCGA consider new ways to reach and engage students through the outlets they used most.
A campaign that establishes the USCGA brand among the top in its class
We developed an integrated marketing campaign called, “Enter a cadet, emerge a leader.” This theme was designed to speak to prospective students’ desires for a challenging, growth-oriented environment that would set them up for success as a leader, both in the Coast Guard and in their longer-term careers.
Paid media ran in target-specific channels, using a mix of traditional, including print, outdoor, direct mail, and broadcast, and digital formats, such as interactive banners and email outreach. The social component gave USCGA an opportunity to build one-on-one connections with prospective cadets and their influencers.
An immediate 40% increase in applications, and more cadets on the way
The campaign was the USCGA’s most successful recruitment effort in four years. They surpassed their goals, with a 35% increase in overall applications and a 40% increase in applications being completed.
Today, we continue working with USCGA to build on the momentum of this effort, expanding their reach into other target markets, and most importantly, help them prepare young leaders to thrive in a dynamic, multicultural world.