Case Study

Southern Methodist University

SMU Professional and Online (SMU PRO) launched a brand-new online master's program for cybersecurity. Despite the timeliness of the topic and an expanding job market for trained cybersecurity professionals, SMU just wasn’t attracting enrollments at the rate they expected. They invited us to help them revitalize their outreach to prospective students and rebuild their enrollment systems technology.


After analyzing previous efforts, we hypothesized that enrollments were more sluggish than expected because they lacked:

  • A full-funnel content, marketing and media strategy

  • Own-able, compelling visuals and messaging

  • Processes for ongoing campaign optimization

Building a secure future for SMU's cybersecurity program

In order to test our hypotheses, we helped SMU rebuild their enrollment program essentially from the ground-up.

Defining the funnel

The program, as it stood, included a very loosely defined marketing funnel. They had a handful of content assets used for basic awareness as well as an admissions representative who was able to reach out to prospective students. However, they were missing a clear strategy for moving those who were merely interested in cybersecurity as a broad topic onto application and, ultimately, enrollment.

What we did

We helped the SMU team define coherent steps from awareness to enrollment in order to facilitate building more elegant communications strategies and tactics. We also provided a content roadmap aligned to those stages so they could start developing a more diverse and compelling array of content subjects and types.

Creating heroes of cybersecurity

SMU as a whole has a fairly recognizable, and well-developed brand. However, the cybersecurity online master's program failed to capitalize on that equity. That meant, from a visual and messaging point-of-view, almost every part of the campaign lacked connective tissue. To put it another way, the campaign didn't have an identity or any cohesive elements that could work together to make the message enticing or even memorable.

What we did

We took part in branding exercises to help them uncover the essence of the program—what it personified, who it was for, what it stood for. The idea of creating "cybersecurity heroes" came out of the explorations. SMU wasn't just helping professionals build careers, it was creating heroes who could protect commerce and communities alike from cyber threats. With a brand identity in hand, we developed messaging, a design language and a cohesive campaign concept.

Applying strategy to tactics

We had a strategy and a campaign concept. The only thing left was to help them build a brand new advertising and marketing program.

What we did

We helped them re-design most of the campaign elements—from website to emails to ads to content templates and even billboards and connected TV spots—aligned to concept and re-defined funnel stages. We also created a schema for ongoing iteration and optimization designed to amplify the effectiveness of the work.


50% cost-per-click reduction in less than five months

45% average open rate on all program emails in May 2020

80% reduction in cost-per-acquisition from the initial two months of the campaign to the most recent two months

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