Skyrocketing student
applications by 42.86%
year-on-year during COVID-19

Campaign overview

In April 2020, the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent travel, event and social restrictions led to major disruptions across the globe.

With tens of thousands of young Australian adults and other non-school leavers facing job losses, reduced employment and business closures, Southern Cross University’s mid-year intake (Session 2) offered an immediate option for students looking to future-proof their career.

The campaign theme, ‘It’s time to reset,’ acknowledged this uncertainty and presented study as a way for people to take back control of their lives:

  • The world as you know it might have stopped, but your education doesn’t have to.
  • With decades of delivering flexible study
  • For the jobs Australia needs
  • And outstanding student support,
  • Reset your future and take back control.
  • Study at Southern Cross University.

Stephen Matchett, Editor of the Campus Morning Mail, praised the message as “a recruitment campaign that keeps it real. The new campaign acknowledges this terrible time of fire and pestilence but presents study as a way for people to take control.”

In Social Garden’s breakout campaign as Southern Cross University’s lead partner agency, high growth student acquisition through lead generation successfully empowered non-school leavers to take back control of their future through study.


“This type of performance-driven marketing will transform our digital efforts and complement the in-house capability we have built over the last two years,”

- Dean Gould, Southern Cross University CMO

High growth student acquisition
through lead generation

In the first campaign run by Social Garden since winning the tender, the overall objective was to place Southern Cross University at the forefront of consideration for non-school leavers contemplating studying from July 2020 and position the university as a safe and dependable choice.

The multi-channel campaign led with brand marketing backed by specific courses. Adopting this type of performance-driven approach to student acquisition and the student experience aligned with the digital innovation journey Southern Cross University was on.

“This type of performance-driven marketing will transform our digital efforts and complement the in-house capability we have built over the last two years,” said Dean Gould, Southern Cross University CMO.

Tapping into a non-school
leaver audience

The target audience for this campaign was exclusively non-school leavers aged between 20-40 years old and living in Coffs Harbour, Gold Coast and Northern Rivers. In developing the targeting strategy, the higher education marketing team at Social Garden paid particular focus to people who may have lost their jobs and were looking to retrain or upskill.

Through a combined campaign-to-tactical forum, Southern Cross University in partnership with Social Garden developed video assets, a landing page, EDM communication and social media advertising.

Getting the message right

The campaign responded to the global turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic by empowering those affected to take back control through their education.

To this end, Social Garden brought together the ‘It’s time to reset’ positioning with the unique benefits of Southern Cross University. High graduate salaries, 5-star student support and a range of supported pathways with guaranteed entry to university reinforced the value of studying in the current climate.

This strong brand message proved to resonate with Southern Cross University’s audience, where:

  • Almost 70% of students are female and social media is similarly weighted
  • Over 70% of students are non-school leavers
  • Almost 75% of school leavers who enrol come from local catchment areas
  • More than 80% of applications to study are direct

A carefully constructed social nurture campaign also dynamically engaged leads with targeted messaging. The campaign was adapted and fine-tuned to maximise performance through:

  • Using Google Ads search to generate high-intent audiences and drive high quality traffic to landing pages and course pages, which could be retargeted across social channels.
  • Using historic enquiry data to create 1% and 2% lookalike audiences in Facebook for prospecting.
  • Monitoring audience performance and adjusting frequency and creative assets to maximise reach and performance.
  • Dynamically creating custom audiences on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Retargeting high-intent audiences already exposed to Southern Cross by social followers, video views and website traffic with relevant messaging and CTAs.

Ultimately the campaign was managed in a phased approach, with the first half focused on driving registrations for virtual information sessions, an entirely new concept for Southern Cross University. The second half of the campaign centred on one-on-one consultations with expert student advisers.

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Exceptional results

The student acquisition campaign far exceeded expectations achieving a 42.86% year-on-year growth in applications, more than double the original campaign target.

Results year-on-year:


Growth in applications


Growth in offers


Growth in conversions


EFTSL total growth in 2020



Conversion rate from social audiences


Unique landing page views


Bounce rate on the landing page

Social Garden Director of Education, Alice Nuttall, attributed the exceptional results of the campaign to addressing changes in the student experience and complex pathways to higher education.

“We are very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve together with Southern Cross University. The results from Session 2 really speak to the power of deeply understanding your audience and changing with them.”

– Alice Nuttall, Director of Education