Marketing Strategy for Compounding Enrollment Growth
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Marketing is no longer a one-sided conversation.
As the marketing landscape changes, schools, colleges, and universities are getting left in the mire. Despite the fact that prospective students and their families have more control than ever over what, when, and how they view promotional material, education institutions appear frozen in the old days.
This is such an important issue that I'm just going to get straight to the point: disruptive marketing is dead.
It isn't just televised commercials that are cinching consumers' skivvies anymore. Research shows that the overwhelming majority of consumers would rather close a browser or webpage completely than be bombarded with ads online. And even if they do sit through your disruptive advertisement to get what they want, they'll likely think less of you for it.
What does this mean? It means most of the projected $82.86 billion that will be invested in digital ads this year would be better set on fire. It means that if you're serious about attracting attention to your school, that if you really want to earn more web traffic, convert more of that traffic into qualified applicants, and keep alumni engaged after graduation, you're going to have to give the people what they want. They don't want to be advertised at.
What Your Audience Wants
It's so simple you might laugh to read it, but you've always known it's so. Marketing is a form of communication, and it's no longer a one-sided conversation. Just as in any other relationship, the success of your communications depends on your ability to meet your audiences' communication needs, your ability to reach your target.
Your audience doesn't want to be advertised at, they want to be engaged. Those countless minds you wish to shape want to be entertained. They want to be informed. They want to be guided. Here's what that looks like.
Entertain, inform, and guide your audience toward the decision that is best for them.
Entertainment. People spend more time in front of a screen than ever, and that's taxing on the attention span. Even if prospective students found your content on their own, it still falls to you to capture their attention.
In many ways, entertainment hinges on connection. Especially for Millennials, roughly 18 to 35, capturing your audience means being relatable and embodying their values.
Information. Whether you're a private K-12 or a prestigious graduate university, chances are most of your prospects grew up chanting, "knowing is half the battle," in unison with children around the world at least once a day for a decade.
Your prospects value the power of information. The more you provide the more time they'll spend with you, the more they'll come to trust you,
Guidance. No one likes feeling alone. Traditional marketing singles people out, often leaving consumers feeling rushed, bullied, or coerced. Your prospects want to feel good about their choices, and therefore look to nurturing authority figures to help guide them toward the best choice for them.
If you can establish yourself as a trustworthy authority, earn a reputation as a nurturing institution dedicated to helping your audience make informed, mutually beneficial decisions, you will win at marketing. The success of your marketing campaign depends on your ability to meet your target audiences' communication needs. Download the free Persona Profile Template and start organizing your persona research for better strategy and more direct delivery.
Marketing Strategy: Tools Vs. Methodology
While modern marketing terms tend to be thrown about interchangeably, all tending to fall in under the "strategy" heading, the fact of the matter is there are only two marketing strategies. The rest are tools used within those strategies.
Outbound. The grandfather strategy is known as outbound marketing. These are your television commercials, your billboards and pamphlets, your disruptive internet ads. The methodology behind outbound marketing is to interrupt everyone in hopes of convincing as many as possible to invest in your product. The foundation of these campaigns is based on what the institution wants. Whether or not the product will actually benefit the buyer is typically not a driving concern, and consumers know that.
This method is no longer effective, as consumers now have unprecedented control over where they view promotional materials and what types. As a matter of fact, personal online anti-disruption tools like ad blockers have become commonplace. While outbound marketing has certainly seen some digital adaptation of late, the same old horse in a new bridle hasn't been convincing.
Inbound. It's not that consumers don't want information about you, just that they want it on their terms. In this, the "Information Age," consumers will tell you when they're interested in your company, not the other way around. It's this changing power dynamic that has been the basis for the development of the second strategy, Inbound Marketing.
Just as it sounds, inbound marketing is the precise opposite of outbound marketing. Rather than trying to distract and convince prospects to invest in your offerings, you take the time to develop rapport by meeting their needs (see "What Your Audience Wants" above.)
The driving focus of an inbound marketing campaign is to attract clients who fit your company model. To that end, inbound marketers try to help prospects explore their needs by providing digital content that is accessible at the prospect's time of need. As you entertain, educated, and guide your prospect through their journey as buyers, you empower them to enter a mutually prosperous partnership. So, you see, the decision between marketing strategies is less a decision between mediums and more a question of messaging.
The Inbound Marketing Methodology Toolkit
Now that you know the difference, and you've seen why inbound is so greatly preferable to consumers, you're probably wondering what you need to do to get started.
In this section we'll discuss the six most important inbound marketing tools, why they're important, and the best practices for implementing them. Of the following list, website, SEO, social media, and blogging are basic, established inbound marketing tools. Vlogging and influencer marketing are emerging trends with all the right components to become fundamentals in the future.
Your website is your only chance at a first impression. It's the first time prospects will interact with you, the first chance they'll get to test your fitness for their personality and goals. It's as important as a campus visit for all the same reasons. Therefore, your website should be beautiful. It should be inviting, nurturing, and exciting. It must at once convey safety to parents and infinite possibilities to prospective students.
Creating a website for your users is not a one-and-done process. Traditional web design is as dead as disruptive marketing. Growth Driven Design (GDD) is the answer to constantly changing perspectives that lead to the need for web redesigns.
SEO. Once you have an inspirational website, you'll need to make sure your audience can find it. When you optimize the content and HTML source code of individual webpages to improve your search engine rank and attract more relevant traffic to your website, that's search engine optimization (SEO).
If you're new to SEO and need to learn more, you'd be very well served by this resource. It's a very easy-to-follow explanation of SEO, how to implement it, how to improve it, and where to go when you need more answers.
Social Media. Just as with your website, it's not enough that you have a social media account for your school. If you mean to use social media to attract prospective students or engage alumni, you'll need to do more than update your accounts with school news.
The beauty of social media is that it's a two-way medium. You have the opportunity to engage your prospective audience in real time, anywhere in the world. That's a tremendous opportunity for your school!
For those just getting started with social media, or those who have done it for a while but aren't sure they're doing it right, this video from Entrepreneur lays down the law. Of course, if you have misgivings about your social media savvy, the best option is to hand the wheel over to the natives. Tech natives, that is.
We'll talk more about that shortly.
Blogging. Blogging is your inbound multi-vitamin. On the technical side, blogging helps build web authority by creating more links to your website. It improves SEO and creates more opportunity to turn up on organic web searches.
On the personal side, blogging is how you offer your prospects helpful, relevant content to help guide them through their journey toward a decision.
Two important facts about blogging: first, writing isn't enough. Just because you have a great piece of content doesn't mean anyone is going to know about it. Once you've published a new blog post, test it out on your current audience. If it does well, promote, promote, promote it. Click here to see 36 tried-and-true ways to promote your blog posts.
Second, blogging is only the beginning. When you find that a blog post is doing particularly well, repurpose it. Turn your exceptional blog post into an infographic, slide share, podcast - anything. The possibilities - and therefore the opportunities - are endless. Is your blog the enrollment-boosting machine it needs to be? Check out this slide share for great ideas on how to optimize your school blog to attract more applicants.
Vlogging. Video is the wave of the future. Consumers spend more time on YouTube each day than Netflix and Facebook Live combined. And it's no wonder. Videos are the most intimate and engaging mass communication medium available. Vlogging, or video blogging, is a low-cost, low-effort way to get a lot of information into consumers' hands quickly. With little more than an informative script and a camera you can help prospective students gather important information in a fun and efficient manner, guiding them through their buyer's journey as they bond with your school.
Need more direction (or more coaxing)? Check out this informative article from Vlog Nation.
Influence. Influencer marketing relies on the popularity of key leaders to spread the word and inspire action around your school. These are people with a natural flair, which they've used to grow large followings on social media or personal blogs.
Celebrities are not influencers. While older generation may still accept celebrity endorsements, generations X, Y, and Z don't trust them. Influencers are individuals who have separated themselves from the crowd by developing authority within their niche on their own.
Influencer marketing is an emerging tool that is growing and changing rapidly. This guide sheds light on everything from defining influence for your institution to finding the right influencers for your image.
A Note About Mobile. If you're looking for answers on the internet, you'll likely find mobile optimization listed as a tool by other marketers. So why not here? Mobile is not an option, it's an imperative. 60% of browsing is now conducted on mobile devices. Every piece of digital content you own should be mobile adaptive.
The times are changing quickly, and you must keep up. Marketers across all industries are finding it's time to shake up the way we communicate with consumers.
As a school marketer, updating your marketing techniques is particularly imperative. Your audience isn't just adapting to technological advancement, they're driving it. It's up to you to make sure prospective students and their families see your school as relevant and trustworthy by getting the right content in the right place at the right time.