Your audience is smart enough to see through most of the generic marketing fluff they encounter each day. Because of this, finding a way to engage current and prospective students amidst all the noise is one of the biggest marketing challenges higher education institutions face today. How do you connect with your audience in a genuine way that inspires action (like requesting more information, filling out an application, etc.), without your content coming across as just another piece of disingenuous marketing spam?

There’s an abundance of marketing methods you could try. Traditional advertising -€“ billboards, radio spots, email marketing -€“ can certainly be useful when employed as part of your overall marketing plan. With growing competition in the world of higher ed for a spot in the minds of your target audience, it’s not always easy to connect with people through traditional advertising alone. Reaching them often takes something more – something that adds meat to the message and gives your audience a clear idea of what your institution is all about.

That’s where content marketing comes in.

 

 

According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” Simply put, content marketing focuses on delivering value to the audience through effective, compelling storytelling across your institution’s content – through your website, email, social media posts and more.

This blog is certainly not an all-inclusive guide for content marketing, but it will offer some key ways to make sure you’re producing the types of content that your target audiences are looking for. To prevent those audiences from getting lost in an ever-growing sea of college marketing materials, consider the following recommendations when crafting your institution’s content:

1. Know your goals. This should go without saying, but goals have to be clearly defined before embarking on any marketing initiative. The same is true for content marketing. Whether your institution’s broad marketing goals are to increase enrollment, boost the quality of applicants, increase brand awareness or something else, content must be driven with those end goals in mind or it’s probably not worth creating to begin with.

2. Know your audience and their needs. You might as well be talking to a brick wall if you don’t understand the audience your content intends to reach. Content is most effective when content creators take the time to identify and conduct research about the needs and behaviors of their audience.

Talk to current and prospective students. Figure out what issues are really on the minds of your audience. Are they most concerned about job placement after graduation? Do they worry about how to pay for school? Are they worried about getting the right amount of personal attention from professors? Whatever their concerns are, commit to learning more about your target audience. As you research, make note of what you learn and explore ways to help better meet their needs.

3. Provide value. Once you understand what makes your audience tick, you can start generating content that offers ways to meet their needs. Content marketing gives you a chance to help nurture potential leads. You can deeply immerse your audience in your institution’s story while also offering in-depth answers to their questions. 

The University of South Carolina’s Facebook page, for example, offers useful information, while managing to immerse visitors in a meaningful broader narrative they can connect with. Each post has a purpose. There are posts with beautiful images of campus, information about upcoming events, and references to key events in their university’s history.

Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), ask yourself “What’s in it for them?”. Does your content solve a problem or offer useful advice while still telling your university’s story, or does it seem more like generic marketing fluff? Your content has to give your audience something of value, or they will have no incentive to pay attention to you.

4. Be authentic. Rather than putting your efforts into making the right sales pitch, just let your institution’s story do the talking. Brown University uses Instagram to go beyond the standard imagery and messaging students typically see in admissions brochures. The pictures do the talking for them. Prospective students have a chance to imagine what its like to be on campus, while current students are reminded of why they chose to be there in the first place – and it all happens without a single call to action.

Students want to attend an institution they trust has their best interests at heart. If your content makes claims your institution can’t deliver on, your audience will see you as nothing more than a used-car salesman making another phony claim to clinch a sale. Focus on telling your institution’s true story well. Your audience will appreciate authenticity over hearing another sales pitch any day.

5. Be patient. Content is not a one-time campaign initiative. It’s an ongoing effort that never stops. When you begin a content marketing effort, you have to be in it for the long haul or your efforts won’t be effective. Each social media post, blog article, admissions pamphlet and email is an opportunity to provide your audience clarity on your institution’s offerings, values and story.

You don’t have to cram every ounce of information into one piece of content. Take your time. Be strategic. Analyze what works and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly. If you’re creating authentic content that provides value, your audience will keep coming back. They’ll piece together your institution’s story on their own, which is a whole lot more effective than trying to pack everything into another run-of-the-mill admissions brochure that ends up in the junk mail pile. You might not see results right away, but your patience will pay off in the long run.

We’ve barely skimmed the surface of what content marketing is and how to approach it. If you have questions, comments or want to talk more about how content marketing can help your institution, contact us or comment below. We’d love to hear your thoughts