Inbound Marketing In Four Steps

Posted: May 23, 2013

In a digitally saturated world of constantly plugged in prospects, one of marketing’s greatest challenges is maintaining (or earning) relevance in consumers’ lives. This is especially true given the high level of competition amongst institutions of higher education.

Media planners and buyers have for years imagined the persona of their target audience, then bought impressions on that audience persona using media channels those prospects are likely to use.

While this systematic process is logical and has proven successful in the past, savvy marketers are looking for ways to decrease their marketing spend while also improving on the quality of leads they produce through those efforts.

When serial tweeter and master salesman Gary Vaynerchuk spoke at HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Conference in 2012, I distinctly remember a bold (and true to form, colorful) metaphor he used to describe the point of inbound marketing.

Traditional media, like mass mailing and billboards, aren’t relevant to most audiences anymore. In fact, when people are barreling down the interstate at 80 mph, marketers (not to mention other drivers) are lucky if you’re even looking at the f@&king road!, Vaynerchuk shouted to room of more than a thousand marketers.

“We are living through the biggest culture shift of our time, he said holding up his iPhone. Because all of us are media companies.”€

The movement toward inbound marketing is a response to that cultural shift that puts publishing power into the hands of every person with a phone or computer. With literally millions of media options available to every consumer today, it’s no longer cost effective to rely on buying a passive audience. Earning an engaged audience is the new standard operating procedure in marketing.

Sounds great, right? Ignore all the people who have been trying to block out your intrusive marketing techniques and only concentrate on the people who are interested in your institution. Then you’re ready to do inbound.

1. Empathize with your audience

Start with understanding and empathizing with your target audience. Ask yourself what are their pain points? What kinds of questions do they normally ask you? This is the single most important phase of developing an inbound marketing campaign because it is the point at which you align your audience and goals with your content strategy.

While the ultimate goal of marketing in higher education is to facilitate the conversion of a prospective student to an enrolled student or a prospective donor to a donor, inbound marketing requires that you focus 90 percent of your effort on the relationship. Engaging prospective students or others long before they’re ready to commit with specific and relevant information will keep them coming back for more. This creates a history of trust and affinity with your institutional brand that can pay huge dividends when prospects are ready to apply, enroll, give or otherwise commit.

2. Create an offer

The meat and potatoes of an inbound marketing campaign is content. Despite the seemingly ubiquitous nature of blogging, tweeting, vlogging, Facebooking, ebook and white paper writing, webinar-ing and every other content idea out there, knowing the right content to create is just as important as producing it in the first place.

If your target audience is a prospective student, you can provide value by publishing information about the return on investment of a degree program, steps for applying or how to write a stellar admissions essay. Think about what demos, tip sheets, infographics, videos, templates or blog articles would be helpful to a prospective student and give it all away!

3. Use landing pages and forms to collect leads

Once you’ve created your awesome content, it’s time let your audience know about it. Focus on selling and marketing this content, not your institutional brand at this point. Create a landing page specifically for every offer and collect the email addresses and other relevant information of interested prospects with your landing page form.

A targeted, well-designed landing page with a clear call to action is best positioned to entice prospects to complete your form and check out your content offer. Whether you promote that landing page via social media, pay per click advertising, your website or other channels, you can be confident that lead information that populates your database from these landing pages are high quality. These users qualify themselves as relevant leads for your institution by their very interest in your offer.

4. Automate your response

Once you achieve that first conversion, following up and continuing the conversation is critical to helping a prospect move through your engagement process and closer to commitment. Using marketing automation tools like those available in HubSpot, you can set up a program that uses other related content offers, emails and social media to engage the user for you, automatically.

At VisionPoint, we’re working on an exciting workflow for a higher education client that relies on email follow ups triggered by actions like signing up to receive information packets, webinars and on campus information sessions. If you do any kind of email marketing now, you may not be surprised to learn that the click-through-rate on triggered messages is 119 percent higher than business as usual messages.

This process, combined with dynamically inserted personalized information can create a uniquely tailored admissions or giving experience for every prospect based off of his or her choices and engagement with your institutional brand online.


The penetration of web technologies across nearly all industries, the ubiquity of social media and cultural shifts that make us as consumers much more skeptical of marketing, all combine to make inbound marketing a perfect solution for a disparate and changing media landscape.

Getting your institution started with inbound marketing can be a challenge, but remember that all marketing is essentially tied back to the audience. When you start with the first step listed above, empathizing with your audience, you can’t go wrong. Your ability to understand and respond to the needs of your audience will be the main driver behind your success at any content marketing effort.