6 Tips to Improve Your College's Content Marketing Performance
Jan 27, 2016
Marketing communications – also known as ‘content marketing’ – has always been about providing the right information to the right person at the right time via the right channel. It’s just been in the past decade that some have decided to name this basic function ‘content marketing’ – and that, combined with the development of new marketing technologies has created a world where some argue that marketing’s sole role is publishing content.
51% of Marketers Give Their Content Marketing a Failing Grade. (Source: Downloaded from https://contently.docalytics.com/v/content-marketing-2016-staffing-measurement-and-effectiveness on January 15, 2016.)
Why? And, more importantly, how do you improve performance so you can earn all A’s? Well here are some common mistakes along with some simple examples of what can be done to improve your content marketing campaigns.
Challenge #1: Unrealistic expectations. If you listen to the marketing tech firms that are trying to sell you their software, and the digital agencies that are trying to sell you their writing, designing and production services – you gotta be producing lots of content.
You will read about Red Bull, Spring, IBM and others – and it gets everyone all excited.
But they have a larger staff that you. And a larger budget. And they are working with larger agencies and service providers.
That leads everyone to think “We can do that!” But the truth is you can’t because of the lack of resources and, perhaps, the lack of expertise.
73 percent of marketers created more content in 2015 than they did in 2014. Source: Downloaded from https://contently.docalytics.com/v/content-marketing-2016-staffing-measurement-and-effectiveness on January 15, 2016.
Challenge #2: Don’t know the audience. This isn’t limited to content marketing – it’s a challenge for marketing in most organizations. You need to be intimately familiar with your audience – and the segments within it.
What are their wants, needs, expectations, perceptions? What criteria are they using to rate and rank and prioritize the various options they have in the market?
What are their purchasing processes?
Where do they go to gather information they need in order to identify and prioritize options as well as make the final decision to purchase from or, in the case of colleges, enroll in?
With that insight, you can start to plan out what you need and what channels you will be distributing the content through so you can take full advantage of the channels.
Content Marketing Tips for your College’s Recruitment Efforts
In those early stages, at the ‘top of the funnel’, the ‘non-traditional student’ is searching for information that can help them better understand their problems or perceived opportunities – some want to advance their career, other want to change careers, or re-enter the workforce, or attain some level of personal satisfaction (be the first in their family to earn a degree or to be a role model for their children).
So create content that addresses those needs from the angle of “How our college and programs are a valuable option for those in your situation”.
You should also address their common worries or challenges – how does one select the right college and program? How can I finance my education and not go deeply into debt? What’s it like to write a college paper or try to balance school with my personal and professional lives?
Now that can be a lot of content – so how can you leverage things? Can you [ex] hold an online open house addressing the topic of “How to select the right college and program?” that features someone from admissions, financial aid, advising and even a member of the faculty or a current/former student? Then take their content and create the webinar, an archive of the webinar that can be edited down into shorter sound bites, a PowerPoint presentation, a white paper/eBook, social media posts with links back to the archived event etc.
The key at this time is to help them understand why returning to college is a viable option for their wants and needs. Help them better understand options and how gather the information they need in order to make the best decision for them.
Challenge #3: Don’t know the competition. Similar to the previous challenge, it’s difficult to address your unique benefits for a specific segment of the audience if you don’t know your competitors.
First, competitive insight helps you address the unrealistic expectations that are out there. If they are doing all these wonderful things, those expectations might not be all that unrealistic in that you might need similar tools to compete – heck, it might help you make a case for more resources in order to compete. But if they aren’t, you can show others that you really don’t need to [ex] sponsor a man parachuting from just this side of the moon.
Second, it’s impossible for you to create content that is focused on the unique, valuable benefits your product offers if you don’t know what the competition offers. Think about it – you’re not unique if the competition has something that does the same thing or fills the same need for your shared audience but delivers it in a more efficient and effective manner than your product.
Technology will only get you so far if you don’t have the right talent. Companies interested in experimenting with content marketing sometimes make the mistake of only hiring one person to run an entire operation. Downloaded from https://contently.docalytics.com/v/content-marketing-2016-staffing-measurement-and-effectiveness on January 15, 2016.
Challenge #4: Undifferentiated products and services. You need to be an incredibly talented writer and storyteller to make a product that is just like every other product in its category sound unique and more valuable than the rest of the pack. And you find yourself in that arena, remember to be careful with being too creative and crossing over into the world of fiction!
Your audience – the segments you are targeting – have specific needs and wants. They want to know what’s in it for them if they buy what you’re offering. So you need to tell them how you will save them time, money and frustration. How you will make them safer. How you will make them the envy of all their friends, family, colleagues, neighbors and more.
And you need to make sure that you set the proper expectations so that you aren’t faced with incredibly negative word-of-mouth.
More Content Marketing Tips for Your College Recruitment Efforts
Your earlier content has helped the potential student determine that college is the right path and that your college is an interesting option worth exploring further. At this point, they want specific information about what makes your institution and the program of interest uniquely valuable to the individual.
They might be waiting to start the application process until they learn a few more specifics – or they might have started the application process so they could provide information you need to provide them with the specifics they desire.
At this point, we have found that information specific to the potential student is key. For example, a degree path that tells them what to take, when to take and when they will complete the program. Also specific information about key learning objectives and outcomes that will help them achieve their goals ASAP – for example, one course has an project where the students are matched with the head of PR for a local business and, together, they create an emergency PR plan for that business. The experience and end product is something they can use to show current or potential employers that they have done the work – a truly unique benefit!
Challenge #5: Asking the wrong people to write, design, produce. I get the whole “all hands on deck” approach but I am going to share something with you that I think is very important. Some people are better than others at writing a benefit-rich paragraph that will have you chomping at the bit to buy whatever they are selling. And when you are competing against someone like that with someone that focuses on features without the benefits – well, you’re going to come up on the short end more often than not.
Look, when your pipes break and water is running all over – you get someone with strong plumbing skills. You don’t turn to your family and friends that aren’t sure which end of a plunger is up and expect a fast, easy, effective solution.
Yet it’s not uncommon to find colleges asking someone that lacks experience and/or talent in these areas. Frankly, this is the time to hire a professional writer, a professional copy writer. And, there are plenty of them out there, who either work for agencies or freelance. Rarely is your marketing manager the person that has these skills. Being able to write reports, is not the same thing as writing and producing content that educates and sells.
Challenge #6: Lack of strategy. Who are you targeting? Where are they in their purchasing process? What do they want and need to hear at this time? What channel(s) will we be using – and how are they best suited to effectively, uniquely deliver your message? What do you want them to do once they have received and read your content? What would be ‘success’?
To address low levels of perceived effectiveness, several companies made a concerted effort in 2015 to rethink how much they publish. Downloaded from https://contently.docalytics.com/v/content-marketing-2016-staffing-measurement-and-effectiveness on January 15, 2016.
Tip #1: Know your audience. Make the time to understand who your audience is. Identify the segments – go beyond demographics and address geographic and psychographic factors. Understand their buying process and the criteria they use to qualify and prioritize potential solution providers. Then create relevant, unique, valuable content that helps them at each step of the buying process. But without that insight, you’re guessing and that can be costly.
Tip #2: Develop specific goals and objectives that are tied to your organization’s goals and objectives. If your college wants to increase enrollments for a program by 100 this year, make sure your goals and objectives support that institutional goal.
Tip #3: Develop the Contact Strategy. Who are you contacting (segment) via what channel (email, direct mail, phone, social media, text, other) with what content addressing what subject matter and including what offer/call to action?
What content is needed at each stage of the buying cycle (Inquiry, Qualified Lead, Sales Ready Lead, Demo/Trial, Proposal, Purchase and After Purchase)?
Mapping out a contact strategy takes time and thought. But when it’s completed, you have your tactical roadmap that will keep your team working hard and focused on producing quality work in order to achieve measurable objectives tied to business goals. This is focusing on distributing and promoting the content – an oft times overlooked part of the work.
Tip #4: Manage what you have and leverage your resources. That webinar can become a video archive, a white paper, check list, infographic….so make sure you are getting the most from what you have.
Along those same lines, you have co-workers and you have customers so figure out how to get them involved. They may not create the content (write, design) but they are subject matter experts whose experiences and recommendations and tips are what you need for relevant content.
Tip #5: Prioritize and know when to ‘pass’ (aka Quality over Quantity). Do what needs to be done – and make sure it gets done extremely well. Then, if you have the time and resources move on to those tactics that were deemed to be lower priority. If you lack the resources and/or expertise, get the resources and/or the expertise or pass. (I am a firm believer in not doing a half-assed job and risk damaging the goodwill built up over the long-term.)
Tip #6: Use the right tools. Use a writer. Use a designer. Use a photographer and videographer. Just because you have Microsoft Word on your desktop and a video function on your smartphone, you need more than this to produce quality writing and video production. If your budget won’t support using the right tools, rethink the action because chances are pretty strong that the money and time will be best spent elsewhere. And to be perfectly honest – if the leadership won’t give you the tools you need to achieve the goals and objectives they set…maybe it’s time to move on?
And Some More Content Marketing Tips for your College’s Recruitment Efforts
Here are some content ideas for those that are in the final stages of the pipeline – the individual has submitted the completed application, been accepted and enrolled in their first semester. The content should continue to focus on thanking them and reminding them why they selected your institution. Focus on the common first semester issues – how to find things, who does what and success tips. Content at this point should come from dean of the college, program director, faculty as well as their assigned advisor. Other sources could include students in the program as well as alumni and community leaders that have hired graduates of your program.
The topics could be about time management, organizational skills and reminders of key dates and events as well as motivational messages that remind them of why they returned to college and the ultimate goal they set.
Remember to include some ‘random acts of kindness’ – a note congratulating them on a success, or birthday wishes. These are unexpected yet highly valued communications that differentiate your institution from so many other organizations – and that leads to retention and referrals.
Hopefully this has provided you with some ideas that will help improve your college’s recruitment efforts. Let me me know what you think – did we miss anything? Did we mention something you hadn’t thought of before?
Dudley Stevenson, founder and CEO of DWS Associates, has over thirty-five years’ experience in consumer marketing, business-to-business marketing, and direct marketing, including developing, planning, and implementing go-to-market strategies. He's also the author of "Marketing Direct: Breaking Through The Clutter." Working with organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, he and his team have helped clients such as IBM, Sony, Neiman Marcus, Arizona Highways, Marshall Field & Co., Mrs. Field’s, UNICEF, and Patagonia implement successful direct marketing programs. A longtime member of the Direct Marketing Association and the American Marketing Association, Stevenson is also a sought-after speaker. He’s given hundreds of presentations and workshops on marketing and direct marketing. His “Marketing Planning 101” workshop alone has reached more than 100,000 marketing and sales professionals.