How to Avoid Turning Off Traditional Stakeholders in Higher Education Marketing

February 19, 2015 Holly Stayton

 inbound higher education marketing traditional books

Higher education institutions are typically an established brand with an abundance of history and traditions. The spectrum of stakeholders in even just one institution can make it difficult to change course in your marketing. But with research, testing, and a whole lot of strategy, you can keep your marketing fresh and customized and start involving more inbound in your approach.

In this two part blog, we first take a look at three essential questions you must ask when evaluating risk in your inbound marketing. In the second part, we use those questions to develop an inbound content strategy that makes sense for your higher education institution.

Questions First. Strategy Second.

1) So You Want to Change Things Up a Bit. Why?

This is the first question to ask yourself when developing your strategy. Making changes in your marketing could potentially have a negative effect on your more traditional and well-established stakeholders so make sure you’re taking calculated risks and there’s good reason behind the change. 

It may be a matter of evaluating what area of the university is more conducive to change and use it to test the waters before making university-wide changes. For example, would it be wiser to take risks in undergraduate admissions where you are trying to gain new prospects who are younger and might not quite have an established idea of what your brand should be. Or maybe take a chance in university advancement where you have a wide variety of supporters to segment and test. Both have their potential pitfalls. Without new students, well, you don’t really have a university. However, turning off deep-rooted donors, you could lose major gifts that help fund the university endowment. 

2) How Are Your Defining Traditional?

When thinking about a new strategy, you need to also think about how you are defining your constituents. You’re talking about maintaining your relationship with your “traditional” supporters, but what does “traditional” mean to your university or college? It likely depends entirely on your role. If you’re recruiting for an accelerated MBA program, your audience definitions might be quite different from someone recruiting for an undergraduate fine arts program even within the same institution.

If when we hear the word “traditional” we immediately think of an older group of folks who don’t like change or technology, we are not going to get very far in our content strategy. For the undergraduate fine arts recruiter, traditional might mean high school seniors who were part of drama club whereas; for the accelerated MBA recruiter, it might mean a professional with five years of industry experience. Two very different definitions of “traditional” that are likely going to respond to social media messaging or PPC campaigns as a recruitment method in very different ways

3) What Marketing Channels Are Most Viable for Your Institution?

You’ve answered the why and the who, now comes the what. What inbound content channels make sense for your audiences and what don’t?

This answer will come in two phases.

First, look at what you are already using and the resources it takes to effectively run those. You may be running a university-wide website, Facebook, and email marketing campaign with a two-person content management team. If you are a large, land grant institution this might be spreading it a little thin. A crucial component to any inbound marketing is to convey information in a relevant and timely way. It would be difficult for two people to stay updated on the newest research in computer engineering, the latest swim team member to break a state record, and that the philosophy club is hosting a coffee chat with their department head. We all know resources are at a premium in higher education so it may not be feasible to hire additional staff, delegate responsibilities, or decentralize your digital media outreach. Keep this in mind when evaluating the scope of your new strategy.

Second, are you using those channels effectively or is it time to scrap a couple and try something else? Your Facebook page has been a great way to drive quality prospects to your blog and eventually to your inquiry page, keep it. Your pay per click advertising has not been generating the quality leads you thought it would. It might be time to re-evaluate your targeting methods and the keywords you are using. See if the value is really there, if not, toss it. Do some research and benchmarking against like institutions and see what’s working for them. Maybe using strategic landing pages have garnered more conversions from your lead competition. Thinking about using Pinterest for more visual story-telling to show off your historic 1,200 acre campus? Check out how competing schools might be using Pinterest, if at all. Using the right marketing mix diversifies your messaging to reach more of your potential and current audience without isolating certain groups, including your more “traditional” audience. Best of all worlds.

Don’t be afraid to ask those hard questions. A change in strategy doesn’t mean you’ve been doing it all wrong. It means what may have worked for you five years ago might not be the best option for today’s audiences. And remember, there’s no one-size fits all when it comes to inbound content marketing in higher education.

Ready to talk tactics? In part two of this blog, we use these answers to develop a content strategy that makes sense for your higher education institution.

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