Times have changed for CEOs and Managers wanting to market their education organisations.
To be perfectly accurate, things are now in a state of fast and constant change, and the education leaders of tomorrow will likely be those who are best able to adapt in these times of flux.
Most education leaders are now sold on digital media as a main way to build and grow their organisations, so the question that remains to be answered is this;
“How do I structure my organisation’s digital marketing to make the most of the current landscape while creating a flexible foundation for future efforts?”
Or more succinctly “What should my marketing strategy look like?”.
We will cover in this article, a solid and time tested methodology that can be adjusted and applied to most education organisations. Google will love you for it as you’ll be playing by their rules, and your buyers will love the content you create thats targeted just for them.
What does a great strategy look like?
What everyone really really wants
The bones of an actionable strategy
A clear framework for education marketing success
Methodology for education marketing
The Inbound Methodology section by section
What does a great strategy look like?
Before we get to the nitty gritty, let's take a little time to define what a perfect marketing strategy should look like.
If I were an education CEO, my dream marketing strategy would look something like this;
It must be structured and clear so all our staff and providers understand it and what is required of them.
- It must provide marketing that is of great utility to our buyers (both student and non-students).
- It must be in alignment with what Google likes now, AND it must be aligned with the spirit in which Google operates, to help us stay well aligned during future changes and so success comes to stay, not to pass.
- It must actually drive sales, and it must be able to prove it’s own efficiency.
- It must build success on success, accelerating the gains it makes.
- We must be protected from events that may rock our industry and market as much as possible.
- The whole of our marketing must be consistent and in alignment with our goals, our beliefs and must communicate our points of difference.
- It must make good use of social media, building our brand effectively.
- We must be able to build a list of leads to market to.
It’s a good idea to build your own list, or just use mine so that you have a list of criteria to measure against prospective strategies. It will also provide you a view of what success looks like.
What everyone really really wants
One of the most powerful and important aspects of marketing is to look for and to strategise around what everyone wants. By everyone, I mean all the actors who have a role in our play.
- Our buyers.
- Our vendors if they are relevant here.
- The owners of the platforms we will use for our campaigns.
If we build our strategy with all the actors in mind we will have something truly powerful, and an aligned lead generation machine for the future of our organisation. Something that fulfills needs and desires both spoken and unspoken.
With a bit of research and applied psychology, it’s not that hard, and here is a snapshot of the minds of our actors.
What do my buyers really really want
First an apology - I can’t tell you for 100% for sure what they want as each business is different, and even though you may have the same buyers as another college, they will look different seen through the lens of your business.
I can, however, tell you how to find out what they really really want.
What you need is a buyer persona, and you need one for each buyer segment you sell to.
A buyer persona is a fictitious representation of your ideal buyer. Here are 3 Buyer Persona examples; .
Once we have our marketing personas built we will know what our buyers really want, where they go, where they live, how much they earn and how they like to be contacted.
Armed with this information we can work on becoming relevant and helpful in their education quests.
Imagine a buyer with a need your college fulfils. When someone has a need nine times out of ten then jump on Google, and once your content is built they find you.
We’ll cover buyer personas in greater depth in the Targeted Marketing section below.
What Google really, really wants.
What Google really really wants is to have their search engine to be as helpful and relevant to searching humans as is possible given the technology of the moment.
They know they must keep complete ownership of search worldwide (outside of China). As long as they stay in complete dominance they can continue making a huge amount of money from businesses who use Adwords to get in front of the searching masses..
That strategy is safe and will provide Google with a continuously rising revenue from advertising, as long as they defend their search engine with all they have got.
And if you look follow Google over the years, they have always been the innovation leaders in search. Bing and Yahoo are left trying to cover Google's strategic moves rather than innovate themselves.
Google invests hugely in cutting edge technology like RankBrain, the Artificial Intelligence that is loose in their servers learning what people really want from a search term and giving them the best possible search experience.
For our marketing to be powerful, we can align with this desire of the big G’s to provide outstanding search results by creating answers to our buyers searches.
We can create written, spoken, picture and video content around the search terms that our target buyer uses and provide them with marketing they actually want to consume, rather than flashy messages they want to ignore.
If we align our marketing strategies with Google search strategies then we will be far less likely to ever be penalised by them, as we will be aligned in spirit.
We can help Google’s cause by improving the search experience for our slice of their user base.
Modern education marketing can work to increase relevance and helpfulness to prospective students, and work tirelessly to make sure marketing is aligned to their needs.
Our content will be useful to our targeted buyers, and it will be directly aligned with what they are actually searching for right now!
Once we do this, Google will become an ally and a driver of revenue the keeps our marketing and sales funnels stacked with prospects.
What the industry regulators really really want
If you are in a government regulated sector like Australian RTOs, you also need to be very mindful about their rules and guidelines for marketing.
Thankfully, again, the regulators are most often looking for a great outcome and experience for the students, and so if we can align our education organisation with Google, we can align it with the regulator too.
We can use software that tracks and manages all communication with a student from first touch to graduation and beyond.
We can demonstrate how we recruit and nurture students through our organisation using consistent, ethical and helpful content.
We can pre-audit our own marketing using an RTO Marketing Audit Check list.
Most of ASQA’s standards as they apply to marketing are not terribly difficult to achieve, as long as we operate our marketing strategically and control it centrally. If we are left trying to juggle many different platforms, adverts, content and media without this, it’s unlikely that we will be able to become and stay compliant. It’s just too hard.
What the social media platforms really really want
The social platform all want roughly the same thing;
Create and improve on the quality of the content that users see in their feeds, and sell more advertising and products (eg pro versions like Linkedin).
The platforms work in roughly the same way. Post updates to networks which display in feeds of followers and friends. Buy additional post reach and adverts which display to a wider audience.
A good education strategy should include an overall approach to social which is integrated into the entire strategy, and sub-strategies for each platform.
If you are just starting out, it’s worth choosing one, two or three platforms to cover .
You might even choose one platform where you know most of your buyers use and get serious about that one, while just using another two to post out your blog content and adverts to.
Ultimately the best results come from getting deeper into the wants and needs of people on each platform, but at first it’s important not to spread yourself too thinly. Start small and scale what works.
Each platform requires a somewhat different approach, and they differ in how they operate and change.
Facebook in particular is becoming more aggressive in how they allow businesses to market and advertise. They are actively trying to clear up user’s feeds so that they see more posts that are of interest to them. That can mean less opportunity to get in front of people, unless you work with Facebook not against them.
This article has a great write up for more depth and perspective about Facebook's declining Organic reach.
In a 2014 interview with Digiday, James Del (who was the head of now-defunct Gawker’s content studio at the time) summed up the general sentiment:
“Facebook may be pulling off one of the most lucrative grifts of all time; first, they convinced brands they needed to purchase all their Fans and Likes -- even though everyone knows you can’t buy love; then, Facebook continues to charge those same brands money to speak to the Fans they just bought."
Bottom line; pay for advertising and create more targeted, relevant posts.
Twitter has recently increase the number of characters available in a Tweet and they may do so again. This has allowed more substance and depth in a single Tweet.
Linkedin provides excellent marketing opportunities but is also extremely strong in sales, especially when sales and marketing efforts are integrated in the platform.
The bones of an actionable strategy
Great student experience is the best form of marketing today. If we focus the heart and soul of our marketing on building a uniquely valuable experience for our buyers we will draw them to our websites and capture them as leads. From then on we can move them down our marketing and sales funnels by deepening the relevance of our communication with them.
Think about your current marketing for a moment, as if you were a student buyer.
- What is the first touch that a buyer experiences?
- Where does that lead next?
- Plot a path through your online and offline media through to the point of sale.
- Does it all flow and make sense?
- Are there glaring inconsistencies?
- Remember, buyers are always looking for reasons NOT to buy from you, and inconsistency is a great reason for them to lose faith.
- Does your marketing seamlessly flow into your sales process, and are your sales staff talking the same talk as your marketers?
What is needed in today's ultra fast paced and rapidly changing world is concrete methodology that will stay relevant and is flexible enough to fit your organisation.
Read on to find out exactly what strategies we use for our education customers. You’ll get the real deal, the full monty - nothing left out, and it will be actionable too, so you can start straight away.
A clear framework for education marketing success
In order to attract customers, training marketers have to provide something they will love. A message forcibly flashed in their face that looks like everyone else's is not going to work any more.
We need digital marketing that is designed around the way people buy today. Instead of buying ads, buying email lists, or cold calling, inbound marketing focuses on creating educational content that pulls people toward your website where they can learn more about your courses and services on their own accord.
The framework that you are about to read is;
- Standards compliant
- Full Steam framework is built around RTO compliance.
- Full transparency for RTO managers.
- RTO sign off for all marketing communication.
- Strategy and tactics written for performance and compliance.
We can use targeted marketing to reach our buyers where they already are providing them with great quality content that they already care about and are interested in.
To help with our targeting we create a student buyers profile. This is a semi-fictitious representation of your ideal student.
To get you started think small but relevant. They can and should be built out more, and they can and should be updated over time. If you don’t yet have a buyer profile, start small. It’s essential that you know who the target is and where it is.
Here is an article showing good examples of a buyer persona
We can create the buyer persona by first looking at your buyers and segmenting them. What makes one group distinct from another?
Next we can fill in some of the profiles ourselves with data we know about them, but we should also conduct research where we ask real life customers questions. We can use online survey to help this effort, but we can also call or email them.
Statistically we need just 18 responses to get around 80% accuracy across a population or group, so it’s not essential to contact masses of customers.
Once we have our complete buyer persona we will use to for targeting our marketing towards them.
Methodology for education marketing success
The inbound methodology shown above demonstrates how we can draw prospects through our marketing funnel using modern tools, and nurture them along a path to become buyers and evangelists.
We use content marketing to help them with their very specific and already researched problems, and over time we help and assist them with the problems they have. We don’t actually sell them on anything at any point, we just help them and guide them, showing them the way.
It may seem like there are a lot of moving parts in terms of the tactics used, and you are correct.
Many educators focus on one or more tactics and often have providers or in house staff carrying out the tactic, often doing a great job.
But even with the best individual tactic there is something missing.
For example, Mirkwood College has been investing heavily in SEO and in Adwords. They get great traffic, and their Adwords & SEO guys show them proof that they are ranking really well, and getting better month after month.
The trouble is that the sales chart doesn’t show the up tick that the traffic chart does.
Well there could be many reasons, but one very common one is that the marketing is not holistic, it’s not been planned using a top down strategy, and so the buyers pathway through to the point of sale is confusing and inconsistent.
Since there is no centralised control Adwords may be delivering traffic that is not a good fit for the content they have created.
Piecemeal marketing is a good way to spend money, but it’s not a great way to get a dominant market position, nor a high return on investment.
If Mirkwood could get their SEO & Adwords marketers working under a holistic strategy that also created great quality content aimed squarely are high quality buyers, they could get much more engagement with all that great traffic.
If they create some landing pages offering content offers that fix more problems for buyers and then nurture those contacts through a marketing funnel that gets tested and constantly improved they stand far more chance of seeing that sales chart looking nicely up ticked.
The Inbound Methodology section by section
We want to attract people with a high potential to become leads. We also want a higher quantity and quality of leads than we are currently experiencing.
The first stage of the methodology looks at increasing the number of visitors a website gets. This will be our traffic strategy and the increase in traffic volume will allow us to perform optimisation further along in the process to make great use of the traffic.
We can attract our ideal customer or buyer persona by creating content that’s valuable and easy for them to find, and then sharing that content over social media.
Over time our Google ranking will improve and we will be showing in the search ranks under complex, long-tail keywords, and question based keywords as our content will answer specific questions that our buyers are searching for.
Tools to attract strangers to your site include:
- Social Media
- Keyword Optimisation
- Website Pages
No matter what the you may have heard, blogs are still a major marketing tactic and are likely to be driving our content machines for years to come.
Blogs are ideal ways to get the answers to buyers questions and the solutions to their problems in front of them at just the right time.
Google search is now all about delivering the right content at the right time fo rthe right search. Because of this some searches will prioritise video, picture, or products over blog posts, and that’s great.
If you search for the latest Nike sneakers you want to see products and pictures, not a blog post telling you how to tie your shoes.
But if you searched for the best way to start a career as an architect, the best form of content would be a blog post the shows you your options and how you can get from where you are to where you want to be.
The average company that blogs generates:
55% more website visitors.
97% more inbound links.
434% more indexed pages.
Some education marketers may see social media as a necessary evil, but with billions of people now spending large chunks of their lives on social platforms, organisations must participate to extend their reach and to meet their buyers where the “live” online.
We must share remarkable content and valuable information on the social web, engage with our prospects, and put a human face on our brand if we want to grow our businesses.
It can be daunting though, with new algorithms, and new tangents thrown at businesses every year. This can really make marketing hard at times (I’m talking about you Facebook!), and usually more costly too.
But the upside is that there has never been a time of greater access to the conversions that people are really having.
Smart education organisations can use social media to increase their relevance and to amplify the content they create.
Sharing our content over social media will help our SEO too.
Check out this slide from data from Inbound 2017 conference;
Education marketers need to carefully, strategically pick keywords, optimise web pages, create content, and build links around the terms our ideal buyers are searching for.
To find target keywords we use the following tools;
Web site pages
The ideal is to have an intuitive, easy to use website platform that can be kept up to date with fresh and interesting content.
We use Wordpress and Hubspot COS for our customers, as Wordpress allows us huge flexibility while Hubspot gives us unparalleled marketing smarts and automation, and we often use both together in a seamless integration for the ultimate in buyer focused website experience.
Both search engines and users like frequently updated websites, so you need to transform your site into a source of helpful, fresh content with well optimised pages to appeal to your ideal buyers. Ideally without having to rely on your tech staff or providers.
Now that you have a flow of visitors to your site, the next step is to convert those visitors into leads by gathering their contact information. In order to get this valuable information, you need to offer something valuable in return. This can be an ebook, a tool, a checklist, a short course taster, or even your current course brochures.
It’s a good idea to get creative and try to make your offers exciting and different to what’s out there already.
We convert visitors into leads using;
- Landing Pages
- Contacts Database
Call to Action
A calls-to-action (CTA) is a clickable graphic, button or link that encourages your visitors to take action.
They should be action oriented and leave the viewer in no doubt what they need to do.
“Download a Whitepaper” or “Attend a Webinar.”
If you don’t have CTAs or if they aren’t enticing enough, you won’t generate leads.
Check out this article for some great examples; https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/great-call-to-action-examples
A landing page is a special kind of website page.
The aim of a landing page is to “sell” a content offer to the visitor , where they “pay” with their contact details. It’s worth thinking about transaction in these terms, as people won’t hand out their details unless they perceive enough value - exactly like in a cash based sale.
The mechanics of a landing page are;
- Contains text and pictures “selling” our content offer.
- Contains a form to collect their details. This may simply be first name & email address.
- Does not contain menu or navigation - we do not want the visitor to get side tracked and clic away without filling out our form.
- Contain social buttons for ease of sharing.
We get traffic to our landing pages from our CTAs which we have on our website pages, at the bottom of all blog posts, in social media posts and adverts, and in emails.
Once we have contact information, we can start to nuture the lead and move them down our marketing funnel.
Lead capture forms
A visitor becomes a lead once they fill out a form. We always have them on landing pages, but we can also add them anywhere else on our website that makes sense, including our Contact Us page.
We need to make this process as smooth as possible, and we can also ask for less details from people who are just entering our marketing funnel, and more details as they progress further down.
This reduces friction while people are at just becoming aware of our organisation, our value and the nature of their own problems and desires, while asking more “payment” for those more valuable content pieces.
If we decide that a certain content offer dictates it we would ask for their phone number and pass the lead through to sales for them to get involved and contact the lead directly.
Database of contacts
As we start the machine turning we will begin building a database of contacts that can be marketed to. If contact exist in you organisation already they can be exported from your student management system, your account system or spreadsheet, and uploaded into whatever marketing software & Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) you decide on. If you have a CRM already you can often integrate this with a good marketing system.
We work with Hubspot, but there are many other good systems too.
- Active Campaign
- Active Campaign
It is possible to run the whole strategy using multiple tools, some of which you may have already, but it is a lot of work, and it’s huge learning curve to do this manually. There are now marketing automation tools for every budget, so I strongly recommend you take a look a a few.
We chose Hubspot as we believe it’s the best, most feature rich and powerful for the price they charge. There are better choices for very small businesses with very small budgets, and there are products that aim more at the very large side of town, although whether they are better for enterprise customer than Hubspot is debatable. They are a lot more expensive though. We do occasionally use Active Campaign for customers who are not a good fit with HubSpot
Some very large Australian business use Hubspot including some large RTOs like Australian Institute of Fitness, Evocca College.Carsales.com.au and Lenovo Australia also use Hubspot.
Now we have great traffic AND we are getting great leads from our marketing, so we need to begin turning these leads into customers with targeted, automated email nurturing, sales contact, and social media interaction.
Tools to close leads into customers include:
- Lead Scoring
- Marketing Automation
- Closed-Loop Reporting
- CRM integration
You’ve got contacts in your system, but how do you know which ones are ready to speak to your sales team? We can use a numerical representation of the sales readiness of a lead. This takes the guesswork out of the marketing and sales processes.
Your marketing system can run all of your campaigns and can provide you with the analytics so you can see what is working and what’s not.
Send targeted email to people at the right time in their buying journey.
If a visitor clicks a CTA on our website, and fills out a form on a landing page downloading our awesome content offer, but still isn’t quite ready to become a customer?
Now we start to nurture them with a series of emails focused on useful, relevant content until they are good and ready.
Marketing automation workflows tie everything together and provide the buyer with a custom pathway through our marketing funnel.
Workflows can move buyers down our funnel by automatically nurturing them.
So maybe a visitor downloaded our introduction content offer, if they opened it we can send them a related offer that is more helpful to people who are people who are getting ready to take action.
If they open that, we can send the lead to our CRM so a sales person can call them.
If they don’t open them, we can send them a series of emails that attempts to keep them interested and nurture them further.
Workflows can be small and simple like the above one, or can be large and complex with many different elements and triggers built in.
We can even show people different website content depending of where they are in the funnel!
We can create a completely tailor experience for our buyers that reacts to their interactions, helping, nurturing, providing.
Once our lead passes a threshold or trigger event our marketing system can send the lead to our CRM, and the sales process can begin.
We can find out which marketing efforts are bringing in the best leads and whether our sales team is focused on the most qualified leads by integrating with our CRM system.
The final stage is where we work on creating a lasting impression and create a fantastic experience for our buyers.
These are the tactics that add wow factor and sparkle to our already robust, helpful and relevant marketing efforts.
We use context and personalisation to deliver tailored messages, personalised emails, web pages and calls-to-action, which continues to engage with, delight, and (hopefully) upsell our current customer base into happy promoters of our education organisation.
Tools to delight your customers include:
- Smart Calls-to-Action
- Social Media
- Email and Marketing Automation
Keep the nurturing cycle going and your marketing machine turning with smart CTAs.
Treat people like people and not numbers and earn trust by using Smart Content and Personalisation Tokens to create a tailored experience based on prospects’ needs across all of our marketing channels – from CTAs to email to landing pages.
We can continue our connections on social media by responding quickly to responses and actively managing our reputation.
Maybe we can create user groups for alumni to help them with their career progression.
Maybe we can create groups to support our current students and to allow them to help each other.
Email and Marketing Automation
Staying in touch with email and automated workflows can extend our reach long past the point of qualification, which can help upsell courses later on, and to get referrals from previous customers.
It’s easier for a satisfied customer to sell your training and qualifications than it is for you to sell them.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and that it’s going to be of use to your education organisation in your drive to enrol more students.
As you go through your marketing journey it’s important to enjoy what you are doing, keep it light hearted and fun.
This can be harder than it sounds when the drivers of marketing are cold hard statistics and business goals, but buyers can feel when a business’s marketing content has been created by people who are more driven to achieve sales goals than great experiences for the buyers themselves.
Content marketing’s life blood is words, pictures, videos, tools and anything else your creative mind can come up with. Just remember it’s a highly creative process, and outstanding creation is not just the work of the logical mind, we need to invoke the artistic side of the brain too.
As you start creating, please feel free to send us links, we’d love to read your work and give you feedback, and it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy to know that we are actually helping folks in their lives.