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December 30, 2015 // 7:00 AM

How to Develop and Use Personas to Attract Your Ideal Students

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What are kids looking at when they spend hours a day on their phones? As an education marketer – you want to make sure some of that attention is coming your school's way. With the wealth of school content available to students, you can be sure some schools are getting prospective students' time, so some of it should be yours, right?

How do you attract those eyes to your school's website and blog? You start with creating personas of the people you want to attract. 

A persona is the fundamental building block of inbound marketing. It's a fictional representation of your ideal "customer." Each persona presents the background, needs, concerns, motivations, and goals of a specific segment of the population you want to be reading your school's blog. If you want to attract your personas to your blog, you need to know who they are, and what interests them.

In this post, we take you through the process how to develop and use your personas to develop content meaningful to the students you want to enroll. 

Research Your Ideal Student Personas 

No matter how well we think we know our market, actively researching them always reveals valuable, actionable information. Building a persona must start with research.

You'll gather information in seven categories designed to elicit valuable insight into what the persona cares about, where they find information, and what motivates their behavior. Use our Persona Profile Checklist as your starting point to customize questions relevant to selecting a school.

For example, investigating the persona's "role" is the first category of questions. Instead of asking "What's your job role?" You might ask "What's your role in life? Are you a student? A parent?" Or, instead of asking "Who do you report to?" You can ask "Who mentors you? Who do you ask for advice?"

When you create your checklist, be sure to cover each of the seven categories. They're all important to gaining a complete picture.

You'll gather the information from three main areas:

  • Talking to people
  • Digital metrics
  • Online sources

Talking to People

Always a good choice. You can survey and interview current and past students. Do you want to increase the proportion of students who opt for early decision enrollment? Then talk to some current early decision students. You might also consider reaching out to students accepted to the school, but who chose not to enroll. 

Admissions officers will also be great sources of information. When you talk with them, ask what concerns and hesitations they hear most often, and from whom. What are the most common questions prospective students ask? What are the drivers influencing decisions where to apply? 

Digital Metrics

Review your website, blog and FAQs. What pages get the most visits? What pages do visitors spend the most time on? Which have high bounce rates? What blog posts have the highest comment activity or share rate? Gather these digital metrics to get a sense of what content has traction and which content is getting ignored. What do they tell you about visitors' interests and concerns? What sources are feeding your traffic? What searches are bringing people to your site?

Online Sources

While digital metrics offer quantitative information, here you'll investigate qualitative sources. Read through blog comments. Not just on your school's blog, but other related sites where prospects talk about the school selection and application process. Research social media as well. Use relevant hashtags to find the "meaty" discussions.

This research is useful for more than answering the questions on your profile checklist. It's a great place to source content ideas and blog topics. Even better – you'll see exactly how your prospects are talking about these issues, what language they use, which you can use in your content development.

Analyze Your Persona Research

Analyze your research for patterns, trends and commonalities. Your persona is a fictional representation of real people. You don't want to focus too much on any one actual person as no individual can be representative of the group.

As you look for trends in their goals, concerns and their watering holes, pay special attention to the "why" behind each of these decisions. When you get a sense of their motivations behind their actions, you can build a highly impactful persona.

Analysis is the stage where you should start to see different personas emerging. Clearly, students and parents have different priorities and watering holes. What did you learn talking with the early admission students? Are there clear identifying trends among this group that isn't present with the general admission students?

This is also the stage where you'll start to identify negative personas. A negative person is the profile of who you don't want as a student, or who will never be a student, so you don't waste resources marketing to them. You can read more about creating a negative persona here.

Writing Up Your Personas

Start with creating a bullet list of relevant points under each research category, such as demographics and goals. You'll include some actual quotes from interviewees or that you read online. You'll also add some insights gleaned during analysis, such as what identifies a person as fitting this persona and what messages resonate with them. HubSpot has created a persona template you can use.

Once you have your bullet lists, you want to write the persona's story. That's right. A narrative that presents the persona in the context of their "life." Here's a simple 5-chapter format for writing up a persona story:

  • Chapter 1: Describe their life role and demographic background.
  • Chapter 2: What does their typical day look like?
  • Chapter 3: What are their challenges and pain points?
  • Chapter 4: Where do they go for information?
  • Chapter 5: What are their common objections or hesitations when making a selection? 

It's a very short story (not a book). Don't worry. Give each chapter two to five sentences built around the bullet points you've already listed.

Complete your story by adding a photo of your persona. Remember – a persona is a fictional representation, not a real person. So select a stock photo of someone or a scene that represents the persona.

Putting Your Student Personas to Use

On a practical level, marketing and admissions should use personas to direct your content and prospect nurturing strategies. This approach ensures that you're allocating your resources where they'll provide the greatest return. 

First, select your primary persona. You probably have a few personas, but select the one whose attention will have the greatest impact on your goals. Gear more of your content to this persona. Do some keyword research based on the search habits of this persona. Design your blog tags and labels around the terms they use.

Through your earlier research, you've uncovered what topics interest them, the language they use to talk about it, and what sites and magazines they're already reading. Use all of this information to create blog topics and headlines they'll be compelled to read.

Last, don't neglect your personas. Refine them on an on-going basis to make sure they remain accurate. As new issues or interests engage your prospects, you want to address them to keep your blog fresh and relevant.

The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing for Schools

 

Topics: Education

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