Creating A Thoughtful Content Strategy in Higher Education Marketing

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Previously we discussed important questions your team must ask when deciding if it’s the right time to start using inbound marketing without losing your more traditional audience. We looked at why you want to shake things up. We talked about who your audience is and specifically discussed how you are defining your “traditional” audience. Finally, we reviewed what inbound channels you are currently using and evaluated what makes sense for your higher education institution.

Now it’s time to apply those answers and develop a calculated content strategy that can reach new prospects while maintaining your relationship with your current supporters.

1) Segmenting Strategy

Strategic segmentation can make or break your risk-taking plan. Many higher ed. marketers have their audiences segmented by stages, others by demographics, some by behavior, or more likely a combination of all three. It might be time to rethink your audiences if you’re planning on trying something new. This can be especially true in university fundraising.

Two common giving audiences are first-time donors and consecutive donors whose behavior has been deemed their key performance indicator. This is definitely a component of their persona, but does it make sense to solely rely on behavior when introducing new content. If I make my first gift to my alma mater this year and allocate it to my academic department, while my friend also makes her first gift this year to college athletics, the likelihood that the same messaging and content will influence us both to give again based on our first-time behavior seems unlikely.

Motivation can drive your process when re-evaluating your segmentation strategy. Do you want to take a risk with people giving to academics, those giving to athletics, or the general annual fund? How about those giving to a particular campaign like Giving Tuesday or crowdfunding?

The same can be said in admissions. While behavior and demographics are important, you must ask, “What motivated a prospect to inquire about your university?” Instead of segmenting your messaging on whether a prospect is a female from Pennsylvania, take a look at what is motivating them to seek out your program.

USC Annenberg’s School for Communication and Journalism does a great job capturing prospect motivation through their landing page. Their multi-step process captures the prospects primary interest area, why they are considering the program, and their contact information before they are able to download an informational brochure. Now they know that this person is not only from Pennsylvania, but is also interested in pursuing public relations to expand their professional network. They can now receive personalized messaging that is relevant to them and not just the state that they live.

2) Content

Using what you’ve learned about your constituents through segmenting is crucial to identifying new prospects and maintaining relationships with your established supporters.

Let’s look at content possibilities for two different segments based on demographics, motivation, and preferred communication channel.

Members of your first segment are typically 45 and older, predominantly female, have responded to direct mail and paid print advertisements for your mid-career MBA program, and are looking to advance in their career. After digging a bit, you also note that a large chunk of them are undergraduate alumni from your institution. You have an upcoming on-campus info session as well as an information webinar coming up. What do you need to do to move this audience through the funnel?

Members of your second segment range from recent undergraduate alumni to young professionals in their early thirties. They are an even mix of male and female who have searched for flex and online MBA programs and landed on your blog. Tracking them through the funnel, they submitted an inquiry from your blog and are specifically looking for a flexible program that will expand their professional network and skills. After some research, you don’t see any other commonalities or a large percentage of alumni in this audience. How are you going to use messaging to reach these prospects?

Two very different audiences, but both looking at MBA programs at your institution. It’s fairly obvious which group might be more receptive to less traditional messaging and content. Use the second audience to try out some new content and inbound channels. The key thing to remember is that while you may be taking a few risks, always keep the content relevant to your institution and program. It’s easy to get caught up in new shiny things, but be sure that you aren’t totally missing the mark.

3) A/B Testing

One of the last steps in this process is to test within your audience. Let’s use the second audience from our “Content” section as an example.

You want to focus specifically on the flexibility and online components of your program with this audience. Really tout the convenience and how it will assist in expanding their network while building their business skills. Overall, the content of your message is going to be the same, but you want to test an updated logo and tagline. Some in your office are concerned that it’s too risky to mess with such an established brand. This is your opportunity to test it amongst an audience that isn’t already completely vested in your university.

Randomly divide this audience in two and send an email inviting them to an upcoming webinar. Keep the content and the subject line the same. The only difference is that one group will receive the new logo with new tagline embedded in the email. Establish a set amount of time for testing. Let’s say two weeks. At the end of two weeks, run your analytics to see how responsive each group was and use this information in establishing A/B testing for other segments. Maybe you had an extremely strong response to the new branding. If so, try it out on your more established first audience, too. Or if you didn’t see much of a difference in response rate, maybe there’s still a little tweaking that needs to be done before testing on other audiences.

The most important thing is to use the information you’ve gathered. Don’t forget how you answered those first few risk-taking questions, use your segmenting strategy to establish your content, and test, test, test. Ultimately this data will drive your future strategy and don’t be afraid to revisit any steps in your process.

Establishing your motivation and then developing a strategy with these few steps will help you keep your inbound content fresh. This makes you relevant to new prospects while still maintaining your relationship with traditional stakeholders of your higher education institution.

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