Getting Buy-in for Change: What Education Marketers Can Do To Help Their Schools Evolve

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David Ross
David Ross



As an education marketer, you're well aware of the successes and advantages of inbound marketing. It's easy to spend so much time immersed in the new opportunities inbound is bringing. Which makes it easy to forget that key stakeholders at your school don't always share same perspective. Administrators and staff may never have heard of inbound marketing, or may be afraid of change—making it tough to get their support.

 Yet you do need their support to transition your marketing strategy and budget towards inbound. They'll also be a needed source of your school's best stories and help with content distribution. If they don't get inbound marketing, you'll experience some push back. Or at least skepticism, which can spread seeds of doubt.

People are naturally resistant to change. That's fine. Just make getting buy-in from the administration, development office, faculty, and staff for inbound as part of your new marketing strategy.

To brush up on the basics of inbound marketing for schools before you dive in, check out our guide here

Make Their Goals Your Goals

Your colleagues may not know what personas, SEO, or content offers are. You have to help them understand what inbound marketing is so they have a clear vision of how the marketing strategy is shifting. Make sure you put that vision in context of how it helps them.

Draw a picture, tell the story that shows how your team's inbound marketing activities helps them achieve their goals.

For example, you could explain that your keyword and persona research will be the foundation of an SEO campaign that gets the school's website found by the people they're trying to reach. You can add that SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads, their current marketing strategy, have a 1.7% close rate. 

CAUTION: Beware of diving into nitty-gritty of marketing until you're sure your non-marketing savvy stakeholders understand the terms and concepts. Use that language too early, and you risk losing them them.

Instead of talking about keywords and personas, leads, and content offers — take them through a real-life example. For instance, a parent who's looking for a new school because their child needs X. (Make that "X" something for which your school is known and can be found online with that term.) Using a real-life example will bridge the gap between your marketing-speak and their reality.

All the Cool Kids are Doing It 

Many educational institutions are already having great success with inbound. This includes K-12, higher education, and trade schools. Take a look around and share some effective examples from other schools. You can find some case studies of educational institution inbound successes here.

Pay particular attention to the schools getting the type of enrollees that you want at your institution. What kind of campaigns are they running? What does their content priority appear to be?

When people at your school see real-world examples of how other schools are benefiting from inbound, their trust factor in inbound's potential for your own school increases.

Reassure Your Colleagues

Trust is critical to getting your stakeholders' buy-in for a major change. Showing other schools' success with inbound is just one aspect to earning their trust.

The other is to reassure them that while inbound is a shift, it's not a revolution (not yet anyway). You're not throwing out all the marketing work you've already done. The school isn't getting rid of current marketing channels that have been working. A PPC campaign that's been bringing visitors to website and downloads of application materials will continue.

Start with small, tightly focused campaigns for quick wins. Don't make your first proposal a redesign of the school's entire website. Instead, you might start with an SEO optimization plan for a high priority program page.

Be sure to benchmark metrics before the change. Get past performance numbers for metrics such as traffic referral sources, new visitors, repeat visitors, time on page, time on site, and downloads. Then optimize the page for SEO. Use the persona research to craft a powerful CTA to download the program brochure.

How is the new page comparing to the old version? Reporting is crucial to prove the value of your inbound campaigns. Fortunately, data and metrics are two of inbound marketing's virtues. As time passes, show the before-and-after pics. Show you're willing to have your work measured. Because admissions, faculty, and staff are held to very hard, tight numbers such as student enrollments, test scores, student outcomes, etc., they'll welcome news that Marketing will also be publicly held to relevant performance metrics. 

From there, continue with ever-larger campaigns. Optimize more web pages. Revamp the blog. Run a student-generated content social media campaign. Make a premium content offer. 

Consistent implementation of ongoing inbound campaigns will keep your message about the value of inbound in front of key stakeholders. Each subsequent campaign should build off the success of the last and be a bit more ambitious. This stepped approach eases the transition as more resources go to inbound from older, legacy marketing tactics. Watch as their support and enthusiasm grows.

Have an Inbound Strategy

Although you may be starting small, know from the start where you want to go. After the first quick success, don't be at a loss about what to do next. Hesitation on your part will undermine the confidence you've earned from key stakeholders in making the transition. 

Your team should brainstorm and layout your inbound strategy as part of your overall marketing, before you bring it to the rest of the school. You don't need to plan each detail, but do have a strategy and a high-level plan for implementing it.

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Your plan should include where/when (as early as makes sense) to involve other key stakeholders in identifying goals and success metrics for future inbound campaigns. Getting them involved in developing your school's inbound strategy ensures it's aligned with the broader goals of the school. The more "thumbprints" on your plan, the better!

Now, your goals are their goals. And it's more likely they'll be allies when it comes time to secure budget and resource support for even more sophisticated inbound marketing campaigns.

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