As a higher ed marketer, you’re laser-focused on getting your message out. But are you impacting the reality inside the institution? That’s what internal marketing is all about.
And it has consequences for your external marketing campaigns.
When internal marketing is done poorly or neglected entirely, issues tend to develop that only become more pronounced over time.
Ever feel like:
- You’re hamstrung by policies or lack of access to resources?
- The actual admissions experience doesn’t match the brand message?
- Faculty and staff present a completely different image from what you want to project?
Fostering relationships with key stakeholders to advocate for the changes you want to see helps. There is no substitute for one-on-one connections.
But what really makes a difference is to foster an environment on campus in which everyone has a common point of reference. Where everyone is singing the same tune.
It’s often up to your team to write that song and teach it to everyone.
What Is Internal Marketing?
Simply put, internal marketing is all about delivering a compelling, authentic brand message to your stakeholders within the institution—administrators, faculty, staff, and current students.
They’ve already bought in. Your goal is to keep them buying in.
Lessons from the Corporate World
Colin Mitchell, chief innovation officer for VICE Media, explained in a 2002 article for the Harvard Business Review that the critical goal of internal marketing in the business world is to foster in employees an emotional connection with the brand.
“Without that connection, employees are likely to undermine the expectations set by your advertising. In some cases, this is because they simply don’t understand what you have promised the public, so they end up working at cross-purposes. In other cases, it may be they don’t actually believe in the brand and feel disengaged or, worse, hostile toward the company.”
Another term for this is culture-building. A marketing campaign can make all sorts of promises to customers, but if the company culture doesn’t support them, the campaign is likely to fail.
Culture-Building in Academia
In case you think these concerns only apply to the business world, a 2009 research study found that higher ed institutions are more successful with an “inside-out” approach to marketing.
“[I]n the complex university realm, internal branding helps an institution overcome internal resistance to branding efforts. It helps the institution take an identity‐development strategy beyond traditional approaches, such as new logos, snappy taglines and expensive advertising campaigns, to an embedded cultural approach that guides everything from communications, fund‐raising, marketing and personnel policies to enrollment management and program development.”
At its best, internal marketing in higher ed is powerful. It goes beyond driving up enrollment numbers.
A compelling vision communicated well can inspire changes as fundamental as program development—which in turn gives you exciting new stories to tell in external campaigns.
Of course, I’d recommend more modest goals. At least to begin.
3 Goals for Internal Marketing
Consider setting your sights on these three goals as you turn your marketing efforts inward. In every case, these should translate into making you more successful in external marketing.
1. Win Administrative Support
Higher ed administrators naturally want the marketing team to have all the tools and creative liberty they need to reach institutional goals.
But as most higher ed marketers know, there are usually limits.
- If you’re part of a central marketing team for a university, you may not have influence over individual schools that prefer to handle their own marketing.
- If your institution has a strong athletic program, it may operate independently. You may not have access to entire marketing channels or enrollment funnels.
- If your university is a subsidiary of a parent organization, such as a healthcare system, you may have unique constraints.
Imagine if you could operate with fewer limits. Creating campaigns that the entire institution can own. Crafting messaging that feels genuine to all your key stakeholders.
That requires directing all the marketing activities you know how to do—creating top-of-mind awareness, driving engagement, educating your audience, moving them to action—at those key stakeholders.
Woo them successfully, and with their support, you’ll be far more effective at wooing prospects.
2. Inspire Admissions & Advancement Staff
Many higher ed marketers are interested in “educating” other internal teams. You’re probably full of ideas on how to utilize digital marketing tactics to engage hot prospect leads.
You would love to see:
- Best practices in place for emails to prospective students or donors for length, tone, frequency, etc.
- Counselors leverage blog posts, videos, and other content marketing materials to engage prospects.
- Better alignment in their approach to social media with the university account(s) you control.
But as you may have found, trying to change the way recruiters, counselors, major gift officers and others do their jobs through “memos” and other typical internal communications doesn’t get you very far.
Before you can educate your internal audience, you first have to inspire them.
In the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, the main character aims to do just that. He doesn’t just write a memo for his sports agency colleagues with some tips on taking better care of clients.
He writes a manifesto.
In “The Things We Think and Do Not Say,” Jerry explores why the business needs to change. He reminds his internal audience of their values, their purpose, and then paints a picture of a better way of doing business that matches the vision.
I’m not suggesting you write and distribute a 25-page manifesto. Unless you really want to.
I’m saying that if you have ideas for how to improve the admissions experience—to make it look more like the narrative you’re already out there selling—you’ll need to put your persuasive talents to work.
Consider creating engaging videos, webinars, email series, ebooks, and other types of content for admissions and advancement staff that inspire first, and only then seek to educate.
3. Empower Faculty to Deliver the Brand Promise
One way to summarize the job of a marketer is this: you make people aware of the resources they need.
In higher ed marketing, we’re usually talking about educational resources that help students achieve their goals. That’s external marketing.
One reason to engage in internal marketing on campus is to make faculty and administrators aware of resources that help them achieve their goals.
But ultimately, it’s all about building a stronger brand message.
The larger the institution, the more likely it will be that faculty, especially department heads, will need to be “marketed”:
- Available software to aid in curriculum design, particularly online courses.
- Inter-departmental services that help connect instructors with internship partners.
- Financial services, such as budgeting for new programs or student organizations.
- Marketing assistance (presumably, your own consultative services)!
Educators need to be marketed to for the same reasons as everyone else. They’re too busy doing their jobs to investigate opportunities to try new things. They may be dimly aware of available resources but need reminding to reach out and take advantage of them.
By internally marketing these services, you can inspire educators to create new opportunities for students. As they do, you’ll have new, exciting stories to tell that will reinforce the brand promise.
Ready to build your institution’s brand from the inside out? Start creating your internal marketing campaign.
We work with many colleges and universities, big and small, who want our help with external marketing—but really need some help with internal marketing, too.
There’s only so much you can do before you’ve inspired key stakeholders to trust you and endorse your game-changing ideas.
There’s only so much you can say authentically in external messaging without doing some internal culture-building to back it up.
If you find yourself fighting battles on two fronts—enrollment numbers in front of you, brand message misalignment behind—my team and I can help.
Let’s chat about ways we can utilize internal marketing techniques to help everyone win.
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