May 25

Audience-Centric Content: Building Relationships Through Engagement

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by | May 25, 2023 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

Publishing audience-centric content is the goal of any good content marketing strategy

When the content resonates with your audiences, they are internally motivated to continue through your comm flow

Motivated audiences need less convincing to respond to your call to action—they’ve already been convinced!

Easier said than done, right?

Higher ed marketers all know the struggle of reaching their target audiences.

With so many digital mediums to choose from, how can schools know that their brand messaging is what their audience is looking for?

When it comes to creating audience-centric content, Jerra Toms, Director of Marketing and Communications at the University of Arkansas – Sam M. Walton College of Business, has been leading the way for years now.

Her simple suggestion? Get out of your office and talk to your audience. 

In this post, Jerra shares why engaging with your audience is essential to getting real feedback on your higher ed marketing efforts, especially with social media content. 

Audience-Centric Content Begins with Personal Connection

To craft brand messaging that resonates with your audiences and moves the needle, you need to begin by making personal connections with your audiences.

I love how Jerra went about this. It’s a lot of footwork, but as you’ll see, it has produced some great results for them. 

When I first came in, it was very overwhelming because we have so many different customers.

At Walton College we have students, alumni, faculty, staff, donors—we have all of these different audiences! They are being sent so many different messages in so many different mediums. Some of it comes from [our enrollment marketing team], and some of it not from us, especially if they’re alumni or donors. 

I came in at first and said, “I want to speak to at least one person from every one of these groups of people.”

I leveraged our development team to talk to key donors, leveraged our alumni association to talk to alumni, and with students we started bringing in interns.

Having to create messaging for multiple audiences is not unique to large, public universities. 

Even the smaller schools that I work with struggle to get their messaging attuned to each and every audience.

While it will take time, and possibly cost a little bit of your budget, the best way to create audience-centric content is to start by meeting personally with a representative of each marketing persona that you have. 

Now it’s important to make sure that the people you are meeting truly represent the audience you’re cultivating. 

Jerra shares how she had to make sure that the students she connected with were in fact the same type of students to whom she was marketing. 

The skill set we needed [from our student interns] did not come from Walton College. 

[For example], we needed production assistants to work on audio video; they’re not Walton College. We needed graphic design students, and they are coming from the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. 

[By connecting with student interns] we were getting some student perspective, but not the Walton College student perspective.

So I was trying to think of how to engage with [Walton College] students and have a more regular dialogue with them to hear the truth of what they think about our marketing and communications.

As for all of us in enrollment marketing, this wasn’t an easy problem to solve for Jerra. She would need some outside help. 

Willing to Take the Criticism

Eventually, Jerra was able to work with one of the marketing professors that she had in grad school to put together a class project to help her better connect with her target audiences.

[The marketing professor] teaches a project-based strategic marketing course for upper level juniors and seniors. They take on a project during the semester for one client in which they act as a mini-agency. 

[As a mini-agency] they have to take a problem, create a solution, put together a creative brief, and present to you the feedback they get throughout the semester. 

I came in on the first week of class, and I said, “Look, we have a challenge in reaching students. I want you to talk to your fellow students—freshman all the way to senior.”

We ended up with 20 presentations all together. We had some who targeted seniors who said, “Here’s a way to help seniors get jobs by communicating in this way and putting together this video content.” 

We had some who addressed freshmen who said, “This is how you should change the Career Center messaging.” 

So we had so many different ideas, and we were able to pull from each one of them consistently. 

Not surprisingly, a lot of them said social media was a big thing. 

They said, “You need to reduce the number of your accounts. You need to be doing reels. You need to be doing student takeovers and student highlights.” 

They didn’t want an email, to be honest with you. I kind of challenged [them on that], but so many groups said, “I want to cut down on the number of emails that I’m getting.”

We implemented so many things [we learned] from the class [project]. I mean, we’re still implementing a lot of them! I have the presentations in my desk, and I’ll come back to them a lot. 

It just transformed the way we were communicating with students, and luckily, it’s been working!

Honestly, I’m impressed to hear Jerra’s story.

One of the challenges of higher ed is that we get stuck in the way we’ve been doing things for a long time.

It’s difficult to get out there and do something new based on what your audiences are telling you. 

Also, it’s difficult to get the buy-in of everyone else on the administrative and executive teams.

But to craft audience-centric content that moves your audience through the comm flow, you need to trust in what your audience is telling you. 

Listen to them.

Change is hard, but if you follow your audience’s advice, you’ll craft brand messaging that better resonates with them.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Jerra Toms to get even more insights into:

  • Getting every perspective for authentic feedback on content (8:50)
  • Implementing new social media tactics and trending technology (17:52)
  • How a student advisory board can up your marketing game (23:26)


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Featured image via walton.uark.edu

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