July 1

The Magic Is in the Messaging: Content Creation for Higher Ed Marketing


Trying to keep up with creating more content with a small marketing team? See how Northern Michigan University does content creation with a small team and a limited budget.

It’s undisputed. Content marketing is education marketing in today’s world.

Every prospective student is swimming in an ocean of information and content at their fingertips.

They are in the driver’s seat.

Which means, successful marketing depends on content creation that frequently and consistently publishes information prospects are looking for.

Content creation produces copy, graphics, video, and other forms of content that answer the questions your audience is typing into their search engines.

Problem is, content creation takes time, money, and human resources to produce.

If you have a small marketing team and a limited budget, how do you generate enough content to keep your enrollment pipeline full of new leads?

That’s the question we wanted to answer in our conversation with Dan Freeborn, assistant marketer of Northern Michigan University on the Higher Ed Marketer podcast.

In this beautifully honest conversation, Dan shared with us the best practices that he’s discovered by marketing the Global Campus, NMU’s online learning program for adult learners.

One guy. Many hats.

Located in the pristine setting of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Northern Michigan University enjoys some name recognition in the upper Midwest region.

Even though their traditional audience comes mainly from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois, NMU’s Global Campus opens up the door for adult learners anywhere to complete their degree 100% online.

And it’s Dan Freeborn’s job to make sure they know about this amazing opportunity.

He’s one of three members in this scrappy team of education marketers.

My specific role within our department is managing our marketing efforts – everything from email, organic, social, and paid advertising [among others]. I’m also the primary contact throughout the admissions funnel for helping students progress through [their admissions process]. So, submitting their application, making sure they’re making their marks and enrollment, next steps and everything.

I’m kind of a one-man operation. 

I find in my work that a lot of education marketers can identify with Dan.

You’re one person wearing hundreds of hats, trying to keep them all on your head at the same time.

So how does Dan get it all done?

I asked him to describe the time involved to produce that amount of content, and this was his response.

Content creation is about quality, not quantity.

It’s really hard to quantify how many hours are spent on content development. What I’ve come to embrace is that rather than focusing on how much time is spent, [I focus on] how I am spending the time I do have when developing content. 

The question for Dan isn’t about quantity, as in hours spent in content creation.

His primary focus is on quality, making sure that the time he does spend to create new content goes into projects and channels that move the needle forward.

It’s quite a paradox for small marketing teams. So often, you’re really forced into thinking about how efficient you can be – “Let’s pump out as much as we can!” – to prove that we can still be competitive, even though we have a small team. 

So, it becomes this dynamic that’s really hard to wrestle with. When you’re [only] focused on pumping out content, regardless of strategy, it becomes more that you’re wasting time at that point. 

This truly is a dilemma for most small marketing teams.

Competitors with big teams are pumping out content left and right, and that can make you feel like you’ve got to do the same thing.

While it’s true that a proper inbound marketing strategy does require a significant volume of content, that doesn’t mean that you have to kill yourself to keep up with the same publishing frequency as others to be competitive.

Efficiency trumps publishing volume.

As with all good advice on time management, Dan began to show us how he prioritizes what content needs to be created, published, and when.

I try to be efficient. That’s a big part of productivity in a small team. I really want to focus on how I’m spending my time. And that revolves around being very specific in how I’m analyzing the data that we collect. 

Most all universities have a plethora of data. I’m really fortunate in our team that I get access to a lot of data about our students. So, I make sure to spend the time to dig into that data. How do our students behave on a whole looking at two to three year trends in our prospective student pipeline?

Dan realized that he couldn’t do it all.

He simply doesn’t have the content creation capacity to publish as often and as much as he would like.

How then does he get the job done?

Taking time to analyze the data gives him the insights he needs to aim his content creation efforts at the right audience, time, and publishing frequency.

This allows Dan to create content strategically, making the most of what he can actually accomplish with his small team.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that’s how you’ve got to approach your content marketing strategy.

The main picture isn’t all complete yet. The whole pie is not completed. I haven’t built everything out the way I want it to be. 

But I’ve been able to make these small steps in working toward that major goal. Initially, I had all these great ideas to have this robust set of email campaigns, social content, and paid advertising that all link together. 

But realizing as a one man show it’s not realistic to do that in the first few months of a new job, I took it into small, bite-sized chunks.

Strategic Content Creation

All of us have the same amount of hours in the day, but we don’t all have the same human, money, and marketing resources.

That’s what makes having a content creation strategy so important.

Dan worked out his strategy by focusing on the action steps he wanted his audience to take.

So building out content related to those specific action steps was my key point. That allowed me to rest assured that they were getting the main points delivered to them, the main pieces of content they needed. 

From there, I was able to take a step back and look more at that information as a whole in order to develop the communication plan much further, filling in gaps between messaging pieces. 

It did take a lot of time. But I think taking it in bite-sized chunks was the key for me to be able to do this successfully. 

Having the essential content for his communication plan in place, Dan could relax knowing that his audience was getting the content that they really needed for each next action step.

This is what I consider to be evergreen content.

Evergreen content includes documents, videos, articles, and landing pages that remain in place for your target audiences year after year.

Once this is in place, you can then create new content as often as your resources allow.

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 Dan Freeborn to get even more insights on:

  • How to manage time and resources well in content creation
  • What types of content perform best in higher ed
  • How to mass produce content with a small team
  • What information to collect and how to use it for promotion

Looking for Enrollment Marketing Content that Works?

You’re in luck! We’ve curated 25 awesome ideas inspired by top higher ed institutions across the country and put them in one handy guide: 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.

25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content In this popular resource from Caylor Solutions, you’ll get…

    • 25 enrollment marketing content ideas you might never have considered before
    • Guidance on how to use each one for best results
    • Brief discussion on why they work to help you sell these ideas to your team

Get inspired.
Get enrollment results.
Get 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.
Download your copy today!

Images via nmu.edu

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