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September 29

The Key to Successful Content Marketing


I’m convinced of the power of content marketing for higher ed enrollment. 

For decades, I’ve been using the strategies and techniques I’ve learned from numerous authors and speakers in the corporate marketing space. 

Using the insights I learned from them, I’ve seen solid results for my higher ed clients, and even in my own marketing for Caylor Solutions. 

Jay Baer joins us on The Higher Ed Marketer Podcast and talks all about success in content marketing.

Source: LinkedIn

One of the most influential marketing experts out there is Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert, a content marketing consulting and social media strategy company.

Jay is also a bestselling author of 6 content marketing and customer experience books, a hall of fame keynote speaker, and an emcee.

Jay joins Troy and I to offer a wealth of knowledge on how successful content marketing can benefit higher ed.  

I was introduced to Jay’s work in 2013 when he launched his bestselling book Youtility. It’s a book that really framed the way I’ve looked at digital marketing and content marketing.

Since reading the book, I’ve always been struck with the idea that the key to successful content marketing is being able to answer the questions your prospective students have.

Success lies in understanding the mindset of your prospective students, knowing what they want, and what they’re seeking for.

So I really hope you enjoy reading through the highlights of our talk on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast with Jay Baer.

But please take a moment to listen to the whole conversation! There is really so much I couldn’t put into this blog post that I think will be a great benefit for you. 

Creating a Unified Strategy for Multiple Segments 

Brian Kenny, CMO at Harvard Business School, has sat in the CMO seat in a lot of different industries.

When he was on the podcast, he said he was convinced that higher ed is one of the most difficult industries in which to do marketing. 

There are so many constituent groups and a wide swath of all the generations, which makes higher ed marketing particularly difficult.

Jay sympathizes with this position and offers some helpful insights for us.

I would argue that higher ed organizations have as difficult of a strategic assignment as any kind of organization with regards to social media. There are so many strategic mouths to feed, right? 

You’ve got an enrollment goal, you’ve got an overall branding goal, maybe you’ve got an athletic goal, and you’ve got a student services and student life goal.

Then, you’ve got individual units and departments, humanities, and everything else! There are just a lot of people wanting to use social media for a lot of different things. 

Sometimes [all these social media accounts] work a little bit at cross purposes.

You only have so many accounts, and figuring out what goes on the main account and what goes on the individual accounts and how they intersect and what gets elevated to “the mothership,” – it’s a challenge.

Determine your overall content marketing branding goal.

Jay mentions in this quote the idea of having “the mothership.”

This refers to your school’s primary social media account, and schools should have a clear, overall branding strategy that guides the kinds of content that gets published there.

Higher ed marketing departments have to operate somewhat like a content marketing clearing house, or editing department, where content is constantly being evaluated and strategically placed in the right channels.

It’s tricky because the goal is not to be good at social media, the goal is to be good at business or higher ed, because of social media. 

There’s no right answer. 

It does depend on the campus and the culture of each organization a little bit, but it’s not an easy problem to solve.

Keeping Up with the Fast Pace of Social Media

In our conversation, Jay mentioned the rapid pace of change in higher ed content marketing, especially in social media. 

You never have a quarter, much less a year – much less five years! – where you say, “Yeah, we’re doing the same thing again!” 

It’s constant optimization and reinvention. 

Some people are totally wired for that gig, and other people just aren’t. 

It doesn’t make them bad marketers, and it certainly doesn’t make them bad people. But it does make them perhaps ill-suited for modern marketing. 

I’m sure you’ve felt this same immense pressure to keep up with all the latest technology and techniques in social media marketing.

How can you possibly stay current when everything is moving so fast?

Loosen the bureaucracy to innovate faster and build followers.

In an earlier podcast episode, we featured a conversation with Rob Clark, the founder of social media influencers That Tall Family and a former Director of Admissions, who offered a unique take on how to keep up with it all. He said

We’ve got to stop acting like this is the alumni magazine, reviewing everything, and getting approvals. 

You have to basically just kind of work. Get the students involved, start doing it on a daily basis, and that’s the only way you’re going to gain followers.

I agree with Rob here. 

Reorganizing your editorial process around social media content marketing is an immediate way to relieve the pressure.

Social media is simply a different kind of content that needs a different approach. 

On social media, the target audience is not expecting an elaborately produced product. 

They’re looking more for authenticity and originality.

In our conversation with Jay, he put it this way…

When you think about content, there are a couple of different approaches. 

There’s the filmmaker approach, [which could be expressed like] “We’re going to make a movie! This movie is going to have talented actors, and it’s going to have a professional director, and we’re probably going to have a lighting crew and a microphone.” It’s a [lot of effort with low returns]. 

Then, you’ve got the documentary style, which is, “We’re just walking around with the camera, and we’ll fix it in edit.” TikTok rewards the latter, not the former. 

In fact, most people who over-produce and try to make their TikToks “professional” usually [get poor results]. There’s a level of authenticity there, which frankly, used to be the case when Instagram and Vine first came out.

A lot of these neo-platforms tend to tune their algorithm around unofficial [low production] style content. Then as they get bigger and you’ve got more ad dollars from larger brands at play, they sometimes start to tilt it back the other way towards the little bit more structured [type of] content.

Aligning Enrollment Marketing and the University

Another challenge Jay helps higher ed marketers with is alignment between the enrollment and marketing teams and the larger school organization.

One of the challenges we see constantly with higher ed is that in many cases, the enrollment marketing function – and the enrollment marketing team – is kind of isolated. 

They oftentimes have their own assignment, metrics, and budget that are not necessarily integrated into the enterprise. There are some obvious inefficiencies in doing marketing that way. 

While as Jay points out, this siloed approach to marketing is inefficient, there are greater problems this disconnect can create. 

The bigger challenge is that in many cases, enrollment marketing is writing checks the operations of the university can’t cash. 

Marketing is saying, “This is what it’s like to be a student here.” And then somebody decides to come for a tour, but the tour doesn’t really say the things that they heard in the enrollment marketing!

Then they show up on campus, [and let’s say] they decide to matriculate. [But they actually experience] a different set of circumstances [than what they were told in the marketing]. 

In business, we wouldn’t do it that way. [Outside of] higher ed, you would never do it that way. You would have a unified customer journey map that says…

  • What messages do we say about our business at the awareness phase? 
  • What messages do we say at the interest phase? 
  • What messages do we say at the conversion phase? 
  • What messages do we say at the advocacy phase?

And [these messages] are aligned so that we’re always telling a similar story, even while changing that story based on the funnel stage. 

Yet in higher ed, so often, the story changes based on department. 

That causes confusion and, frankly, dissatisfaction amongst students and parents later down in the process.

Giving Marketing a Seat at the Executive Table

One of the best ways to avoid this kind of disjointed messaging across departments is to bring marketing to the executive suite of the school. 

By having a seat at the executive table, the CMO is aware of the various marketing needs of the different departments, while still being able to connect it all into a greater, unified messaging strategy. 

The CMO is also able to speak into the academic and student life teams to help them develop programs that appeal to prospective students. 

Also, having a CMO at the executive level helps knowledge to transfer from one marketing team to another. As one team learns something, that best practice is transferred to other teams through the CMO who is supervising all of them. 

But what if you have a decentralized marketing structure with a marketing team for every department, and you have no marketing executive at the top connecting them all?

Jay explains how to unify your content marketing strategy even with a decentralized marketing structure.

When you have a decentralized system, the best thing you can do is to really lean into centers of excellence.

If you’ve got a whole bunch of talented marketers on staff in a bunch of different units on campus, make sure that if somebody learned something, everybody learned something. 

Jay further explains that this means “a lot of weekly meetings” for trainings and cross communication. 

In a lot of cases, my team will actually create the agendas and run the meetings and say, “Hey, this week, we’re going to do a whole session for every marketer on campus about video SEO, so that everybody kind of levels up.” 

Because if you don’t have a structure where the knowledge transfer happens “waterfall style” through managers, directors, and VP’s, etc., you have to have a scenario where the knowledge transfer happens horizontally, like “river style.” 

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 Jay Baer to get even more insights into:

  • Alignment between enrollment and the student experience.
  • Helping universities understand communication modalities.
  • Helping universities understand market research, personal development, and the customer matching journey.

Want to Improve Your Digital Marketing Results?

Then you’ve got to know how to write for the web. That’s why we want to send you our popular ebook: Writing for the Web: 7 Secrets to Content Marketing Success for Education Marketers!

With this helpful resource, you’ll learn how to: writing for the web ebook

  • Grab your reader’s attention immediately
  • Pull your reader’s attention deeper into your content
  • Write so that Google (and other search engines) find you easily
  • Increase your website’s conversion rates

In short, you’ll be able to write the copy that makes your digital marketing strategy work for you. Download your copy today!

Featured image via jaybaer.com

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