June 28

Leveraging the Power of Storytelling in Education Marketing


Storytelling is a powerful technique that should be woven into each and every marketing message. Here we explore how storytelling enhances data-driven marketing to produce incredible results. 

For years, I’ve held to the belief that understanding what questions your audience is asking and answering them is the key to boosting traffic to your enrollment website.

And throughout the years, that belief has never steered me wrong.

No matter what new algorithm changes come down from the tech gods, knowing and answering your audience’s questions consistently boosts your search engine rankings.

Why is that?

Because almost every search engine query is, in fact, a question!

  • How much does college cost?
  • How do I pick the right career?
  • Does XYZ University offer online classes?
  • Where do I find info on scholarships?

These are all things that people type into search engines – and if you offer compelling answers to those questions, search engines will send users to you.

Of course, things like SEO and SEM go a long way to enhance your rankings.

But at the core of good SEO is an intimate understanding of what your audience wants to know.

So how do you discover your audience’s questions?

Data-Driven Marketing

In our interview on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, J.P. Spagnolo of Capital University shared how data helps us understand our audience’s questions. 

I started asking, “What are we doing to let students know about orientation?” And so I started asking about the data behind it. I started asking questions about how many people are opening our emails, and how many people are connecting and communicating with us.

I think that data is really one of the more important aspects of marketing.

Whether that’s understanding how your social media is connecting with the audiences out there, what things seem to be working, what things are not working, in terms of looking at the relevant data to it, or whether you’re looking at other things like finding a way to communicate your scholarships, there’s data that can help support that.

When J.P. wanted to know the questions his audience was asking about the orientation process, he went to the data. 

After he understood their questions, then he started  crafting the messaging they would use.

Leveraging Storytelling for your Data-Driven Marketing

Once you’ve got the questions down, it’s time for the answers.

But simply throwing out the answers in a robotic, data-loaded way will not work.

Audiences are simply overwhelmed or otherwise turned off by dry, endless bullet points.

That’s where storytelling comes in. 

When you use storytelling techniques in your marketing messaging, you “emotionalize” the facts – as Peter Gruber puts it in his interview with Tony Robbins. 

It’s that emotive way of giving the answers to the questions that makes the answers stick. 

Now the prospective student, alum, or parent simply can’t forget about your education brand.

What kinds of stories should your marketing tell?

There are so many stories that education marketers can and should be telling.

But most stories you’ll have in your marketing arsenal fall into a couple of categories.

Current Student Stories

One of the best ways to build trust with prospective students is to get them to see themselves at your school. What better way to do that than to tell current student stories?

Show your audience how the current student made their decision to come to your school.

Show them what your current student likes about your school or program.

Check out how Kenyon College used their current students to tell the story of a new library building. 

This video uses visual storytelling to answer prospective student’s questions about the campus as well as the kind of friends they could make by going to the school.

For more information on how Kenyon College uses storytelling as part of their greater branding campaign, listen to my conversation with Colleen Garland and Janet Marsden.

Parent Stories

Whether by video or in written format, having one parent tell another why they should consider your school is a compelling way to answer their big questions.

Another way parents can help you in your storytelling is to share how families can prepare for move-in day. 

These create beautiful, personal moments where you can use your marketing as a word-of-mouth channel. 

Just one person telling another about your school.

Alumni Stories

Alumni stories are certainly a popular go-to story as they show the kind of success students can have after attending your school.

This is important when you’re trying to answer questions like…

  • Is this school worth it?
  • Can I really afford a 4-year degree?
  • Will I have job opportunities after I graduate?

These kinds of stories are also a great way of encouraging other alumni to stay involved with the school, like this video from Houghton College.

Donor Stories

In my interview with VP of Advancement, Colleen Garland, and VP of Communications, Janet Marsden, of Kenyon College, they emphasized the importance of storytelling for stewarding donor gifts.

The communication of the gift was a little bit tricky. It gave us an opportunity not only to tell the story of this amazing gift, but also to help our other donors see that their gifts still mattered!

-Colleen Garland

They gave some incredible tips on how to do this well, so I highly recommend giving it a listen using the sound player above.

Faculty Stories

Faculty stories are a great way to answer questions about your programs.

At the same time, these storytelling messages show prospective students the kinds of mentors they can have by coming to your campus.

I really like how Indiana Wesleyan University features Dr. David Che to announce their new engineering program rather than going with an announcement from the president or a dean.

Sports Stories

If you’ve got a sports program, don’t let the action end on the field or court!

Publish it through your marketing channels and show the answer to your audience’s questions.

Of course, you can also tell sports or student athlete stories on your website or newsletter.

Answering Questions by Telling Stories

The core concepts behind successful content marketing are simple.

Answer people’s questions.

But executing that well is the challenge because the answers you give need to stick in their minds. 

Data is how you know your audience’s questions. 

Storytelling is how you make your answers unforgettable.  

Let the stories themselves answer the questions your audience is asking.

For more on how your education marketing can leverage the power of storytelling, contact us today!

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.

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    • 25 enrollment marketing content ideas you might never have considered before
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Get inspired.
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