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January 10

Watering Holes: Be Where Your Target Audience Is


Simple concepts like message placement can mean the difference between success and frustration. In other words, be where your target audience is.

I’ve been in the higher ed marketing space for a long time now. 

One of the things I love about this industry is how fast things can change. It’s dynamic and challenging – never boring!

Yet, there are multiple principles that simply do not fade with time. 

One of these evergreen marketing principles is what I call “watering holes.”

African watering holes are fascinating. 

Image via Pexels

Water holes in places like Africa bring together all kinds of different species. 

The one thing they share in common is a need for water.

Instinctively, hundreds of different animals can end up being in a  single spot to get the one thing they all need. 

In education marketing, watering holes also exist. 

And they bring all kinds of different people from different places together. 

Watering holes are the websites, social media platforms, media outlets, or physical spaces where people go to get their news, info, and entertainment.

Just like those animals on the African plain share a common need, we all share a need to be informed of our world, connected to those we care about, or simply to de-stress.

So how do watering holes help us as higher ed marketers?

Marketing to Your Target Audience, the Smart Way

Good marketers find ways to get their message out to their target audience. 

Smart marketers find ways to get their target audience to come to their messaging. This is the logic behind inbound and content marketing, where you create an attraction, something your target audience is looking for.

But there is another way.

You could also find out where your audiences already go to daily and place your messaging there.

With this kind of strategic message placement, you don’t have to spend so much time and money on building something to attract your audiences. 

You’re simply taking advantage of the attraction that’s already there, the “watering hole.”

In other words, find out where your target audience hangs out online, and make sure to publish your messaging there.

Digital “Watering Holes”

Again, digital watering holes are wherever your audience goes to get news, information, connection, or entertainment. 

Back when digital marketing was starting to grow, people got their news from news media websites such as the New York Times or the Washington Post, their information from long chat threads, and connection from emails, IM, or early social media platforms. 

However, that has all really changed.

Today, social media has become the de facto watering hole for all of the above. 

Now, news is brought into the media feeds on your wall. 

People also go to social media to ask questions instead of going exclusively to professionally edited websites.

Here are some helpful posts to begin thinking through the different kinds of audiences that hang out at each one of these watering holes.

While I’m sure that you’re on most of these platforms already, to make the concept of message placement really work…

You’ve got to find the watering holes within these platforms.

Social Groups and Interests 

On each of the social media platforms I listed above, there are groups which meet, share content, and entertain others based on shared interests, background, or beliefs. 

Being on one of these massive social media platforms is like going to Africa to see elephants.

You’re on the right continent, but you’ve now got to find where they are gathering. 

While social media ad campaigns can be very effective, the most active parts of social media are in social and interest groups. 

These are digital “watering holes” where your target audience is going to get their news, info, connection, and entertainment.

Beyond having a social media content marketing strategy in place, I recommend finding the groups in which your target audience is already participating and be there too.

Parents often form groups as they help each other prepare their children for college.

Alumni professionals are active in various LinkedIn groups.

And of course, prospective students can be found in a wide-range of interest groups online. 

The key is to look for interest groups on these social media platforms that share commonalities with your academic programs.

Build a presence for your education brand wherever your target audience is hanging out.

Represent your education brand in the conversation. 

Offer help whenever you can.

Ask good questions that stimulate conversation among the members of the group. 

When appropriate, offer content that you’ve created as a higher education brand. 

Physical Spaces

The strategy of placing your messaging at strategic watering holes isn’t confined to digital spaces.

A while back, I did a project for a Christian college in Hawaii. 

I started investigating the watering holes where their target audiences were likely to gather, and I found a local shop called HE>I

HE>I is a lifestyle/clothing brand that focuses on Christian messaging and inspiration. 

I realized this shop was more than a store. 

It was a Christian destination in Honolulu, and the perfect place for the Christian college to get its message out to a large crowd of like-minded individuals. 

That’s what you want to look for in a watering hole, whether it’s digital or physical. 

Churches, synagogues, youth conventions, Christian concerts, local festivals and events, coffee shops, radio stations that have the same values as your school — these are all potential watering holes to place your messaging.

The idea behind the watering hole strategy is simple yet very effective. 

Find out where your target audience is already looking for answers to their questions and spend time there being available and useful. 

For more help in your enrollment marketing, feel free to contact us today!

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