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Basics of Higher Ed Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing focuses on storytelling through blogs, ebooks, landing pages, emails, webinars, surveys, infographics … the list goes on. As opposed to traditional “outbound” marketing, inbound meets prospective students where they are in their journey by providing answers to the questions they’re asking. It is goal-oriented and is completely consumer-centric.

Perhaps the starkest contrast between inbound and outbound marketing is that inbound marketing builds trust between brands and consumers, which gives brands the ability to build lifelong relationships with them.

There’s no getting around it. Current and prospective college students use the internet to find answers to their questions about schools, internships, careers, and other life decisions. To stay current in today’s changing educational landscape, higher education institutions need inbound marketing to ensure the answers audiences find come from their digital marketing collateral.

Inbound marketing is an attractive strategy for higher education institutions because it is designed to help convert site visitors into inquiries, inquiries into applications, apps into enrolled students, and ultimately, enrolled students into loyal alumni who can act as advocates for your school.

According to Hubspot’s Matt Fradette, manager of nonprofit and educational programs, inbound marketing produces 54 percent more inquiries than traditional marketing. That doesn’t mean traditional strategies should be completely ignored. Rather, outbound marketing is most effective when used in conjunction with inbound strategies to maximize your pool of candidates.

The good news for higher ed institutions is that inbound marketing is especially effective for businesses dealing with high dollar values, long buyer journeys, and products and services that require specialized knowledge. “In these areas, prospects are more likely to get informed and trust someone who demonstrates expertise by delivering consistent, ongoing valuable information,” says Antje Sainte Rose, inbound marketing and content strategist.

So, what steps can you take to jump start your inbound marketing practice this year?

Define Your Target Audience and Create Personas

After defining your target audience, the best way to truly understand the various nuances, challenges, motivations, and influencers that impact subgroups within your target audience is to create personas. Put simply, personas represent segments of a larger audience that share psychographic characteristics.

For example, your target audience may be students who graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school classes. But, that designation is far too broad to be useful for any targeted marketing campaign. You need to segment it so you can provide a personalized experience for as many prospective students as possible.

Maybe you call one of your personas “Jill.” It’s important to know her age, geographic location, interests, and online behavior. That data can be easily collected using various digital platforms, but what differentiates Jill are her challenges, motivations, and influencers. Understanding these will help you pinpoint what Jill cares about and how she makes decisions. This process is critical to building personas and the key to creating content that resonates with Jill’s personality.

Segmenting your audience into archetypes will help bring it to life, and ultimately help your marketing efforts be more authentic and impactful, while delivering the results you want.

Focus On Email

Good marketing tells a story. It uses blog posts, social media, infographics, and landing pages, among other media, to help share that story and nurture your audience as it progresses naturally through its buyer journey. The average ROI of an email campaign is about 28.5 percent, while the ROI of a traditional, direct mail campaign is only 7 percent, according to Chief Marketer. 

One way to measure success in inbound marketing is through the quality of interaction generated via email. To achieve this, make sure you maintain an up-to-date email list by frequently removing inactive contacts and email addresses that bounce. This way, your institution is reaching the highest quality leads, or, those who will help you achieve the greatest return on your investment.

Use Social Media

Your institution must be pushing valuable social content in order to stay relevant.

When deciding where to apply and ultiamtely enroll, 75 percent of students use social media to aid their decisions. Social media is an effective way to engage prospective students and answer their questions on a platform with which they’re familiar.

So, don’t get lazy with your social strategy! Too often, developing a strategy for your social media channels is overlooked, but it is vital to the success of your marketing efforts. Because so many students are already active on a variety of social platforms, it’s a great opportunity for your institution to serve valuable content where your prospects are already interacting.

Include Calls to Action

Lastly, you want to be sure all of your messaging includes clear calls to action. A CTA is your opportunity to tell your prospect to think, feel or do something while you already have them engaged. Clear and direct CTAs drive more visits, increase the “stickiness” of your site, and improve the overall user experience for your personas.

Effective CTAs also give your content a purpose. After reading through a well-written blog post or scanning a well-designed infographic, your target consumer is likely deciding which steps to take next. CTAs can help guide them toward the information they’re seeking.

Good content is timely, relevant, consumer-centric, well designed, and strategically distributed. Good content is also available wherever and whenever consumers search for it. Inbound marketing can be used to drive awareness, generate leads, and—perhaps most importantlyencourage your target consumer to take action that benefits your insitution. Meet them where they are, provide the information they seek, and you’ll see a stark improvement in your marketing efforts.

Erika Voeller

Erika is passionate about content creation and brand growth. As a copywriter, she uses her talent for writing to help elevate brands. When she's not writing, you'll find her practicing yoga, exploring Minneapolis, or sipping on iced coffee.