Inbound Marketing: the Fine Art of Being Found by and Engaging with Prospective Students

Date posted: October 27, 2014

Social engineering concept

Image Source

The definition of inbound marketing continues to be a bit of a moving target these days, with ongoing debate on whether certain types of digital marketing like PPC and opt in email should be considered part of it. Here is Rand Fishkin’s (from Moz) helpful definition from May 2013 where even then, they were included in his mix.

Moz image of in and out bound mktg

Source: Moz 

Regardless of where your opinion lies on those specific tactics, I think that this image nicely summarizes where the general split lies between interruption, (also know as outbound) marketing versus inbound (also known as organic) marketing.  I also think most experienced marketers would agree that every institution has a different formula as to what the right mix is of outbound and inbound that they need to use to build the right level of lead and engagement flow to enable them to meet their specific registration (business) objectives. The outbound, or old-school, side of the equation is well understood and when used well, can be quite effective. The problem with outbound, of course, is that its general effectiveness has been, and will continue to, decrease as the consumer moves more into an organically driven, opt in world, where interruptions are systematically filtered out and ignored.  Like it or not, having budget or not, or having adequate staff or not, mastering inbound marketing is an absolute necessity for college marketers to maintain their competitiveness in the online marketplace for prospective students.

So inbound marketing, in its most general sense, is the art of being noticed by your prospective student, within the context of their search or web experience (needs), and then engaging them in a favorable way that draws them into consideration of, and ultimately enrollment with, your institution.

Mature inbound marketing uses a customer-centric approach to accomplish this. Customers are carefully profiled into typical personas, defining demographic and psychographic characteristics that provide insight into their needs, preferences and attitudes, from the top of the recruitment funnel, (information gathering), through to school choice (registration). Personas and their associated insights are used to create and drive integrated SEO, content and social media strategies. This integration of strategy and tactics across SEO, content and social media is what is different and unique to an “inbound marketing” approach. Rather than operating as separate silos, as so often is the case, inbound marketing leverages them towards common audiences, content and social media interaction outcomes. Appropriate information is provided at the appropriate time, engaging prospective students around comments and questions and they are thoughtfully drawn down the funnel with appropriate calls to actions.

Hubspot funnel

The Hubspot Marketing Funnel

These inbound marketing methodologies are applied across the content and functionality of an institution’s website, social media and other related marketing activities with the support of marketing automation tools like Hubspot.  (HEM is a Hubspot partner. We use this tool to manage our internal marketing efforts and provide support to our college customers who use it.)

Have you embraced an inbound marketing philosophy and approach at your college or university? What challenges have you have faced adopting this approach. What aspects of inbound marketing have been most successful for you?