Digital marketing experts are heralding the advent of “content blindness”- a condition brought about by promotion-heavy content that pretends to be of use to target audiences, but is really only about selling a product or service. When audiences detect the sales-pitch they immediately tune out and move on.
In an effort to remain visible and viable in an increasingly competitive marketplace, many schools revert to traditional “selling” techniques that repel rather than engage prospective students.
When your website content becomes too self-promotional, visitors go “blind”, tune out your messages, and turn instead to your competitors who they feel connect with them better.
So how can education marketers ensure that the content they produce is actually resonating with – and not repelling – their target audience? How do your build your brand without selling your school?
Read on for some simple strategies you can use to “tell but not sell” when crafting content for three critical sections of your school’s website: the “About Us” page, Blog, and “Why Choose Us” page.
About Us Page: Put Your Personas in the Spotlight
Whether they are targeting parents, young adults, career-changers or international students, schools must understand the unique motivations and concerns of their personas (target audiences).
When you know your target personas, you can personalize content to suit their unique identity as potential applicants. With their needs at heart, your school brand will automatically become more persona-centered and less promotionally focussed.
Here’s a simple example of personalized content from John Cabot University’s About Us page:
JCU’s sections are designed with their target audience in mind:
- First of all, they assure parents and students that their classes are small, and that learning happens both on-campus and within the city in Rome
- Next, they speak directly to students who envision going to graduate school, and those who prefer direct entry into the workforce after they’ve earned their degree
- There is no overt promotion of the institution itself – everything is oriented around the personas’ motivations and interests.
Take a look at this contrasting example of a “selling” About Us page from Sheridan College:
This content misses the mark by advertising assets without connecting with target audiences. Prospective students will likely be “blind” to this About Us blurb, searching instead for messages that reflect their unique interests and aspirations.
Blog: Think “Added Value” not Advertising
Research recently released by the Economist Group highlights the widening disconnect between content marketers and their target audiences. Although the research was business-focussed, the insights underscore a significant trend that education marketers should take note of when crafting their own content. In their survey involving 1500 participants, the Economist Group found that:
- 93% of marketers connect content with products and services
- 75% of marketers believe content should frequently mention products and services
- 60% of millennial respondents say they ignore sales-pitchy content
- 75% of millennials say they look to content for insights relevant to their goals
Let’s take your institution’s blog as an example. Students turn to blogs for advice, quick tips, interesting developments in their field of study, and to keep up-to-date on campus events that will impact their lives. In other words, they want added value, not advertising. Where promotion repels, persona-relevant posts attract, engage and are far more likely to convert because they enhance a thoughtful, in-the-know, student-centered brand.
Here’s an excellent example from Little Mountain Learning Academy, an enriched ESL school:
Little Mountain does not promote itself in the post (other than by integrating SEO keywords), but rather freely gives away expert advice to its target audience: parents who want to accelerate their child’s English language learning.
The result? Continued engagement, increased trust, and a far better chance of persuading blog visitors to fill out that lead generation form in the upper right hand corner!
Here’s another post that connects with students’ aspirations from the Okanagan Valley College of Massage Therapy:
Again, there’s nothing pitchy in the piece – it simply helps students prepare for the transition from college to the workforce. It is relevant, sensitive to the persona’s goals, and helps brand the institution as knowledgeable and caring.
And if your institution tends to favor infographics over blog entries, here’s an effective example from Automotive Training Centres (ATC):
ATC offers valuable tips on a subject the college knows will interest its persona, adding value by providing actionable advice.
Persona-oriented posts like these are an essential part of your overall student recruitment strategy. They provide high quality content for social media sharing, enhance your institution’s search results ranking, and help generate new leads by engaging, delighting and converting your audience.
Why Choose Us Page: Let Your Students do the Talking
This is one of the most important pages on your school, university or program website. And for some, the most tempting place to fall prey to overtly promotional messaging.
But there is a highly effective way to promote your institution without the sales pitch – and once again, it requires putting your personas centre-stage.
When current students and alumni tell the story of how fantastic your school is and how the training they received changed their lives for the better, prospective applicants sit up and listen. Education marketers understand the persuasive punch a strong testimonial packs – versus “telling” audiences all the reasons why they should trust and invest in your brand.
The best way to promote your school is to let your students do the talking – like this excellent example from the Stenberg College Why Choose Us section, where an interview question/answer approach is used to reveal just how effectively the college supports and prepares its graduates for success:
Now, compare Stenberg’s approach with the next example, where the student narrative is replaced by the institutional voice, telling audiences why this school should be their top choice:
While the evidence offered in this Why Choose Us section is likely true, it’s the kind of purely promotional content that prospective parents and students will skim past, searching for more authentic representations of the school’s brand. They’ll look instead for videos of students in classrooms, playing sports, making music – and most of all, speaking honestly about the positive impact this school has had on their lives.
Key Takeaways for Education Content Marketing
- Personalization should be the foundation your content strategy and development. No one can tell your brand story and generate excitement about your programs better than your successful students and alumni.
- Persona-oriented (rather than promotional) content should take centre stage on well-trafficked sections of your website, such as the About Us page, your Blog, and the Why Choose Us page.
- Check in with your students often and invest in an effective alumni engagement strategy: the better you know your audience(s), the more authentic and persuasive your content will be!