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Why There’s No Silver Bullet in Enrollment Marketing — And Why That’s a Good Thing

Zach Busekrus
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I recently had the privilege to travel to London and catch a ride through downtown in one of the city’s iconic black cabs. Allan, the driver, was remarkably friendly — and yes, he just about perfectly personified the stereotype of London’s cabbies being chipper, helpful, and knowledgeable gents.

Before too long, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I was an inbound marketer and worked closely with undergraduate and graduate institutions to help them attract new students through online content.

He chuckled and said, “It’s people like you who are slowly putting me out of a job.” We entered into a highly entertaining conversation about how Uber’s presence in London had reduced his daily jobs by about 40%.

He went on to claim that “those online marketing people at Uber sure know what they’re doing” and that “the way they tell stories with their ‘adverts’ is pure genius — it makes me want to call an Uber.” Finally, he said that “if only someone would take the time to collect and market the stories of us cabbies. We grew up on these streets and boy, do we have stories to share.”

Here is what struck me as I listened to what Allan said during our short ride together:

There is power in storytelling — enough power to disrupt legacy industries

When I think about the challenges that enrollment marketers face today, especially graduate enrollment marketers, I think about an industry that is crowded, competitive, and, in some cases, really struggling; similar to the environment London cabbies find themselves in today.

We’re all looking for the silver bullet marketing campaign that will help us increase numbers — the “Get Ripped in 30 Days...Results Guaranteed!” equivalent for student recruitment. But the truth of the matter is that there is no silver bullet. There’s no one campaign, list, or tactic that works perfectly for everyone; no “Success 101” book when it comes to enrollment marketing in 2017.

And yet, I think that’s a good thing.

Each of your institutions, your schools, your programs, have something unique and special to offer a particular, and specific, group of people. Rather than attempting to be all things to all people, or trying to be the biggest kid on the block, start by looking in the mirror and having an honest conversation with yourself.

What is it that makes your program special? Who is your program the best possible fit for? Start by defining which or your student personas has the best chance to succeed in your program, and then create mounds of content that helps that person's journey through the discernment of if, when, and where, to pursue said program.

Here’s what this could look like…

  1. You decide that the persona who is the best possible fit for your program is a mom who has decided to go back to work after being home for a few years with her two kids (who are now school-aged).

  2. Your program offers tremendous flexibility when it comes to the format of your courses (online, early morning, late night, etc.) and is available both part-time and full-time.
  3. Now that you know who the best possible persona for your program is, it’s time to start creating content that answers her questions, addresses her concerns, and inspires her pursuit of an advanced degree.
  4. Write blog posts on “Why <Program X> is Conducive to Being Both a Full-Time Student and a Full-Time Mom”, “How to Succeed in Grad School — and Still Be Home for Bedtime”, etc.

  5. Create videos that feature alumni that have been successful in your program. Be raw, be authentic, be helpful.

  6. Promote the heck out of this content through paid social promotions. Don’t spend your time paying to promote resources about applying or attending an information session — pay to promote content that people deem helpful, not transactional.

By leveraging content that is hyper-specific to the needs of your most important persona, you’ll be able to reach those who fall outside the middle of your recruitment spectrum as well — this is the law of the mean in action.

I am not saying that you want to spend all of your time creating content that is only relevant to one persona, but I am suggesting that you start here.

No, a silver bullet for the perfect enrollment marketing campaign doesn’t exist — but there is a strategy that equips you with the tools and vision necessary to develop a strategy that is moldable, customizable, and personal to your recruitment goals.

The strategy is called inbound marketing — a marketing methodology that works for small and large schools alike. Stories have the power to overturn industries, disrupt norms, and birth profitable success — people like my cabbie friend, Allan, are experiencing these effects firsthand, in a very tangible way.

The questions to ask yourself today are:

  1. What story does my program have to tell?

  2. Who will my program’s story resonate with?

  3. How do I communicate my program’s story in a format, tone, and style, that will reach, and be meaningful, to my target persona?

Now go out and start storyboarding — if you don’t, it’s only a matter of time before your competition will.

Topics: Enrollment Management, Enrollment Marketing

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