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What Enrollment Marketers Need to Learn from Austen, Lucas, and Shakespeare

Posted By Zach Busekrus on 2/4/15 2:48 PM

Read Time: 4 Minutes



What do Jane Austen, George Lucas, and William Shakespeare have in common? The ability to tell stories that move the hearts, challenge the minds, and inspire the conversations of generations.

Human beings like stories. We've been telling stories for just about as long as we've inhabited this earth. From cave dwellings and psalms to newspapers and social media, stories have defied space and time and remained integral to the way humanity experiences the world.

While the art of storytelling has been around for ages, the use of storytelling for the purpose of "selling" is a fairly new—but rapidly growing—phenomenon in the B2B and B2C worlds.

Cognitive anthropologist Bob Deutsch argues that "the secret to success in social media is not simply entering a conversation, but entering people’s narrative." Not only is this is relevant to social media, but to all mediums of marketing—especially when it comes to higher education marketing.

If we are serious about attracting prospective students, the time has come to take a lesson from some of the most renowned storytellers to help us better engage with our prospective students.

Here are 3 tips on how to use storytelling as an effective tool for enrollment marketing:

1. Enter their narrative.

Why did the world fall in love with Elizabeth Bennet? Aside from her obvious charm, beauty, and wit, what made Elizabeth Bennet a renowned character was her desire to marry for love, despite the circumstances of the time that expected her to marry for economic security.

As viewers, we connect with Elizabeth Bennet because we understand what it is like to long for something that society, our parents, our financial situation—or whatever the obstacle—says we can't have.

Remember what the students you are trying to attract to your institution are going through. Remember the pressure, the uncertainty, the Rubik’s Cube of emotions that comes with this matriculation process.

In the same way Jane Austen gets us to empathize with Elizabeth Bennet, you need to authentically convince your prospective students that you get it. They need to perceive that you understand some things about them, and they must feel that their point of view—the way they see the college application process— is understood by you.

How do you enter their narrative?

  1. Write a blog post on what scholarships students who are paying for college on their own should look for.

  2. Create a downloadable guide that offers tips on questions to ask yourself while on a college tour.

  3. Produce a short video that features college freshmen describing their greatest fears about college in high school and how they were able to overcome those fears.

2. Be a resource for when their plot twists.

George Lucas depicts one of the most renowned plot twists in film history when he reveals Darth Vader as the father of Luke Skywalker. Although the initial "Luke, I am your father" is deliciously shocking, I'd argue that the real twist actually occurs inside of the viewer—suddenly the evil of evils is somewhat humanized and you're not exactly sure what to think. What will happen next? Will Vader return to "the light side"? Will Luke join his father on the Dark Side?

Perhaps the reason we connect with plot twists so much is because—well—our lives are full of them. While always entertaining, plot twists aren't always joyfully welcomed. In fact, more often than not, they aren't desired at all.  

Whether it’s not getting into their top school, deciding that they want to pursue creative writing instead of engineering, or facing the reality that they will be unable to finance their dream school, the majority of students are going to experience "plot twists" during their college decision process.

As an enrollment marketer, your job is to anticipate these plot twists and be a resource to help inform a prospect that all hope is not lost. Be the voice of reassurance when a prospect is looking to venture down a new path.  

How do you become a resource?

  1. Write a blog post on how to recover when you don't get into your top school.

  2. Create a downloadable guide on what questions to ask during a campus visit to your "safety school."

  3. Produce a short movie about judging a school not by its reputation but by whether it's a good fit for you.

3. Show them authenticity.

Why do we still read Shakespeare? Sure, he was a great playwright and all, and yes, his characters are endlessly interesting, but what is it about his work that has millions of people still enthralled? We still read Shakespeare because the things he wrote about almost 500 years ago still speak to the experiences of our modern world. Shakespeare's writing, while beautifully written, is also vulnerably authentic—and that's what makes his work timeless.  

More so than ever before, students today value authenticity. They've been marketed to since they were born, and they can smell a desperate plea for their time and money a mile-and-a-half away. In their minds, it’s not cool to be flashy and “the big kid on the block” if it’s all just a scammy show. Be real or lose their respect.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the need to explain why we're the best that we often forget to explain who we are. By not being afraid to be candid with them, you will develop a reputation for being real, for being authentic.

How do you show them authenticity?

  1. Write a vulnerable blog post where you discuss the kinds of students who would be a good fit for their institution AND the kinds of students who would not.

  2. Create a downloadable guide with student testimonials and include one or two that don't say "this school is the best school that ever existed."

  3. Produce a short video with alumni testimonials on how your institution prepared them for the post-college world and what they recommend to students considering your institution.

A good story grips our imagination and takes us on a journey of discovery through emotions, places, and realities. A good story makes us care about something. It opens our minds to new ideas and challenges how we understand the world.

Let's take a lesson or two from some of the greatest storytellers who've ever lived next time we sit down to develop a marketing campaign.


Interested in learning more about how to use content like stories to attract new students to your institution?

Register for a Free  Content Creation Brainstorm Session



Topics: Enrollment Management, Enrollment Marketing, Inbound Marketing, Blogging

About the Higher Ed Marketer

This blog is dedicated to sharing best practices, trends and case studies for the marketing of higher education. Our content is developed out of our partnerships with both undergraduate and graduate enrollment management professionals, as well as those who specialize in higher ed marketing and communications designed for student recruitment.

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