Creating Content Your Audiences Want

Moving beyond buzzwords to make an impact.

August 11, 2015

Do you work for an “elite” school with “world-class” faculty? Does the school do “cutting-edge” research? If yes, is screaming out these words from our web sites and marketing collateral impacting prospective students? Before you answer, it’s worth asking yourself what these words in quotes actually mean.

In reality, these overused buzzwords carry very little weight. It would be far more effective to have in place an external-focused content marketing strategy. By definition, this means: the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience. So, how can we move beyond buzzword proclamations to concretely live out this definition? Here are some thoughts to consider.

1. Create an editorial strategy aligned to your targeted audiences’ needs.

Start by thinking through your big picture objectives. Then determine your target audience’s readership habits and needs and deliver the content they are interested in. Short surveys disbursed through various mediums can be an initial starting point that ultimately helps you flesh out a complete strategy that defines the type of content, frequency and outlets.  

2. Deliver the desired content.

Every institution has the potential to create content and build up an audience, just like traditional media outlets. The problem is that few colleges truly take a serious media approach to content creation, which starts by defining an editorial mission. Most every media outlet has an editorial mission that answers three questions:

  • Who is the core audience?
  • What will you deliver to them?
  • What is the desired outcome?

How would you answer these questions for your own content marketing initiative?

Keep in mind, there is a big difference between creating content based on inspiration versus an obligation to fulfill a business need. Inspiration will only take you so far. Surely there are times that your favorite columnist doesn’t feel like writing his/her weekly piece or your favorite news anchor isn’t keen to report the evening’s news. Fortunately, they are not creating content based on how they feel that particular day.

If you want to be serious about a content strategy that will achieve results, you need to have the same mindset as a traditional media reporter or anchor. It would therefore be advisable to create an editorial calendar and plan that defines the creator of the piece, the title and description, and the deadline. Just like a traditional media outlet does, it is also worthwhile to think through your beats. Your local newspaper beats might include the police beat, the sports beat and the education beat. Your audience should help define what your beats actually are, but possibilities would include advice from alumni, resources for succeeding in a particular program and faculty perspectives.

3. Disseminate

As part of a strategy, it is important to think about how you will get your messages out. Surely a portion of your audience might come across content through search engines. It is therefore important to think through the appropriate keywords and titles before disseminating through digital channels: social media, e-marketing and prominent visibility on institutional web sites. If the budget allows, native advertising could be another viable option. For example, for the cost of lunch, you can promote a daily article on a social channel like Twitter. It might also be worth thinking through external outlets that might be interested in re-publishing your content. In addition, the final pieces can be printed out and included as inserts in brochures and other print marketing collateral.

4. Measure

Google analytics and the different ways we can monitor web site traffic enables us to fairly efficiently measure the impact of our content. Much of measurement deals with numbers but fails to consider business objectives. It is easy to get caught up in the numbers race, but think instead about impact. If a piece of content is read just by 50 people but plays a role in five people investing significant amounts of money for a program, isn’t that a resounding success? In addition to media monitoring tools, you may want to consider doing surveys and soliciting feedback from your audiences to gain a better understanding on how content is resonating.

5. Look to examples outside of higher education.

Academic institutions can look outside of traditional higher education for examples of best practice.

Social Media Marketing World is an annual event for 2,500 marketing professionals in San Diego, California. Michael Stelzner, the founder of the event, hosts a podcast in which he interviews different thought leaders, the majority of whom are event speakers. Integrated into the show is a short commercial and different calls to action highlighting this event.

Consider as well online course creator Michael Hyatt. His course Your Best Year Ever helps individuals think through and achieve their New Year’s resolutions. For months prior to the launch of the course, Hyatt and his team create podcasts and blog posts on this subject. The content is educational and client focused. At the conclusion of the content, there are calls to action highlighting different aspects of the course offering. According to Hyatt’s web site, the course sells in the thousands.

Within academia, two schools that do content marketing particularly well are the Tomorrow’s Challenges series at IMD, my former employer, and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business’ Executive Education blog. Both create regular content that link to open enrollment programs. Surely there are others. What schools and corresponding links would you recommend? Let us know in the comments and gain inspiration on how to break through the noise and create content that impacts your audiences.

Kevin Anselmo is the Founder of Experiential Communications, a consultancy providing strategic communications services to individuals and groups within higher education. He is also the creator of the Media Training for Academics program. Access his free Tips for Academics Newsletter. Prior to starting his company, Kevin led the PR for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and media relations for IMD in Switzerland. He can be found on Twitter @kevinanselmo


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