Content Marketing in the Education Industry

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With 77% of organizations saying they have a content marketing strategy in place, the importance and impact of successful content marketing is obvious. Of course, for those in the education industry — be they software providers, thought leaders, or even nonprofits — content marketing often requires a unique approach.

After all, when it comes to the education industry, honesty, trust, and factuality are the hallmarks of the niche. For that reason, content marketing requires not only a lot of forethought and planning to ensure it strikes a chord with the audience, but the execution of the strategy itself must also be carefully considered so as not to seem overly focused on sales or profit.

In this guide, we’ll explore content marketing step-by-step, looking at the concept not with a bird's-eye view, but from the perspective of someone in the education industry who’s trying to create a strategy in a streamlined, effective, and transparent manner.


What Makes a Content Strategy Effective?


Any form of organic marketing, even if supplemented by paid advertising, won't lead to an “overnight sensation” like many founders dream. Rather, all forms of marketing take time — especially content marketing for the education industry, as its measure of success is often rooted in building a strong reputation for a given solution. Needless to say, gaining people’s trust isn’t something that happens in a day.

For content marketing to be effective in the education industry, it requires time, first and foremost. In addition, prepare to invest a great deal of effort into understanding your audience, defining your brand, and then figuring out where to publish, what to publish, and when to publish. Only once these components come together, will you have a real strategy on your hands.

Branding

The first component of a successful content strategy is a well-defined brand. After all, content marketing is focused on helping you gain recognition for your brand, and that requires a consistent, relatable brand image your audience will want to connect with. Of course, even if you know who your brand is, that doesn’t mean you can check this off the list.

The fact is, a growing company likely works with a number of people, whether they’re in-house staff or contract workers. In any case, marketers, sales teams, customer service reps, and professional writers all need to know your brand inside and out. Fortunately, getting that information across to them is simple if you assemble a brand book.

A brand book is a standalone resource that will help you instantly inform a new partner or employee about who your brand is, who your audience is, how your brand should speak to that audience, and so on.

Without proper resources to define your brand and its intentions in such a manner, writers and other content creators you hire will undoubtedly take liberties that will lead to inconsistencies in how your brand is portrayed and perceived. That makes your content marketing efforts less effective at building trust and recognition in your industry.


Objectives

Every company must define objectives for their content marketing strategy in order to measure its efficacy. After all, what’s measured can be managed. You likely already track various KPIs, which will align with your business’ big-picture needs. However, you must also track specific metrics that pertain to your content strategy.

Across industries, web traffic is one of the two markers most often used to track a content strategy’s success. However, for an education company, you should define and track metrics that indicate growth in the following areas:

  • Brand Awareness: A lot of content marketing revolves around building awareness, so measure indicators of how well-known, recognizable, and memorable your brand is.

  • Consumer Perception: Content marketing shapes and builds upon how the public perceives your brand, so consumer perception must also be quantified and measured.

  • Employee Perception: Finally, educational companies looking to expand must invest in employer content that shows off company culture, helping them attract top talent and partners.

As time goes by, your objectives are likely to change. For instance, a newer company is going to focus on customer acquisition and their content marketing plan will fit that goal accordingly. As you develop an audience, though, you will also have to split your focus to include customer retention, and current customers will require a whole other set of content — and metrics — to go along with it.


Personas

You can't create impactful content unless you understand the audience who will read it. For that reason, defining audience personas is most certainly a necessity for any education organization looking to produce sharable, engaging content that showcases thought leadership. For this, you can turn to customer persona templates that can be filled out according to the demographics of your average reader or client.

Education companies often have many different target personas. For instance, Khan Academy needs to target individual adult learners who become users just as much as they target educational institutions who become partners. By drawing out customer personas, you’ll gain insight into who you’re talking to and what you should do to best connect with them.

A persona may include information like age, salary, and gender along with behavioral characteristics, such as cultural influences and media preferences.

When you write a specific piece of content, you should know exactly which person you’re targeting with that content and create a call-to-action (CTA) according to that persona’s biggest needs and pain points. The customer personas you identify will also help you create content around the customer journey (more on that later).


Keywords

The final component that you must have sorted before creating a content plan is another critical one: keywords. Every successful content strategy is built around in-depth keyword research, which can be completed with the help of tools like Google Analytics. With the right tools, finding the short-tail and long-tail keywords you need to target is relatively easy, it just takes time.

Laying out a keyword plan ultimately requires you to approach from multiple angles. A professional keyword strategist can help, but planning your keywords is just half the battle. You also need to invest in monitoring tools that will help you understand and track your performance overtime. This involves a combination of on-page SEO strategies to actually drive organic traffic to your website.

You'll be relying on your keyword strategy later in this guide to figure out what type of content your education organization should be publishing.


Understanding an Education Customer's Journey


No prospect comes upon a company ready to make an immediate decision about a product they have no knowledge of. Rather, customers in every industry go through what’s known as the “customer journey,” in which a handful of key phases are defined.

How long a customer spends in each phase will vary from person to person, but understanding these phases is important in building out a content plan and keyword strategy that directly and appropriately addresses the intent of a given reader. In other words, you can’t show a “buy now” CTA to someone in the awareness phase and expect them to jump on it.

Understanding the customer journey your prospects take is the precursor to building a full-fledged content plan that addresses every phase and moves people through the sales funnel. The phases are to follow, with each featuring recommendations regarding the content you should create and serve to people in each phase.


Phase 1: Awareness

A prospect enters the first phase, “awareness,” when they first become aware of a pain point or problem that needs solving. They may stay in the awareness phase for quite some time before ever even trying to figure out their options. Some may never take the time to explore options, at least not seriously, and that’s why identifying your ideal customer personas and offering targeted advertising can be so effective.

By putting the right content in front of prospects who are aware of their pain point, but not yet aware of all their options, you can gain the first-mover advantage and become their go-to solution.

Take the University of Arizona, for instance, who targets prospects in the “awareness” phase with engaging videos explaining different majors. They’re piquing the interest of people who know they want to pursue an education or a different career, but haven’t begun seriously comparing schools or programs.

Content to show prospects in this phase includes:

  • Targeted advertising addressing their pain points.
  • Informational content that points out how your offerings address their needs.
  • Promotional content that introduces and builds a reputation for your organization.

Phase 2: Consideration

After becoming aware of what’s out there, prospects move into the consideration phase in which they begin exploring your organization and your competitors. In this phase, it’s very important that you showcase what makes your organization standout compared to other solutions.

Colleges, for example, will spend a lot of money retargeting prospects to make sure that their own programs and campus stay at the front of prospects’ minds as prospective students compare all the potential schools they may attend.

Content to show prospects in this phase includes:

  • Information about your organization’s accolades, awards, and unique offerings.
  • Testimonials and reviews about your products and services.
  • Comparisons between your organization and competitors.

Phase 3: Preference

As they gain knowledge about you and your competitors, prospects will develop a preference. In other words, this is the beginning of the decision-making phase. They’re narrowing down options and you need to continue showing them promotional content that makes you a favorable choice. This is when you should offer extra value to encourage them to choose you in the next phase.

Content to show prospects in this phase includes:

  • Informational and promotional content showcasing benefits, like setup time
  • Offers for free coaching, trials, and other added value.
  • Special pricing, like a discounted first year subscription.

Phase 4: Purchase

This is the key phase where you finally get to see how many prospects actually turn into customers. However, your work isn’t done just because you’ve gotten a customer all the way to the end of the sales funnel. To actually convert them into a customer, you must provide the lead with a frictionless purchasing experience.

During this phase, you need to give prospects answers to their final questions. Knowing the customer’s persona and their specific purchasing hurdles will help you address those questions proactively. From there, you need to be ready to follow-up immediately, especially in the case of “abandoned carts” where a person was in the process of purchasing, subscribing, or registering, but ultimately backed out.

Content to show prospects in this phase includes:

  • Targeted promotional content with strong CTAs directing them to register, subscribe, etc.
  • Follow-up content, especially in the form of email marketing, to maintain their interest.
  • Survey requests and exit questionnaires for those who abort the registration process.

Phase 5: Onboarding

For most education organizations, the “purchase” or “decision” phase is not the end. If you’re selling textbooks or another product, you may very well jump right to the “retention” phase and get back to focusing on acquiring more customers, but other organizations really need to prioritize onboarding.

In the education industry, onboarding can take on many forms. For instance, a college’s onboarding experience focuses on making the admissions process and a student’s first weeks on campus enjoyable and as minimally stressful as possible. Meanwhile, an online course provider will focus their onboarding efforts on making sure that all students who register for a course are highly engaged and actually returning to utilize the course’s content.

No matter what “onboarding” looks like for your organization, your content strategy will play a major role in this phase as well.

Content to show prospects in this phase includes:

  • Tutorials and “welcome” content to engage them and inform them about next steps.
  • Manuals, documentation, and FAQs that address common questions.
  • A highly interactive support team, ideally one that proactively reaches out to help.

Phase 6: Retention

The onboarding phase may last for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months depending on the product, service, or platform you offer to your users. After users are setup and going, you then need to move onto the retention phase. This is truly an ongoing phase that your company should always invest money into.

With long-term engagement, colleges ensure students refer their friends, companies ensure subscribers renew for another year, and product companies ensure that users have an experience that they’ll share positive feedback about.

Content to show prospects in this phase includes:

  • Surveys and questionnaires asking them about how you can improve.
  • Updates on how you are implementing feedback and continuing to grow.
  • Stories about your organization, its team, and your values.


Building an Engaging Content Calendar


With an understanding of your customer's journey, you already have an idea of what type of content you should create in order to cater to prospects throughout the various phases. Now, it's time to sit down and layout your actionable content strategy.

Schedule When You're Going to Publish

Your content strategy begins with a content calendar, which is basically a schedule telling you what type of content will be published and when. How often you publish content will depend on your capacity for creating content and also reliant on the size and preferences of your target audience.

If you're undecided about when you should publish, look to industry metrics and competitors and study what days of the week they share new content, and the response it gets. You can then make a tentative schedule and adjust it as necessary, as you collect information about when your audience is most likely to interact with your content and how often.

Decide What Types of Content to Publish

Your content calendar not only tells you when to publish, but it also needs to define what you're publishing. For some organizations, a content strategy starts out with strictly content writing projects, but even then you'll have multiple platforms and types of content to contend with. For instance, you may write: listicles, comparison articles, walkthroughs/tutorials, case studies, and so on.

When thinking about what type of content you plan to create, categorize it into areas of focus like these:

  • Brand Awareness: Content that informs the public about your organization, its values, and the people who make it work.

  • Product Information: Content that describes what you offer, what makes it unique, and why a prospect should choose you.

  • Onboarding Content: Content that explains who uses your product/service and how to use it.

  • Loyalty-Building Content: Content that shares testimonials, case studies, and publicity for accolades and awards you've earned. You might consider this part of your brand awareness content category.

Your content calendar should define each type of content you plan to create and then plug these types of content into the publishing slots you've created. If you're also publishing videos, podcasts, and other forms of media, they need to be in your calendar, too.

Explore The Topics You Need to Cover

The third step in creating your content calendar is to explore the exact topics you're going to cover for "content slot" you've put into your schedule. It's a good idea to build up a bank of content ideas so that you can stay ahead of your content schedule rather than constantly feeling like you're scrambling to find topics to cover. Fortunately, if you've done your keyword research, a lot of the work is already done.

Your keyword research will inform much of your content strategy. After all, those keywords reveal what your audience is searching for and what they care about. Therefore, you need to create content around those topics. In doing so, you're also powering your SEO, helping to drive traffic to your website.

Understanding search volume and on-page SEO, along with other SEO strategies that can help you score featured snippets, is very important to consistently increase organic traffic. However, these are things you can focus on after planning your content strategy and laying out the topics themselves.



Exceptional Examples from Education Leaders


As you begin to see your content strategy come together, turning to leaders in the industry is a good idea. Not only can it offer you inspiration, but it can also help you identify new topics and categories that audiences are reacting to. Here are some exceptional examples from various niches within the education industry.


For universities, building a strong community culture around their institution is fundamental to new enrollments and student satisfaction. At Indiana University, one way they do that is through the Pride of IU microsite. This microsite explores the university's founding while showcasing its work in the areas of art and culture; research and innovation; and more.

Prospective students are sure to visit this microsite when comparing schools to learn more about IU and what it offers. Current students also frequent it, especially the "IU Spirit" section, where fun facts about the campus, student features, and interactive content is often featured.


TED Talks have taken the world by storm, and one way they've become so synonymous with educational presentations is through their ever-growing YouTube channel, which now has over 18 million subscribers.

Elsewhere, TED also maintains a major digital presence with an engaging website that features podcasts, blog posts, and "TED on screen," which are conferences people can attend from home. TED touches on a number of topics, but excellent organization ultimately keeps all of their talks and content in perfect order.

An Effective Content Strategy Starts with Great Content

As an organization within the education industry, you undoubtedly aim to be a thought leader. However, proving your knowledge, reliability, and authority doesn't come easy. Creating a content strategy and getting your ideas on paper is an essential first step, but you are not going to see results until you're actually executing the plan and having content created for your brand.

Here at Scripted, we maintain a database of some of the best writers in the education industry who are poised and ready to help your organization reach new heights by creating informative, thoughtful, and relevant content to engage your audience. With the help of our professional education writers, your organization can implement its content strategy and get results.

To learn more about Scripted's writers or our fully managed Cruise Control service, reach out to the team for information and answers to all of your questions.

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