Episode 009

How Storytelling – Not Marketing – Brought Tremendous Growth To ExecuNet

There’s marketers, and then there’s storytellers.

Members of the latter group often say that their job is to teach, rather than sell.It’s easy to imagine why this mindset would be particularly advantageous for an education marketer. After all, today’s students don’t just want basic information about potential schools. They want a myriad of reasons to believe that this is indeed the right school for them. Thus, education marketers must master the art of storytelling and show prospective students how this experience will change their lives.

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • The difference between marketing and storytelling
  • How to educate prospective students through marketing materials
  • The most effective marketing channels for spreading your story

This week, I spoke to Tony Vlahos, who has been the CMO of ExecuNet for nearly 13 years. Though this is Tony’s official title, he believes that “Chief Storyteller” is a more accurate description of his job. This makes sense, as Tony’s ability to create and spread compelling stories has grown ExecuNet by an amazing 2,300% since he joined the company. ExecuNet is a learning company for senior level executives seeking advice about everything from leadership to career changes to new positions. Much of Tony’s tremendous success can be attributed to his central goal of showing his target audience that yes, ExecuNet can be that transformative experience they’ve been searching for.

What Is The Difference Between Marketing And Storytelling?

No one likes to be sold to, especially senior level executives. They don’t want to see promotional offers for professional advice. They want to know if ExecuNet is truly worth their time. This is why Tony centers his efforts around the outcome of joining ExecuNet. He emphasizes what the results have been for other people, and what makes this community so special. In other words, Tony tells the “story” of what will happen once the individual joins ExecuNet, based on other stories that have unraveled thus far. He simply tells the truth, and senior level executives are smart enough to discern a genuine invitation from a deceptive marketing ploy.

In fact, that’s what Tony calls his cold emails: invitations. There’s no “call to action,” because Tony’s goal is not to get the recipient to make a purchase or fill out a lead form. Instead, he asks recipients to attend an ExecuNet webinar or live talk, completely free of charge. “I come from the Grateful Dead school of marketing,” Tony said, “I believe in giving things away.” In this case, giving something away for free only helps Tony show potential members what the ExecuNet experience is all about.

The Power Of Strategies That Stand Out

Another reason Tony’s approach has been so successful is the power of referrals. People trust the opinions of their friends and relatives over any form of advertisement. The idea is to give people a reason to refer you. Well, can you remember the last time a cold email invited you to a webinar or live talk for free? Can you remember the last time a cold email offered to change your life and seemed fairly confident that this would actually happen? These moments are rare enough to stand out, so much so that you’d probably relay them to your friends.

Tony’s email strategy stands out because it has more heart than any advertisement you’ve ever seen. And you can’t build a long-lasting community like ExecuNet if new members don’t feel connected to your organization. “You can trick people into signing up,” Tony told me, “but if you have truth and soul, people will trust you and stay with you.”

How Education Marketers Can Become Storytellers

One of the biggest mistakes made by education marketers is only communicating basic information. Their websites and other marketing materials merely say “Here’s what our program is, here’s how much it costs, here’s when you can sign up, etc.” Today’s students are much more likely to choose schools that attract interest most effectively. Education marketers can accomplish this through two essential elements of Tony’s strategy: First, they must emphasize the many benefits of choosing their school, and explain what makes their school special.

Secondly, marketers must back up their claims by featuring success stories of former or current students. Did they make new friends? Did they love their professors? Tony frequently tells potential members of ExecuNet that every current member was facing the exact same dilemma as them before they joined. Education marketers must do the same by showing prospective students that they have similar interests and goals as their most successful former students.

You Must Truly Believe In What You Are Saying

Like other elite education marketers, Tony’s success is fueled by his genuine belief in his organization. It’s time to dig deep into your organization and see what makes it special. When you communicate these things to prospective students, they’ll be able to tell that unlike the other marketers vying for their attention, you actually believe what you’re saying.

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