Episode 006

How Education Organizations Can Build Their Brands Like The World’s Biggest Companies

Education marketers face the daunting task of introducing marketing concepts to organizations that don’t sell traditional products or services.

One of these concepts is identifying an organization’s central mission. Education organizations must mimic the biggest companies in the world and allow their mission to shape their brand, unite their various divisions, and ensure wise spending decisions. Many education marketers believe that becoming more data-centric and cost effective begins with schools accepting that they are indeed “brands” like every other company.

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • How to put together the framework for an institution’s brand
  • Common mistakes schools make about metrics
  • The importance of cross-team collaboration

This week, I spoke to Krista Smith, the Director of Marketing at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. With over 15 years of experience in the education space, Krista is familiar with every component of a successful education marketing strategy. She’s helped institutions improve brand messaging, attribution models, and their overall understanding of metrics. Step one in Krista’s process, however, is oversimplifying the brand. Institutions must never lose sight of the “Why?” behind their enrollment efforts. After answering that question, institutions can align all channels and marketing materials with their identity and ideal student.

How Should Institutions Frame Their Brand?

Today’s students shop for colleges and degrees the same way they shop for clothing. Thus, the same things that make a clothing company (or any famous company) stand out should be prioritized by education marketers. For example, famous companies are typically associated with unique color schemes and images. They tend to have their own jingles or type of background noise in their advertisements as well. If an institution doesn’t have its own visual or auditory identity, it can easily get lost in the crowd.

The language institutions use must also cater to their target audience. When Krista worked with a cosmetics school, she specifically told them not to use the same formal language of a business or medical school. The distinct voice and keywords featured on an institution’s website have been integral to numerous success stories from her career. These institutions enabled their websites to clearly communicate everything they had to offer and ultimately provide maximum value to their ideal student.

The Dangers Of Relying On “Vanity Metrics”

When it comes to data, Krista says that many schools simply don’t look deep enough to draw meaningful conclusions. They are too focused on “vanity metrics,” which appear to indicate strong performance but are actually very misleading. An institution might only look at website traffic instead of reviewing additional data to see where this traffic is coming from. It’s similar to only looking at gross inquiries without acknowledging that many of them could be duplicates.

Obtaining meaningful data is much easier with a sophisticated attribution model, Krista added. This can show you the exact point in your application process where prospective students decide to give up or move forward. Without a sophisticated attribution model, a school might cut brand awareness to save money without realizing the effect it will have on organic traffic and paid media costs. If your institution is just starting to track attribution, Krista recommends the last touch model. You’ll be able to see if a new student’s last point in a lead funnel was a Google non-branded campaign, third party email campaign, etc.

Why Marketing Teams Cannot Isolate Themselves

Lastly, Krista made it clear that an education marketing team cannot reach its full potential without cross-team collaboration. She quoted Hewlett Packard co-founder David Packard: “Marketing is too important to be left to marketing department.” In Krista’s opinion, an education marketing team should be “connected at the hip” with the school’s admissions team, student services team, alumni team and more.

When teams do not communicate, she explained, they often point fingers at each other about issues like lead quality or the admissions process. Leads might increase while enrollments remain stagnant because the marketing team did not prepare the admissions team for an upcoming boost in activity. That’s why Krista believes that if an institution scales one team, it must scale its partnering teams, too.

No Marketing Strategy Is One-Dimensional

Krista’s most successful clients understood that education marketing is a holistic, multi-layered endeavor. “They didn’t just want to make pretty pictures and brochures,” she said. With so many moving parts, you can’t count anything out when developing your institution’s general strategy. Enrollment growth is, after all, a major achievement. Education marketers must remember that such goals are only within reach when all channels, systems, and processes have been optimized for top performance.

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