Study Reveals Most Popular Online Recruiting Strategies Of US Colleges

The always-insightful consulting and research firm Noel-Levitz is out this year with two new studies that nicely add to the current research on online recruiting practices and the motivations and concerns of prospective international students.

[Originally published on ICEF at http://monitor.icef.com/2014/11/study-reveals-popular-online-recruiting-strategies-us-colleges/ ]

The first, 2014 E-Recruiting Practices Report for Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions, draws on a survey of 258 US colleges and universities to provide a summary of the online recruiting strategies most commonly used among US institutions. A second study, 2014 International E-Expectations Report, surveyed more than 2,400 prospective international students (from 164 countries) in order to map the major preferences, concerns, and requirements of students planning to study in the US.

The two papers, while not explicitly companions of one another, nevertheless make interesting reading when placed side by side. They are both heavily oriented to the US market but many of the insights they provide will be useful to those recruiting or referring students outside of the US as well.

Top recruiting practices

Noel-Levitz asked institutional respondents to indicate which of 28 common e-recruiting practices – other than social media – that they used most frequently. The following table summarises the ten top-ranked options, broken down by type of institution.

Most popular e-recruiting practices by institution type. Source: Noel-Levitz Read more

Four Predictions For Digital Marketing In 2015

With 2015 almost upon us, it is high time that we turned our minds to predicting how digital marketing will continue to take shape in the year ahead. Digital marketing – search, social media, mobile, content marketing, and more – has certainly held our attention this year. Prospective students and potential partners are relying ever more on digital channels, and 2014 has in some respects been an interesting turning point in how many of us think about the place of digital in the overall marketing mix.

[Originally published on ICEF at http://monitor.icef.com/2014/11/four-predictions-digital-marketing-2015/ ]

We believe that digital will take hold to an even greater degree in 2015 and we’re not alone. Forbes published a thought-provoking article earlier this month entitled, “6 predictions about the state of digital marketing in 2015.” We’ve been reflecting on it for a few days now and have reframed their six original predictions into the four that we think will have the greatest impact on international student recruitment marketing.

Content is (still) king

Forbes gathered responses from 20 experienced digital marketing experts to frame their predictions, and the first one they landed on was that content will be more important than ever in 2015. “As Google continues to get better at connecting related search queries, long, in-depth content will become more of a trend,” said Danny Tran, online marketing manager at digital marketer QuinStreet.

Adds Venchito Tampon, content marketer with Digital Philippines, “Content will make it easy for new and existing customers to locate and use the best products and services they intend to look for in various channels… Educating the target audience will now become the top selling point of many brands from whatever industry they are in.”

We’ve had a lot to say about content marketing over the last year or so. And it seems clear that an increasing emphasis on search optimisation, competitive positioning, and meeting the expansive information requirements of prospective students will continue to encourage institutions and schools to invest heavily in quality, original content.

In just one notable example, ILAC, an award-winning Canadian language school, has gone so far as to establish its own radio station, providing English language learning content along with music programming and a related series of podcasts and other rich content.

 

7 (1)

As the ILAC example illustrates, the point of content marketing is to promote the brand, and its products and services, by offering content that is informative or entertaining for the user. By providing something of value, the advertiser earns a share of the prospect’s attention and, in the best case, encourages them to engage with the brand.

Internet users have become more cynical and ad-savvy, with interruptions to their online experiences unlikely to be rewarded and more likely to be ignored,” notes a recent post on the Euromonitor International blog. “The solution increasingly rolled out by marketers and online services is [content marketing].”

All together now

Forbes’ second prediction is that marketing channels – digital and non-digital – will become increasing integrated in 2015. “Content creation, search optimisation and social media will be less siloed as specific departments and treated more like skills that exist across the organisation,” says Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing.

This is an important point and one that we wager many institutions and schools have begun to bump up against in 2014. Marketing and IT are distinctly separate functions and departments in many organisations. There might be a talented SEO specialist lurking within the marketing team but how connected is he or she to important IT processes or even decision-making or planning around web content?

This is a potentially culturally and structurally disruptive idea for many organisations but given the importance of digital marketing today, we may have reached the point where those traditional walls between marketing and IT need to be broken down, for the sake of providing a highly integrated experience for prospects across devices, channels, and media. And, more to the point, for the sake of driving conversions across an expanding range of both digital and non-digital touch points.

More mobile than ever

At the start of this year, we said that marketers will focus on mobile more than ever before in 2014. And we are saying it again for 2015.

Forbes has a broader view of mobile trends for 2015 and points to important upcoming developments in advanced analytic for mobile as well as the rapidly expanding “wearable” mobile category (e.g., smart watches, fitness bands).

But if we bring this back more squarely to international student recruitment, the implications of the mobile behaviours that established themselves over 2013 and 2014 are inescapable for education marketers.

Tracking studies indicate that 30% of international prospects primarily access the web via a mobile device, and as much as 71% have at least looked at a university website on a smartphone or tablet. These numbers naturally vary by market to some extent. But in China, for example, 81% of Internet users (in the world’s largest source market for international students) reach the web via a mobile device.

In other words, if you have not delivered a truly outstanding mobile experience to prospective students in 2014 – especially one that is closely linked to key conversion processes for inquiries and admissions – you really will want to take steps to do so in 2015. There are simply too many prospective students that now rely on the mobile web for some or all of their education search and application experience.

Data for breakfast

The final Forbes prediction that we will highlight here is their expectation that marketing campaigns will be more data-driven in 2015. This means many things to many people but essentially it anticipates a renewed emphasis on measuring campaign performance and adapting or refining the marketing effort on an ongoing basis and in light of evidence-based findings.

“2015 will be the year of data-driven marketing,” says Alex Harris, a conversion optimisation consultant with AlexDesigns.com. “All design, advertising and social media will be focused on driving measurable results using cutting edge tracking and predictive analytic. Websites will focus more on optimising conversion rates than increasing website traffic.”

This rings true to us. We have for some years now seen a lot of emphasis on high-level web statistics, such as user visits or page views. Similarly, it is easy to measure campaign success against social sharing activity or Facebook likes. Increasingly, however, with the pressure building to drive to key business goals we expect that emphasis will shift to measuring the effectiveness of the marketing effort against real business outcomes. In an international student recruitment context, that means inquiries generated, applications received, students enrolled, and, ultimately, retention levels and graduation rates.

Safe to say that this is a subject we will return to regularly in 2015, along with the other early predictions we have explored today.

 

How To Create An International Student Recruitment Action Plan

Worldwide student mobility has seen steady growth over the past several years and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon – in fact, OECD’s Education at a Glance 2013 report projects international mobility to nearly double to 8.5 million students by 2025. The result has been intensifying competition, particularly among English-speaking colleges and universities, seeking the rewards of increasing and diversifying their international student populations. In this time of budget cuts and slowing domestic enrollment, internationalization has transformed from desirable bonus into institutional imperative, but achieving such goals is no straightforward task and resource efficiency is increasingly a necessity. – See more at: http://www.higher-education-marketing.com/blog/international-student-action-plan#sthash.P0cM2sRh.dpuf

While many admissions professionals continue to travel to distant corners of the world for uncertain returns, there is a growing understanding that emerging digital marketing techniques can deliver more effective results for far less of an investment. By embracing these new mediums, colleges can better control their communications and branding, reducing reliance on external agents while developing more flexible and customized management of the admissions process. Implementing these types of initiatives successfully requires a willingness to adapt to rapidly shifting student engagement expectations, understanding not only the continuous advances in available technological tools but the cultural nuances of various target markets. No small challenge!

Going global takes more than just talking the talk – many higher ed institutions passively court foreign students with little more than an international page on their website and perhaps some “one-size-fits-all” attempts at social media or PPC ads in other markets. While this might be enough for super-brands like Harvard, the vast majority of colleges and universities with international enrollment increases cite active recruitment as the reason for their success.

Creating a Culture of Internationalization

Making internationalization a true priority means taking a longer term, bigger picture view of its role in enhancing your institution. More and more universities are publicly declaring internationalization a key component of future success, embedded in strategic plans or elaborated upon in high level documents.

Example: The University of Calgary highlights internationalization as a “key strategic priority” in their pursuit of becoming “a global intellectual hub”, according to their recent International Strategy document. The 24-page report highlights their commitment to these goals by illustrating current activity, tangible targets and strategic goals, namely:

Increase diversity of our campus communities Improve global and cross-cultural competencies within our campus communities Enhance opportunities for international collaborations and partnerships in research and education Leverage our unique areas of expertise to engage in international development

These kinds of documents serve to galvanize key decision makers while providing a shared reference for different stakeholder groups to further the school’s mission.

Expanding strategic international partnerships, research collaborations, exchange and study abroad programs, and alumni relations can greatly enhance a university’s educational capabilities, student opportunities and participation, brand reputation and much more. Colleges can strive to improve the experiences of incoming international students, thus growing valuable word-of-mouth referrals among other benefits, by broadening orientation services and retention tactics. Promoting internationalization means providing the pathways for growth, including resources for increasingly culturally diverse students (and staff) on campus to learn from each other.

These are all long-term projects demanding visionary leadership – but what can schools do right now for more immediate results?

Feeling out Markets with Paid Search

International strategic enrollment management begins with establishing and communicating clear goals for the number and types of students desired, leveraging enrollment data to forecast trends and develop realistic targets. Focus initial efforts by choosing markets with the best potential for your institution – likely typical leading countries of origin (China, India, South Korea) but sometimes smaller nations that have an established presence at your school. Also consider focusing marketing efforts according to preferred academic discipline and degree type.

Unique cultural and language considerations add an extra layer of complexity when going global – choosing appropriate keywords is not simply a matter of direct translation. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising is a tremendously cost-effective method of revealing insights about potential markets, since expense is only incurred when prospects actually click your link. It is a great way to learn which search terms are popular and which ads better convert, letting you see which combinations of keywords and messaging are more effective in a particular market. For an in-depth look at PPC for international student recruitment, our previous blog on the subject is an excellent starting point.

Google AdWords has a free Keyword Planner tool for searching keyword and ad group ideas, but keep in mind that Google isn’t the most popular search engine in several important source countries. Before launching a PPC campaign, it is essential that ad copy fits the requirements for the applicable platform, landing pages have been created on your website and analytics tracking has been established. Landing pages must meet expectations created by the ad copy and concisely convince prospects to take the next steps, such as completing an application or “request information” form.

International Search and Mobile Trends

Recent data analysis from Google shows a continuous increase in education-related search volumes, confirming that the student decision journey has indeed moved online. Non-branded search queries by prospective students uncertain of which school they wish to attend are rising at a faster rate. Google’s internal tracking revealed that queries including geo-specific keywords generated strong click-through conversions. Increasing specificity by promoting particular degree and academic programs in specific locations is recommended for better results.

Of course, going mobile has been another top priority for higher education marketing. Optimizing for mobile-device usage is even more important for international recruitment, since a majority of users in several source countries are mobile-exclusive. A negative mobile experience on your website is enough for 35% of prospects to move on to the next potential college on their list, according to internal Google research. Make sure you have your most important bases covered when developing for task-driven mobile searchers – top selling points of your school, programs and admission info, videos and application forms are among the most popular features to include. Shorter forms are far more likely to convert. International students will also want to know things like financial and study permit details.

Internationalizing Websites

One of the biggest challenges of internationalization is developing your website to appeal to multiple markets and languages. Although many options will technically work, using a top level folder on the same domain as your other content (rather than a subdomain or microsite) lets you develop a customized experience with fully translated paths while enhancing your SEO. Keep in mind that search engines won’t give your pages the same value if they think it’s only an auto-translation (or if content is out of date), and to avoid the issue of duplicate content you must create the proper links between translated content to alert them if it’s a translation. Alternate hreflang link tags let search engines know how content should be prioritized.

Right-to-left languages like Arabic require the appropriate fonts and additional “rtl” tags at the top level block element. Content using Chinese characters and other logographic languages presents the additional challenge of modifying the page layout and structure to accommodate the unique condensed properties. While providing content in multiple languages can be complex, it can go a long way to effectively communicating with foreign prospective students and, perhaps even more so, their parents. Ensure that users can easily navigate between available translations – the clearest way is to prominently display the language name written in that language at the top of the webpage. Even if you have multiple international websites, avoid auto-directing based on a user’s IP address as it will irritate prospects and inhibit Google’s crawlers from discovering your sites.

Content and Social Media Considerations

When developing any content for international audiences, it is vital to understand your target market as much as possible, including the local language (in the way that prospects actually speak), cultural norms and expectations, and priorities in education search. Try using student assistants to help develop or translate content and always test with various groups to ensure that messaging is clear.

Social media can be a valuable tool for discovering more about prospect groups through online conversations, informal surveys and the types of posts that receive greater interaction. Communication on these networks can serve to filter unqualified prospects and reveal insights about language proficiency, interests and your brand perception. It is an opportunity to showcase different sides of your institution and reinforce alumni successes.

International Lead Conversion

It is important that inquiries from all prospects, domestic or international, are addressed effectively and promptly. Students expect a quick email response, even if it is initially an auto-response with some helpful links – Hotcourses Abroad found that if given two similar universities, students from China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore would choose the one that responded fastest. Prospects prefer personalized responses signed by a staff member they can continue correspondence with.

Best practices:

Address the student by name Answer the question personally and in detail Provide helpful additional information, including social media and relevant links

Email drip marketing campaigns can efficiently track and manage large quantities of inquiries for the entire student life cycle, automatically triggering customized messages based on specific conditions that provide effective resources while minimizing staff requirements. Instead of leaving it up to prospects to continue correspondence as many colleges do, be persistent and frequent in your responses, varying the types of follow-up messaging and addressing potential concerns with multimedia supplemental information to increase the odds of making a connection.

Virtual Campus Tours and Hangouts

A campus tour is a big part of most students’ decision processes, providing the opportunity for them to envision if they can really spend their next four years there. International students rarely have the luxury of visiting a prospective campus ahead of enrollment but virtual tours can help bridge the gap, emphasizing a school’s strongest features and providing a glimpse of campus life. Google Maps Street View also offers interior virtual tours of some schools and a few US-based universities are already developing tours using new Oculus Rift virtual reality technology.

To get better personalized interaction despite the distance, more colleges and universities are adopting web-conferencing via easily accessible tools like Google Hangouts. These digital face-to-face tools not only allow admissions personnel to engage directly with international students, but also clarify solutions using whiteboards, share documents or slideshares, and guide prospects through relevant webpages via co-browsing. To make the most of these opportunities, school personnel should develop and rehearse a script to work from and test all equipment many times beforehand.

More International Recruitment Ideas

Digital marketing is advancing all the time, providing new tools for schools seeking a competitive edge in reaching prospects across the globe. Here are some innovative ideas for colleges and universities looking to access the world:

List with international portal sites Develop apps featuring application tips, sample lectures, campus videos/pictures English-language training (online modules and/or collaborations with other training facilities) or online language exchange Reach out to international alumni (through internal networks or tools like LinkedIn) to support recruitment activities

Whichever initiatives you pursue, improving your international student recruitment can best be accomplished when you have a thorough and accurate picture of your web activity. When managing several social media and other student marketing channels covering various markets, it becomes even more essential to have a clear system to reveal what is working where and monitor your ongoing reputation – software and student assistants can help. Google Analytics can help you to understand your student mix and top source countries so you can track and monitor your progress while effectively segmenting and customizing communications.

For colleges and universities seeking to move from passive to active international recruitment, Higher Education Marketing has created the new International Recruitment Action Plan with two service packages designed to generate measurable ROI improvements with immediate results.

What is your biggest international student recruitment challenge?

The Higher Ed Guide To Irresistible Email Subject Lines

When you log into email each morning, how many of those waiting messages do you actually open and read? How many get moved immediately to the trash – or worse, marked as spam?

If you’re habitually trashing the bulk of your inbox, you’re not alone. After years of being inundated with spam, we’ve all become increasingly untrusting of unsolicited mail. Here’s a snapshot of last years’ spam rates from a Kaspersky Lab report:

With well over half of our mail indexed as spam, it’s no wonder we’ve taken to auto-trashing! And although the numbers have decreased a bit in 2014 – down to about 66% – we’re no more eager to open mail we haven’t explicitly asked for.

Extra Hurdles for Higher-Ed Emailers

And for higher ed marketers hoping to reach prospective and current students, the challenge may well be even greater. Post-secondary hopefuls are more social media connected than ever – so your college recruitment team will have to work extra hard to be heard over a chorus of social media notifications, commercial messages, and competing email marketing campaigns. If you can convince leads to click on your school’s message, half the battle is won. So, crafting trash-proof subject lines is an essential component of your overall student recruitment strategy. Is there a simple recipe for success?

Contrary to what a Google search on the subject will tell you, there are few hard and fast rules for creating click-worthy subject lines. Rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach, we know that ALL good content begins with consulting your college’s target student personas – which are of course unique and diverse. Once you’ve pinned down precisely who you’re writing to, there are a few fundamentals to consider when launching your next email marketing campaign:

Enticement + Clarity = Higher Student Open Rates

It’s a tricky balancing act – creating enticing emails that are also clear enough in their intent to actually get opened. Many how-to’s focus on the power of “mysterious” subject lines to get more clicks, claiming that merely wanting to know more will compel recipients to open the message. They might suggest a subject line like this for your school’s campaign:

There’s a question to elicit further interest, a bit of mystery surrounding the offer… seems pretty enticing right? Well, not exactly. According to Brad Bortone’s Marketing Experiments blog, mysterious subject lines like these fail to capture clicks because they don’t address the three questions every recipient wants to know before opening an email:

  • Who is this from?
  • Why are they emailing me?
  • What is this all about anyway??

So, the ultimate email subject line is one that captures interest, but doesn’t fall short on clarifying its purpose and intent.Unbounce agrees that setting your recipient’s expectations and stating clearly what’s in the message dramatically boosts its likelihood of avoiding the trash. With this in mind, here’s how we would re-work that first subject line:

There’s no need to “tempt” leads with a full-blown mystery. It will serve to confuse, rather than attract, which translates quickly into trashed.With option number two, the recipient understands who the message is from, and what it will contain – but there’s a nice balance of enticement with regard to the special deal on tuition. The questions raised here are of the good variety; the sort that prompt readers to click for more information. Here’s another “before and after” from U of Admissions Marketing:

Again, this is simply too mysterious to warrant a click. Prospective students will not be swayed by clichéd messaging. They need more reason than vague allusions to click on your school’s message. This would work better:

Enticement lies in discovering what those thousands of reasons are, and the sender is very good about identifying both the school and the program. When it comes to education lead generation, don’t let the mystery muddle the meaning. Use your marketing team’s creative muscle to genuinely address the concerns and interests of your target personas.

Shorter Isn’t Always Sweeter

Conventional marketing wisdom bows down to the “60 characters-or-less” rule for crafting trash-resistant subject lines. But a finer look at the details reveals that shorter is indeed not always sweeter when it comes to whetting the recipient’s appetite. An in-depth study by MailChimp reveals no statistical connection between open-rates and length alone. They analyzed 12 billion email sends in order to de-bunk the 60 characters or less rule. MailChimp found cases where yes, shorter subject lines got more clicks:

Subject character count vs Open rate graphs from MailChimp

But they also found examples where shorter subject lines fell flat, and longer descriptions scored the greatest number of opens:

And here’s another analysis where subject line length made little or no difference at all!

What can higher ed marketers learn from this data? That simply restricting characters will not guarantee an email open. According to SendGrid, relevancy is far more important than length when it comes to grabbing reader attention. If you’re focused solely on paring down line length, your admissions team could end up sacrificing on clarity or on truly targeting the needs of your most prevalent personas. You may end up with disappointing generic subjects, like:

VERSUS

Character-count never trumps content that your lead personas actually want to see, and need to know. The second subject is longer, yes, but it’s far more relevant and compelling than the first. Of course, getting to the point is best practice for crafting subject lines- particularly when optimizing for a mobile browser – but brevity alone shouldn’t be the guiding force behind your email marketing campaign.

Borrow From Blog Titles

You don’t need to re-invent the wheel. One way to quickly conceptualize everything we’ve discussed so far about email subject lines, is to think of them as effective blog titles. A lot of the same rules apply. Tried and tested techniques like the “How To” guide or “Top Ten” list work very well for higher ed subject lines – and they typically capture all of the elements we’ve touched on here: clarity, relevance, and concision. Consider these comparisons:

Your prospective student is more likely to open the second email for the same reason he or she would scan through a blog by the same title – because you’ve quantified the amount of reading the task entails, established clear expectations for what’s to come, AND you’ve used persona knowledge to create a message relevant to healthcare-oriented prospects. Perfect. Your recipient is primed to click and learn more about your program. Here’s another example for personas concerned about balancing work and study:

The second subject line tells recipients you’ve taken the time to put together a “How To” list that is pertinent to an issue that concerns them. This is inbound marketing 101 – offer thoughtful content that genuinely helps your leads succeed. So while we caution against following just one or two “rules” of thumb for crafting excellent subject lines, taking a lesson from blog titles can definitely offer a comprehensive go-to solution for busy admissions departments. Lines like these are relevant, to-the-point, and persona-driven. Which leads us to our next and final suggestion…

Use Student Persona-Powered Language

Much research has been compiled on the persuasive power of certain marketing words, such as BufferApp’s Words That Convert by Kevan Lee. Lee reminds his readers that regardless of objectives, industry, or target audience, the words we choose directly impact our marketing outcomes. Why? Because:

And when it comes to email subject lines, language choice has never been more important. It determines whether or not your message gets opened, which in turn determines the success of your school’s entire marketing initiative.

MailChimp urges marketers to “tell it, not sell it,” when crafting email subject lines. This is especially true for colleges who want to be known as institutions of learning, not profits-driven businesses. And the advice is in line with what we’ve discussed here already in terms of persona-worthy email subject lines. But one could (and should) push the concept of language power a step further by identifying the keywords most likely to resonate with specific student personas. What are your school’s main target audiences? Which keywords should you incorporate into your subject lines to help boost open rates?

For example, many colleges focus on affordability content to convert cost-conscious students. This is substantial proof about how your institution helps save students money on tuition, thereby lowering the amount of their post-school debt. If this issue is particularly important to your lead personas, why not incorporate affordability keywords into some of your email subject lines? These could include:

  • Lower tuition
  • Debtless degrees
  • Affordable training
  • Work-study program
  • Job placement success

Using Kevin Lee’s list as a reference point is great – but schools shouldn’t sound like they’re hawking a product:

College marketers should make a list of appropriate keywords that apply to their target audiences, and craft compelling, clear, relevant email subject lines around those ideas:

Just be prepared to back up your claims in the body of your email and wherever its links may lead! But that’s a subject for another blog post…

How are your school’s email open rates? Do your subject lines truly reach out to and engage prospective students?

Secrets to A Successful Content Marketing Strategy

Initially published on http://monitor.icef.com. “The goal of a successful content marketing strategy is to have a disproportionate share of the conversation going on in your industry.” This was an often heard quote at the second annual Content Marketing World event held recently in Sydney, Australia by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), which helps brands attract and retain customers through compelling, multi-channel storytelling.

There are various definitions of content marketing floating around the web, and perhaps even around your office.

“Our website is full of content. So, that’s content marketing, right?”

“We have a blog. That’s all content marketing is, isn’t it?”

“What about our Facebook page? Does that count?”

As the go-to authority on content marketing, we’ll turn to CMI for a handy, universal definition:

“Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract, engage, and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Content marketing is not a direct sell, rather, its purpose is to change or enhance consumer behaviour. To do this, your brand needs to be seen as a credible and knowledgeable expert on a given subject matter. And one of the most effective ways to earn this reputation is for others to share this message, not you.

In other words, you need endorsements, not a megaphone

In essence, content marketing has been around for eons, it just hasn’t been formally recognised as a clear process and strategic element within an organisation’s marketing plans until recently. But rest assured, this is not just a buzz word, and as each marketer’s toolkit gets ever bigger and each customer’s attention span gets ever shorter, the power of content marketing has intensified.

And it’s not just marketing gurus who have taken note. Some of the biggest brands in the world and the most powerful CEOs have gotten behind a content marketing approach, and the others… well, they’re just trying to keep up.

To make sure your brand falls into the former category, let’s dive in with several tips and best practices shared at the recent CM World to ensure you create and distribute content effectively.

Do a content audit

Chances are, the longer your brand has been around, the more content you have. Before you start to think about how each piece of content will align with your brand’s goals, you might first find it helpful to conduct a content audit and create an all encompassing inventory of the content you already own.

Types of content. Source: Kevin Cain

As you list each piece of content, be sure to note its location, how often it gets updated, and the purpose it currently serves. What is the reason for having this content, and why does it sit where it does?

In one Content Marketing World seminar, Robert Rose, Chief Strategist at CMI, outlined the various roles that content can play. For example, an industry blog or magazine might exist to educate consumers and win their trust, whereas your corporate website or sales materials serve to facilitate the sale of your products or services, they drive a call to action.

Keep in mind that content is not restricted to words. Images and videos are essential forms of content that, according to Mr Rose, “can drive emotion and bind a brand to an audience’s belief system.”

You’ll also want to indicate how effective each piece of content is at the moment. Consider certain content characteristics, such as its usefulness to your current and potential customers, how accessible it is (both to people as well as search engines), and how influential it is towards driving engagement and ultimately, sales.

This content quality checklist is a useful guide to help you along the way, however, we recommend that rather than answering “yes” or “no” to each question, you rank your answers on a scale of 1-5. This way, when you review the results later, you can quickly identify the biggest problem areas.

Later in this article, we’ll show you how to map each piece of content to a matrix to identify content gaps in the buyer process. But before we dive into that, let’s talk strategy.

Crafting a content marketing strategy

Once your audit is complete, it’s time to do some critical thinking about where you stand right now, and where you want to be in the future.

In the plenary speech that kicked off Content Marketing World, Joe Pulizzi, founder of CMI, stressed: “The number one thing that makes content marketing effective is to have a strategy, a plan for success.”

And that plan wont be realised overnight; it takes time, persistence, and consistency. But Mr Pulizzi believes that you’re on the right track if your content marketing strategy can achieve at least one of these goals: drive sales, save costs, or make your customers happier.

Some questions Mr Pulizzi suggests you consider at the outset of your content marketing planning phase include:

  • What is our objective?
  • What are we trying to achieve and who are we trying to reach?
  • Who do we want to talk to?
  • What do we want them to understand?
  • What is in place already?
  • How do we scale up?

To these, Jesse Desjardins, Social Media and Advocacy Manager with Tourism Australia, would add:

  • Can we build a content platform that can grow over time?
  • Is our strategy repeatable and scalable?
  • Does it lead a customer on a path to purchase?
  • Who can we partner with?
  • Can we make our audience the hero?
  • How much value are we capturing?
  • Are we sharing our work?

Mr Pulizzi also emphasised quality over quantity: “You must develop best-in-class content. Your content must be more valuable than what your competitors are doing. You can’t just tell a story better. To stand out, you have to tell a different story.”

To do so, lean on your strengths and focus on your unique selling points.

But be careful not to put sales at the front of the process. Emma Rugge-Price, Vice President of Branding and Communications at GE Australia and New Zealand, said things changed for them as soon as they “started to think like a publisher.”

Indeed, this mindset shift is taking place in major corporations around the world. Mr Pulizzi elaborates: “Content marketing has now become a critical component in all organisations. Right now, enterprises are adding content marketing, editor and journalism-based roles to their companies.

We see this evolving into a situation where content marketing is becoming less of a department and more of an approach, where there is a content centre of excellence in the organisation that works within all product silos. It’s tough to say for sure what the best solutions will be, but it’s clear that the marketing department as a whole is looking and feeling more like a publishing group.”

One inspiring example of this approach that was shared throughout the conference was that ofJyskeBank.tv, a television station run by the second largest independent bank in Denmark, or is it a bank with its very own TV station? The lines are blurred but the picture is clear: this radical approach has enabled Jyske to build brand awareness, solidify their reputation, and retain customer loyalty – all on their own platform and through their own voice.

Not every brand can own their own film studio, but a successful content marketing strategy doesn’t need to be so elaborate. Another high profile speaker at CM World was Mark Schaefer, author and marketing consultant. He believes that content marketing success is achieved when you strike a balance between three key elements:

  • Relevant audience
  • Meaningful content
  • Consistent engagement

Key elements of content marketing success. Source: Mark Schaefer

When all three work together, you are able to generate what he calls “return on influence,” and this is how you create content that moves across the web and ignites action.

Using content effectively

So, you’ve got your content audit and your strategy. The next step is marrying the two.

Industry expert Kevin Cain offered up a highly practical content matrix that could be used when plotting your content against your strategy. As the visual below shows, you’ll need to ensure that each piece of content is reaching your audience at the right stage in the buying process.

Pick content that makes sense at each stage of the buyer journey. Source Kevin Cain

And there’s more. Not all content is created equally. What is valuable for one customer might be irrelevant for another. So you’ll need to make sure the right person sees the right content on the right platform at the right time. Piece of cake, right?

Mr Cain suggests that you begin with what matters most: your customers.

He recommends you create several different buyer personas outlining their needs, motivators, pain points, concerns, role in the buying process, influencers, and demographics. Identify which factors matter most to a buyer in making the purchase decision, as well as where the buyer is getting stuck in the buying process and why. Once you know this, you’ll know where to step in to help. Or rather, where to appear.

CMI also refers to content marketing as “non-interruption marketing,” which implies that the information needs to appear in the right place at the right time without looking like an obvious sales pitch.

As you can probably imagine, each type of buyer needs a different content strategy, a different message, and a different channel. Your goal in content marketing, as with all effective types of marketing, is to tailor your topic, messaging, and delivery to each of your target audiences’ needs.

And, not only must your content match the person, it also needs to match your brands’ goals and ultimately, increase profits. To achieve this, it’s essential to create multiple opportunities for each type of consumer to engage with your brand as often as possible. From a simple tweet to a brochure request to an enrolment application, driving conversions must remain at the heart of your strategy.

Finally, be sure to set clear goals and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for your content marketing strategy so that you can measure results along the way and adapt your plans accordingly.

International Students Reveal the Secrets of International Student Recruitment

Initially published on www.intead.com. In a world of fast-paced activity and seemengly never ending responsibilities, it isn’t always easy to find the time to listen. It’s important to take a break from charting progress, developing novel programs and tools, and talking through brochures, websites, social media and face-to-face. Listening is critical. With that in mind we recently conducted a focus group with international students, many of whom are college freshmen, to take the time to listen to what was important to them in the recruitment process. We learned four key takeaway messages which are outlined below.

Rankings are important.

While rankings continue to be viewed with more importance by some students than others, pretty much everyone in the focus group relied on rankings for guiding the search and decision making processes. US News and World Report holds real value to the students and parents, particularly in China, but there were other ranking systems that the students mentioned. A Canadian international student seemed least influenced by rankings and vocalized her skepticism of what she referred to as a contrived number to judge universities. Her voice was in the minority– students continue to be interested in statistics.

This doesn’t mean that if your institution doesn’t rank highly on the main US News and World Report ranking you will have no chance of recruiting international students. There are countless other rankings reported regularly that you can use to highlight your institution. Furthermore there are many ways to positively spin lesser known rankings in your favor.

Universities should develop a special page for international students.

All of the students mentioned that university websites are cumbersome and overwhelming. A dedicated page for international students with pertinent information would be most helpful for students as they move through the funnel from prospects to enrolling students. We need to make the information easily accessible to our prospective international students. They shouldn’t need to spend hours navigating through cumbersome websites, searching for information.

Universities need to better highlight unique facilities and features.

The students mentioned that many of the most impressive features of the universities they researched weren’t learned from the website or from the university directly. They were exposed to exciting aspects of campuses in a more roundabout way (i.e. College Confidential, other message boards, social media). The students want to learn about unique qualities of various universities, what distinguishes one institution from another, campus traditions, etc. International students want to learn about opportunities to get involved, the area surrounding campus, and special student perks (i.e. bus passes, free public transportation, free/discounted tickets to cultural venues). This content should be available on the university website, not strictly from third party sites.

Universities need to monitor their presence on College Confidential and similar sites.

“Listening” to the conversations among prospective and current students as they pertain to your institution are critical. Maintaining a positive presence on College Confidential is important. This means assigning someone on staff to periodically check what is being written about your institution and then, if necessary, turning the conversation into a positive one.