Essential Skill Sets for the Higher Education Inbound Marketer

Higher Education Marketing Skill Set

Whether you are currently working at a higher education institution and are delving into the world of inbound marketing or you are a job-seeker looking for a position in higher education marketing at a university or marketing agency, there are skill sets that can help you succeed. Sure, there are the usual tactics that anyone in the field of inbound marketing needs to know, but before you even get to that point, there are some broader skills and knowledge that are specific in the higher education industry.

Barbara Scott, Associate Dean of Marketing, Communications and Corporate Relations at D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University and Caitlin Way, Director of Admissions at Trulaske execMBA, University of Missouri-Columbia share what they look for in potential staff and internal resources for inbound marketing at their institutions.

1) An Understanding of Higher Education

For the External Job Seeker:

There are some key things to know about higher education that you should be prepared to demonstrate. Higher education prospects have some of the longest lead times, with the average being 2-3 years before converting. So be prepared to demonstrate not only your conversion prowess, but also your lead nurturing techniques.

For the Internal Marketing Professional:

As someone who’s already on the inside, make sure you know exactly who you are as a university. Or, if the reason you are being charged with developing an inbound strategy is a rebranding initiative, be sure to have a good idea why the rebranding is happening and what they hope to achieve.

For Both:

Whether working in admissions, alumni relations, or advancement, you’ll also interact with a large number of stakeholders who have a very established vision of your university and its brand. Caitlin offers this advice, “Show the ability to understand the existing identity and integrate it into any new initiatives you might be charged with.”

2) Strategy Development

For the External Job Seeker:

Being able to demonstrate your strategic approach in relation to the higher education industry can really provide added-value for a potential employer. This is your opportunity to show how your experience is easily transferrable and translate that into a strategy for their specialized industry.

For the Internal Marketing Professional:

As an internal marketer at a university, Barbara Scott advises to “Make sure you understand what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Who do you want to engage and to what purpose?” Barbara and Caitlin both recommend not being afraid to approach an outside agency or consultant. With your knowledge of the university and their expertise in inbound marketing, you will be able to develop a strategy catered to your institution.

For Both:

Barbara says it’s important to, “understand the difference between an inbound strategy versus just putting stuff out there.” Do your research, pay attention to your analytics, and know your specific audience.

3) Audience Analysis

For the External Job Seeker:

Knowing who your audience is and the different personas that make up your audience will help you create more relevant content for both branding and segmentation strategies. Before heading to an interview, develop some test personas that you might be marketing to for that university. This will show your potential employer that you already have a good base knowledge of their audience and demonstrates how you might develop a strategy around that.

For the Internal Marketing Professional:

Don’t be afraid to throw out or revise your old audience model. It could be a model that’s worked really well in the past, but as Barbara points out, higher education inbound marketing is an ever-evolving field. It’s important to always keep on top of both new trends and your audience.

For Both:

“The importance of audience analysis really can’t be overstated,” says Caitlin. You can’t develop content if you don’t know who you’re developing it for, nor can you reach your audience if you don’t know where they are. With higher education’s limited resources, you don’t have the time or resources for futile endeavors.

4) Content Development

For the External Job Seeker:

Content development isn’t about generating one good, relevant message and then plopping it into all the inbound channels you’ve heard people talking about. It’s creating the right message for the right channel and the right audience. When heading to an interview, do a little extra research and bring in a content roadmap based on your test personas. Impress your potential employers with content developed for inbound channels they are already using and that’s relevant to their audience. This will demonstrate a vested interest in their institution and how you can provide value using tools they already have instead of spending time, money, and resources to launch a new and untested inbound vehicle.

For the Internal Marketing Professional:

When developing content, Caitlin suggests using a “one voice” strategy. Take some time to talk with current employees who have any sort of interaction with external stakeholders. That could be a recruiter giving a webinar, a major gift officer meeting with a potential donor, or a member of your digital team who’s managing your social media and blog. Find out what their messaging is and if it’s consistent. It’s important that the message you’re putting out is unified both in content and tone. Use this information to develop messaging that is unified and works with your brand (or rebrand) and distribute it to your campus partners.

For Both:

With so much to do and so few resources, we often over complicate our messaging. According to Caitlin, there’s one idea you always need to go back to before publishing any content. “If your key message is that your institution/school/program can provide them enough value to be worth thousands of someone’s dollars (spoiler alert: that is your key message), you have to give them a taste of that value from the very first interaction.”

5) Inbound Marketing Tactics

For the External Job Seeker:

A key skill Barbara looks for in her staff is an understanding of SEO and how paid and organic search affect it. Taking your content roadmap and weaving in your search strategy including keywords can show that you not only understand inbound marketing, you have the skills to apply your inbound marketing knowledge directly to their university.

For the Internal Marketing Professional:

Having someone on staff who tweets a daily play-by-play of their life while somehow simultaneously posting on Instagram every meal they ate doesn’t necessarily mean you already have a social media guru on staff. Take some time to evaluate who’s on staff, what resources are already available, and how you can get creative with these. Maybe you already have someone who genuinely is in the know of the latest and greatest social media trend and could be easily trained on various social media algorithms and how to apply that to your inbound strategy.

For Both:

When it comes down to it, you want to be able to build an engaged community and not just amass followers. It’s important to be able to quantify your outcomes and make strategic decisions based on those results with limited resources.

In the inbound marketing world love to throw around terms like SEO, lead qualification, paid search, strategy, social media, analytics, segmenting, audience engagement, oh and did we mention strategy? Yes, these are all tactical skills you need to have in your back pocket to be successful in any inbound marketing environment. But it’s not about knowing how to use them, it’s why you are using them and what you’re using them for that will make you a successful marketer. You have to know the higher education industry and have a good sense of what your particular university or potential university stands for. Only then should you pull out your digital Swiss army knife.

Download the Guide - Inbound Marketing 101 for Higher Education


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