Listen to your audience; let them talk. It’s the foundation of an effective marketing strategy for education companies. It sounds so simple, yet collecting that feedback, divining rising trends and converting what you’ve learned into effective strategies for the new year is one of the greatest challenges marketers face.
We’ve covered the feedback we collected from educators in 2015 in our extensive and wide-ranging ISTE Focus Groups blog series (read parts 1, 2 and 3). Helping marketers close the gap from A (feedback) to B (solutions and strategies) was the focus of our recent webinar “On Target & In Time for 2016: A Marketing Tune-Up” hosted by Charlene Blohm of C. Blohm & Associates and Linda Winter of The Winter Group.
If you didn’t get a chance to join the webinar (or just need some help picking out the highlights), we’ve selected five tips that will help you “tune-up” your marketing efforts in 2016:
Though we cover 2016 trends extensively in our ISTE Focus Groups blog series, a quick reminder of the implications for education marketers was emphasized during the “tune-up” webinar. Most important for your content marketing initiatives: Digital content is shared among teachers more than ever. If you ever doubted the efficacy of this dimension of marketing strategy, you can put those doubts to bed in 2016. Content is still king, teachers are constantly on the lookout for it, and they share it constantly.
Above all, content assets need to be digital, shareable and focused on the teacher voice. Adding images and videos to content is no longer a bell and whistle, but a critical requirement. Linda put it this way: “Content in 2016 is immersive, interactive and modular.” As you revise your content marketing strategies in 2016, be sure that your shareables meet these three criteria.
Other rising trends include: Scrutiny of assessments, CTE, special education, passion projects and dual enrollments. Charlene notes that “bringing creativity back to the classroom” has been a major recurring theme, straight from teachers. They’re looking to you to help them accomplish that.
The balance of earned vs. paid media is also changing. While earned media is still crucial (and powerful), paid is being used in interesting ways. A blended approach that uses both effectively is becoming the new normal, and many companies are using this mix to their advantage already. Those blended models will require new metrics, so test, measure and figure out what works over time.
What’s in your toolkit? According to Charlene, the theme of 2016 marketing is “mix,” so keep that in mind as you’re determining what to keep and what to cut.
To wit, webinars and whitepapers are still powerful drivers of purchasing decisions. Education Week found that 90 percent of educators attended an education webinar or downloaded a white paper within the last six months, and 46 percent of teachers use content that demonstrates efficacy to inform curriculum decisions. In short, these assets help them decide what to use in the classroom.
Another important thing to remember is how knowledgeable prospective buyers are by the time they reach out to you. Education Week indicated that 61 percent of educators do their own research before making a purchase recommendation, 81 percent visit a vendor website, and 73 percent have internal conversations with their own teams before making curriculum decisions. For sales teams, this means that warm prospects have done much of the work already, but have probable made their decision by the time you finally speak to them.
Be sure that your toolkit provides assets that teachers can use before they ever pick up the phone, and that they’re easy to find and, of course, shareable.
According to Linda, “purposeful” is the new buzzword in education marketing, even more so than its cousin, “connected.” Start by building a communications “anchor” to serve as the baseline of your program or campaign. Figure out what’s “special” about your individual promotions or campaigns. What’s the value-add? Is it a new product or program? Are you offering special pricing? Pick something and stay with it.
Additionally, when it comes to communications (and sales), one touch point won’t be enough. Trade shows aren’t a one-off, and need well-integrated strategies to support your presence. For PR and communications, Charlene advises strategies that keep you in the mix consistently. One communications push in one month of the year isn’t going to deliver the ROI you’re looking for. Plan for consistency and longevity.
Lastly, there should be social and content components in every campaign and strategy. Baking social media and content marketing into your strategies is assumed, not optional. Not today.
Along with the tips outlined above, 2016 presents numerous opportunities for honing your targeting, testing and tracking capabilities. Going social is a major theme, and new ways to both unlock hidden opportunities and connect with educators will be major factors in successful marketing strategies.
What’s the next new thing? No one knows. Try something new, whether it’s geo-targeting, innovative pilot and trial programs, connecting with educators on Google Hangouts and Twitter chats, or cross-pollinating your content, products and services into new pipelines.
Finally, it’s more important than ever to track performance by channel and by campaign. Whether working with a new communications channel or narrowing down tried-and-true tactics, measuring the metrics that count will reveal the ROI of your initiatives and allow you to customize as you go.
5. Create Your ‘Optimum’ Marketing Mix
So what should be in your marketing toolkit in 2016? Start with your communications “anchors.” Make new friends, but capitalize on the stories of your most satisfied customers. Try new things strategically and with commitment – use baseline measures to assess your success with fresh initiatives. When it comes to PR and communications, be present. Contribute to the conversation, regularly. Lastly, ask your sales team what they need and deliver it. Lead with new ideas and opportunities, and build on what has worked with fresh alternatives and healthy experimentation.
If you’d like an archived copy of the “On Target & In Time for 2016: A Marketing Tune-Up” webinar, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.