The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode 14 · 6 months ago

The Magic Is in the Messaging: Content Creation for Higher Ed Marketing


Content is where marketing is headed.

How can marketers in higher education mass produce content that is relevant, applicable, and interesting to prospective students?

In this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer, Bart Caylor, President & Founder at Caylor Solutions Inc, and Troy Singer, Senior Account Executive at Think Patented, chat with

Dan Freeborn, Assistant Director of Marketing and Enrollment at Northern Michigan University, about his unique approach to content.

They also talked about:

- How to manage time and resources well in content creation

- What types of content perform best in higher ed

- How to mass produce content with a small team

- What information to collect and how to use it for promotion

Know of a higher education marketing change agent you’d like to hear on the show? Does your university have an interesting story to be featured? Connect with Bart Caylor or Troy Singer. If you’re not on LinkedIn, check the Caylor Solutions or Think Patented websites instead!
To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to The Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.  

You were listening to the Higher EdMarketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in highereducation. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to studentrecruitment, donut relations, marketing, trans new technologies and so much more.If you are looking for conversation centered around where the industry isgoing, this podcast is for you, let's get into the show, welcome to the High Red Marketerpodcast, where we invite higher red marketers that we admire to share theirideas and insights on how they move the needle in their world. My name ischoice. Singer and I'm here with my co host of the show Bart Cayler so bart.We both think that today's guest is very interesting, he's kind of a partof a very small team that puts out a lot of great content. Could you pleaseshare a little bit about him? Yeah. We met Dan freeborn and he's the assistantmarketing director at at Northern Michigan University in MarquetteMichigan, the northern it's in the upper peninsula and we've just havereally come to appreciate Dan and just his pragmatic approach to his marketing.I think this show is going to be great in the sense that he's he kind of opensup. The Hood shows us around what he's doing what's working and what he'slearned- and I think it's, I think, if you listen closely you'll, take away alot of really good things that you can apply to to your marketing at yourschool. So it's great yes, very generous with this time and with hiswisdom. So let's get him into the show. Today's guest on the podcast is DanFreeborn, who is the assistant director of marketing and enrollment at NorthernMichigan University Global Campus? Welcome to the podcast Dan thanks forhaving me Dan, like to start out by you, describing your campus at NorthMichigan and a little bit about your role there yeah, absolutely so.Northern Michigan University, where mid size, regional university I'll, saywith name recognition throughout the Upper Midwest, mainly Michigan,Wisconsin, Minnesota Illinois. My role here I work on our globalcampus, which facilitates online learning for adult learners. So thedegrees are completely can be completed. A hundred percent online and myspecific role within our department is managing our marketing effort, soeverything from email, organic, social paid advertising and then I'm also theprimary contact throughout the admissions funnel for helping studentsprogress through that so committing their application, making sure they'remaking their marks on enrolment next steps and everything so kind of a oneman operation, we're a small team of three and I'm one of the three greatgreat well. That was one of the questions I have because, as you know,Dan a lot of the audience that listen to the podcast and people, the troy andI serve or smaller institutions- I mean you guys- are mid mid sized public butat the same time it's interesting with the global campus. You know that youare kind of running that part of the school and the marketing of that. Muchlike some of our clients and listeners...

...might do so. In essence, you are themarketing department and I know that you produce a lot of content and that'sreally what I think we want to talk a little bit about today. I think thatI'm a big believer in content- and I be big believer that content is whatreally were marketing, is going to be headed and is already there. But yourapproach, the amount that you produce and how you, how you're insuring that'seffective, is pretty pretty unique, and so maybe can you describe the timeinvolved to produce that amount of content you do, especially since you,you know, you just described your role and you wear kind of a few differenthats. So just tell us a little bit about what a what's involved inproducing that amount of content. Sure I mean a lot does go into it and kindof echoing what you did mention in our unique individual department. Theglobal campus, I'm the one one guy in charge of you know helping execute allthose things we do have a centralized marketing department within the GreaterUniversity that primary focuses on the undergraduate traditional campus boundstudent, so they've been a great support and all this to, but from myfunction within our organization. Here, it's really hard to quantify how manyhours are spent on content development and really what I've had to come toembraces that is rather, rather than focusing on how much time I spend itshome, I actually spending the time that I have to develop content and itbecomes. It can become quite a paradox for small marketing teams, because sooften, and in that kind of setting you're really forced into thinkingabout how efficient can you be? Let's pump out as much as we can, we have toprove that we can still be competitive, even though we have a small team, so itbecomes a dynamic, that's really almost kind of hard to wrestle with and whenyou're really focused on pumping out content, regardless of strategy oranything, it becomes more that you're wasting time at that point. So whatI've really tried to work to do here is well. Yes, I still try to be efficient.Of course, that's a big part of predictively and a small team. I reallywant to focus on how I'm spending my time and that revolves around beingvery specific and how I'm analyzing the data that we collect. Most all theuniversities have a plethora of data, and I realize every different positionis privy the different amounts of data, I'm really fortunate in our team that Iget access to a lot of data about or about our students. So I make sure tospend the time to dig into that. How do our students behave on a whole? Youknow looking at two to three year trends in our perspective studentpipeline. How do they act and how do they behave before they've become inroll enrold students here and taking the time to actually dig into that andmake sense of it all really helps develop a strategized plan for how imgoing to execute content? You know how long campaigns are going to run forwhat types of content would be most useful and I'm finding, because I'mdoing that the whole the main picture isn't all complete. Yet the whole pieis not completed. I haven't built everything out the way I want it to be,but I've been able to make these small steps in working toward that major goal.So I mean I'm thinking back to when I initially started in this position. Iwas really fortunate to have pretty much a blank slate and there wasn'treally a focused marketing effort done for our online programs, yet so cominginto that it was a little bit overwhelming, but also it was actuallyreally nice to have that freedom to kind of start from scratch, andinitially you know I had all these great ideas of. I wanted to have thisrobust set of email campaigns, social...

...content paid advertising that alllinked together, but realizing as a one man show it's not realistic to do thatin the first few months of a new job, so I took it into small small bitesized chunks. You know initially like looking through before coming into thisposition. I had about a five years of experience in undergraduate enrolmentmissions and was involved in their marketing campaigns for email. So Itook what I knew from that and understanding the main touch pointsthat students had with the university throughout the enrolment process.Really just helped me build a shell of what our email communication was goingto look like so looking at when they submit an application. They shouldprobably get something initially confirming that we received theirapplication, what their next step was same with after they were admittedmaking sure they knew what their next steps for enrollment were so buildingout. Content related to those specific action steps was my key point, and thatallowed me then to rest a shirt that they were getting. The main pointsdelivered to them the many pieces of comment they needed and then from thereI was able to kind of stake, a step back and look more at that informationat a hole and was able to develop a communication plan much further thanbuilding out and filling out those gaps in between the pieces of messagingthere. So it did take a lot of time, but I think taking it and bite sizedchunks was the most with the key for me to be able to do this successfullyresting assured that they have the main points out there and then every sooften, maybe ever six or eight months, I would introduce some more content tobuild out these campaigns and flows. That way it's really good and that kindof the some of the takeaways that I hear you'd saying is it I mean youcan't you have to start with a strategy and a strategy. That's informed withdata is a really big deal on that part, but tell me a little bit aboutdifferent types of content. You're producing I mean certainly the email.You talked about, email flows. Are there other parts that you'releveraging their NEMU or what other types of content? Have you seen? That'sworking yeah I mean our big focus has been email because we do primarily workwith online degree seeking students and they're busy. You know their adults,and with that then we implemented a blog more content base. So it's alittle bit more robust as far as the information we can get across and a lotof that blog content is really designed around action steps in the funnel. Sowe realized that you know maybe our one of our students, one of our main personas of a student, we're looking at is I'll, say regular world working adultsthat want to come a completed degree. Maybe they have a smattering of creditsfrom somewhere else, they're looking to have a fast track to the re completionhere, maybe they've been out of school for ten to twenty years and they'rejust trying to get back into things. We realize that higher education as awhole can be really confusing for those students coming back in and things havechanged a lot in that amount of time. So our learning environment has changeda bit, but also with that online learning component. There can be a lotof hesitation, so we've built our blog content out to kind of help them feelmore confident in their decision and choosing northern walking them throughour system. So when they're talking about the application for admission,what should they have on hand as they're going through that that processonce they're in admitted, we talked about all their next steps about takingtaking advantage of the online orientation? We have an online courseprep tutorial for them to take okay. What does that look like? Where does itlive? What can they expect when they're in those experiences? So it's reallyjust breaking those things apart, so...'s more accessible to the studentsand help them feel more confident before getting there. So that's a builtin kind of to our email communication, but also is a stand alone, blog thatserves at laws as a place to be able to use content like repurpose content forsocial content as well, and that kind of goes back to your question abouttiming. When I first started, I thought I kind of fell into that trap withfeeling I needed to be everywhere all the time and pushing out contentpushing out content, so we had started. Like I mentioned with email, we had aface book account linked in an Instar and after about two and a half yearsand re kind of visiting strategy for all three of those instar was notperforming for us and I had to pull the plug on it and it was a hard decisionto make, because you know there were some of our students that were involvedin that platform, but it really wasn't getting the engagement we were, we wereexpecting or what we wanted to, and we had revisited the strategy a coupletimes and we decided to cancel that for now and put our efforts into thechannels that were working and proving themselves really well. So we wanted tobuild those up and gain somee more moment of there and focus our effortand really make good use of our time again, because I'm a one man show inthat regard. I would rather put the effort into something I know is workingat this point with the goal of maybe and reintroducing instar later on right,Great Dan. You mentioned earlier that working adults as a popper SONA thatyou go after what are some of the other top per Sundas that you are going after,and what is your approach to content creation as you try to connect withthem? Yeah I mean so. Like you mentioned, the adult learner returningto school is a big one, whether they and a lot of them don't have a northernexperience. Previous northern experience, so those are their fresh tonorthern and then our second, I would say our top to personas- would be thatadult learner that doesn't have northern experience and then a re entrystudent to northern. That may be stopped out for some reason, whether itbe because of grades or family situations, they weren't able tocomplete their degree and they're just looking to come back because they havethat affinity with northern. They know what to expect. As far as educationgoes so I mean, I think that would probablybe actually our top persona that that we're after right now, because it'sI'll say it's a low hanging fruit, you know they have that private previousexperience with Northern, which really really helps their confidence level andchoosing us again to complete. Now the online learning environment is muchdifferent than what the experience you know as a freshman coming in fresh outof high school, so helping them understand what that's going to be likeas a challenge, but I think for both of these these personas, these avatars,whatever you want to call them, are approach to content. Development anddesign is very specific because- and this really isn't unique just to onlinelearners- it's it should be common practice and marketing acrossthe board. I think, but if we're not focused on being hyper relevant to ourstudents, they're going to dismiss us, it's online learning is becoming muchmore competitive. There's a lot more programs, and especially with thepandemic. I think a lot more institutions have become confident intheir online delivery. So I would expect a lot more programs and courseswill be popping up, so it makes me kind of go on the offensive being. How canwe be more competitive? How could be...

...more appealing? How can we deliver theinformation in a way, that's very specific to these students and that'swhat really guides my content, creation and I've kind of developed a strategy?I call it being generally specific, so I think, through all this information,I talked about these initial emails. I set up talking about just the maintouch points when they apply when they're admitted once they completed anorientation that kind of stuff those that's general information. Everybodyneeds to know, helping them get through the process in a general way just sothey can actually progress, but if you're taking things and taking thatgeneral information and making it hyper applicable and hyper specific toindividual students and what their needs are. That's where that magic isgoing to happen, and what I mean by this would be so, for instance, if wehave somebody coming through our initial R fy form just raising theirhand. They want to get some information about studying online at northern andthey indicate we'll use our R end of SN program as an example. They want tolearn more about that program, so the initial email that goes out to them isdelivered within the hour. Our system has a timing thing, so that's thesoonest we can get it out, but within an hour, they're delivered a veryspecific email that addresses their interest in the iron are in obs programonline. We take their state of presidency into account as well. So, ifthey're outside of the State of Michigan, we have some information. Weprovide that way and then we also collect information on their theirstudent type, so, whether they're an incoming freshman, a transfer student,a re entry, northern student or a post back Gulari at and while the message isstill conveying the same information with the program. There are nuances toeach of these programs that would be relevant to different student types orwhere they're from or you know, their stage, if they're transferring in kindof how their credits work. So, instead of just sending them general links togo and sort out the information themselves, we do all that work forthem and it's delivered and populates in the emails for them automatically.So that's where the time comes in we're doing all this work on the back end toreally curate content for the student when they're having this experience intheir web browser they're going to see what they need to see right awaywithout having to sort and get lost, you know and we don't want to lose them.So this is a way that we can help help them through that and be relevant. Ireally like that because I think that is a so important and I talked to a lotof people about this is let the computers do the tasks and all theother things so that you can focus more on the on the relationships and beingstrategic. I love the fact that you're automatic. So much of that because Imean you know the date as in the database that the computer should beable to figure out this person's out of state. So I'm going to answer thisparticular piece of contents that they have, what they need and programspecific and other things like that. So I think that that's such a criticalthing that a lot of people miss is that really take advantage of theseautomated tools. You know Cremore, I mean, even if you use excel and word,there's ways to automate different things and take the time to figure thatout. I think really pays off in the long run and at the end of the day, itreally makes it a better experience for the user, which is really what we'retalking about. So I think, that's a that's a really good point yeah whenyou're thinking about the content too, it's important, I think, to be thinkingabout the information you're collecting and every institution I know, operatesvery differently, so their methods of collecting information may be auniversal universal, a form or maybe...

...they have the flexibility in thebenefit of having their own, where they can collect whatever information theywant, but really being strategic and thoughtful about what informationyou're collecting to inform how your campaigns are going to be executed isreally really key. So if you're, just asking for everything and really don'thave a plan for how you're going to use it information, it's pointless right,it's a waste of the prospects time. It's a waste of your time. It's almostlike the chicken before the egg. What comes first, is it developing theseforms of get leads, or is it thinking about how you're going to what types ofmessages you're going to send to these students to inform how you're going tobuild this form yeah? And I think that's a really a big conversation thatneeds to happen within you know, departments yeah, and I think thatthat's a really good point too, because if you has too much information, you'regoing to scare scare them away an they're going to be like, I I'm notgoing to fill out an application just to get some information and I thinkthat's a balance that a lot of schools don't think about sometimes that you llput yourself in the in the shoes of your prospect: Who's a busyprofessional. You know with with your particular audience they're busyprofessionals they're trying to get answers to the questions that they haveand they're trying to make some decisions in the middle of balancingwork and life and everything else, and if you're, all the sudden asking them.You know fifteen or twenty questions on an RFE. That is, you know, you're halfway done with an application. At that point there it's going to create a wallfor them, and I think that you're, probably seeing that kind of thing inyour data and that's probably helping you figure that out. So maybe youmentioned data earlier and how you kind of go into some of those. You know,analyzing your data to chose to make better decisions to choose the contentand understand things. Tell us a little bit more about how you're, using that,how you're how you're going about your data reviews yeah, that's a greatquestion and it's been a big learning process and I'm I'm not going to claimto be an expert. I don't know if this runs the episode or not, but it'sworked for me so far, there's always so much more to learn, and I love learningabout this stuff. So I mean it's great to that's. Why appreciate whatappreciate about your show, you know, can learn so much from the otherprofessionals that are out there. But what I found to be helpful is when I'mlooking through this data that we've collected from the way our studentsbehave. Obviously I think it's pretty common to segment into to threedifferent different pieces, so the inquiry stage where they haven'tsubmitted an application. Yet you got that time with a student where they'vesubmitted an application, but they have not been they've, not gotten anomission decision yet and then from those that have gotten their admissiondecision. What happens after that? What steps did they take, so I ve broke itinto those three parts, and then I took about a two, because our department wasrelatively new and I started. I took about a two to three year: historical,look at how our students behaved in that each of those stages. So what I waslooking at was how long from their initial inquiry to when they submittedan application on average. How long did it take a students in that that part ofthe funnel to take the next action? And that was really really helpful, becausethat was able to inform how long I was going to run an email campaign for thatgroup of students, and I think it's also important to like it's it's easyto want to try to catch every single person, but realizing, if we're doingthat, that's always going to be a one on one system and it's really hard todo that within an automated system. You have to kind of you have to reach theninety percent. Almost you know and...

...then back fill with individualcommunication for those that may be don't fit that. So that's what helps mebuild the automations. I was looking at that time frame. So what I found in ourinformation, we had about a two month window that a student might be hangingout there from an inquiry to an application. That was what the longestthat they'd be in that that stage and then from application to admission, buta two week window and then from admitted to enrolled it's another twomonths depending on when they're coming in. It depends on start terms, hers alot of a lot of variables for sure, as I'm sure a lot of you understand, butthat just gave me a framework to know okay. So if I've got two months to runan email campaign for this specific stage, let's break it a part er we doin a monthly email. Are we doing a weekly email? What does this look likeand it just kind of really helped shape that strategy a bit? So that was thekey thing I was looking at and then from there it was looking back at anyof the other sources. We had off look at the inquiry stage, for example, likeafter after a student submitted their initial Ri. What other couch points atthe university that did a lot of them seem to have. Was it phone calls? Wasit a virtual event of some sort and that really just kind of helped developa strategy a bit more as well? I liked it looking at it from the funnel phase.I think you've simplified it down to the three. I think some schools kind oflook at it and I'm a big believer that you have to resell your service everytime, your product. Every time I mean you're, doing one type of sale in theinquiry phrase you're doing another type of sale in the application phase,you're doing another type of sale after acceptance with deposit and and gettingthem registered, and all those things I mean, there's like four or fivedifferent sales processes even up to matriculation, and so it's so critical.Even you know whether whether you're looking at ags adult and graduatestudents, or whether your looking at traditional Undergrad or transfer, Ithink that there's just so much ways to use that date and I think that's areally really great point. So thanks for sharing that yeah- and I thinkrelated to that too, there's such a tendency and I keep focusing on email.That's what the big focus that I have right now is getting that nailed down.There's a tendency to just put all this all these hyper links into emails likeif anybody's thinking to their inbox. Nobody likes to see any like that.UNLESSYOU'RE, like specifically signing up for a news letter, we're expectingmultiple links, but if for blasting students with that kind of information,unwarranted, it's it's really not going to get any performance on that. So thebeauty of that is okay, so you've got this email with tons of hyper linkslike you have basically the content. You need for a campaign right there,let's break it apart into separate emails, deliver it to them in smallbite, sized chunks, where it's not so overwhelming, and a lot of times, I'mfinding, even with other, with in other departments at the university that theyalready have the content. They need to build out a full campaign. It's just.Instead of sending it in one or two emails, we can spread it out into nineor ten, maybe to increase the life span of that Dan. We like to close eachepisode by asking our guests for a power nugget, something that you'redoing, or maybe you read about that- could immediately be implemented byothers. Do you have anything that you can share? I mean without restating thegenerally specific thing has been really helpful. For me, I'd say: theother piece is really kind of elaborating an. What I just mentionedwould be focusing in an email on one action step, maybe even to, dependingon you know what the actual emails...

...designed for, but if you're reallylooking for student to take an action in the funnel, that has to be theprimary focus, so don't bog it down with other things that they can getdistracted on, go down different rabbit holes. If you want them to apply, makethat your your action, maybe have a couple links to the application foradmission. If you want them to fill out a request for information form ifyou're buying lists and things like that, literally, your only action theycan take should be to fill out that form there's a bit of a craft. I guess withcreating benefit messaging with an action. But if you keep him prettyshort and sweet, there's more likely a chance that they're going to actuallyclick through and take the action. You want. It's great perfect! Thank you,Dan and what's the best way for people to get a hold of you if they would liketo probably the easiest way would be on linked in just you can search for myname Dan freeborn. I'm there feel free to message me if any questions that youhave would love to just hear what everybody's up to and what strategiesare a I love collaborating that way. Thank you and Dan. It's been thepleasure speaking with you today, thanks for having me Bart, do you haveany parting thoughts before we wrap up? I just want to thank Dan to just forbeing a guest on the show. I think it's been very valuable Dan and I think thatI love the fact that you are really focused so much on this on the clearcontent that email can do and I'm a big believer that the power of email isstill there. I think you know, obviously with ags. I think that that'stheir primary mode of doing that, whether Jim Wy or Gen, x or boomers-that's the email is going to be the con do it. But I think, even when you lookat Genz and and parents, email can be a very powerful thing as well. You justhave to kind of look at it slightly differently for generations, Z andaugment it with a few other things, but if you can copy mom and dad on that forthe traditional you're right back in the sweet spot with email, and so Ilove what you've shared today and I love the content that you've talkedabout. So thanks again, absolutely well said, and now we end eve episode withour commercial. The High Red Marketer podcast is sponsored by cale solutionsin education, marketing and branding agency and by thing patented, amarketing execution, printing and mailing provider of high red solutions.On behalf of my co host Bar Cayler, I'm troy singer. Thank you for listeningand supporting our podcast. You've been listening to the Higher EdMarketer to ensure that you never miss an episode subscribe to the show inyour favorite podcast player. If you are listening with Apple Podcast, we'dlove for you to leave a quick rating of the show, simply tap the number ofstars. You think the PODCAST deserves until next time.

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