The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode 14 · 1 year 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 Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, don'tor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the High Reed Marketer podcast. Well, we invite higher reed marketers that we admire to share their ideas and insights on how they move the needle in their world. My name is choice singer and I'm here with my cohost of the show, Bart Taylor. So, Bart, we both think that today's guests is very interesting. He's kind of a part of a very small team that puts out a lot of great content. Could you please share a little bit about them? Yeah, we we met Dan freeborn and he's the assistant marketing director at at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan, the northern it's in the upper peninsula, and we've just have really 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 opens up the hood, shows us around what he's doing, what's working and what he's learned, and I think it's I think if you listen closely, you'll take away a lot of really good things that you can apply to to your marketing at your school. So it's great. Yes, very generous with this time and with his wisdom, so let's get him into the show. Today's guest on the podcast is Dan Feborn, who is the assistant director of marketing and enrollment at Northern Michigan University global campus. Welcome to the PODCAST, Dan. Thanks for having me. Dan. Like to start out by you describing your campus at North Michigan and a little bit about your role there. Yeah, absolutely so. Northern Michigan University where a midsize regional university, I'll say, with name recognition throughout the Upper Midwest, mainly Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota Illinois. My role here I work on our global campus, which facilitates online learning for adult learners, so the degrees a completed can be completed hundred percent online, and my specific role within our department is managing our marketing efforts, so everything from email, organic social paid advertising, and then I'm also the primary contact throughout the admissions funnel for helping students progress through that, so beca submitting their application, making sure they're making their marks on enrollment nexteps and everything. So kind of a one man operation. We're a small team of three and I'm one of the three. Great, great, well, that was one of the questions that I have because I'm, as you know, Dan, a lot of the audience that listen to the podcast and people the troy and I serve our smaller institutions. I mean you guys are mid midsize public but at the same time it's interesting with the global campus, you know that you are kind of running that part of the school and the marketing of that, much like some of our clients...

...and listeners might do. So in essence, you are the marketing department and I know that you produce a lot of content and that's really what I think we want to talk a little bit about today. I think that I'm big believer in content and I believe, big believer, that content is what really we're marketing is going to be headed, and it's already there. But your approached. The amount that you produce and how you how you're ensuring that's effective is pretty, pretty unique, and so maybe can you describe the time involved to produce that amount of content that you do, especially since you, you know, you just describe your role and you we're kind of a few different hats. So just tell us a little bit about what that what's involved in producing that amount of content? Sure, I mean a lot does go into it and, kind of echoing what you did mention, in our unique individual department, the Global Campas, I'm the one one guy in charge of, you know, helping execute all those things. We do have a centralized marketing department within the Greater University that primary focuses on the undergraduate, traditional campus bound student. So they've been a great support in all this too. But from my function within our organization here, it's really hard to quantify how many hours are spent on content development and really what I've had to come to embraces that it's rather, rather than focusing on how much time I spend, it's how am I actually spending the time that I have to develop content, and it becomes it can become quite a paradox for small marketing teams, because so often and in that kind of setting, you're really forced into thinking about how efficient can you be? Let's pump out as much as we can. We have to prove that we can still be competed it of even though we have a small team. So it becomes this dynamic that's really almost kind of hard to wrestle with, and when you're really focused on pumping out content regardless of strategy or anything, it becomes more that you're wasting time at that point. So what I've really tried to work to do here is while, yes, I still try to be efficient, of course that's a big part of productivity and a small team, I really want to focus on how I'm spending my time and that revolves around being very specific and how I'm analyzing the data that we collect. Most all universities have a plethora of data and I realize every different position is privy the different amounts of data. I'm really fortunate in our team that I get access to a lot of data about our about our students, so I make sure to spend the time to dig into that. How do our students behave on a whole? You know, looking at two to three year trends in our perspective student pipeline. How do they act and how do they behave before they become in rold enrolled students here, and taking the time to actually dig into that and make sense of it all really helps develop a strategized plan for how I'm going to execute content. You know how long campaigns are going to run for what types of content would be most useful, and I'm finding because I'm doing that, the whole the main picture is in all complete. Yet the whole pie is 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. I was really fortunate to have pretty much a blank slate and there wasn't really a focused marketing effort done for our online programs yet. So coming into that it was a little bit overwhelming, but also it was actually really nice to have that freedom to kind of start from scratch. And initially, you know, I had all these great ideas of I wanted to have this robust set of email campaigns, social content,...

...paid advertising, that all linked together, but realizing as a one man show it's not realistic to do that in the first few months of a new job. So I took it into small, small, bite sized chunks, you know, initially like looking through before coming into this position I had about a five years of experience in undergraduate enrollment and missions and was involved in their marketing campaigns for email. So I took what I knew from that and understanding the main touch points that students had with the university throughout the enrollment process really just helped me build a shell of what our email communication was going to look like. So looking at when they submit an application, they should probably get something initially confirming that we receive their application what their next step was. Same with after they were admitted, making sure they knew what their next steps for enrollment were. So building out content related to those specific action steps was my key point and that allowed me then to rest a shirt that they were getting the main points delivered to them, the main pieces of content they needed, and then from there I was able to kind of take a step back and look more at that information at a whole and was able to develop the communication plan much further than building out and filling out those gaps in between the pieces of messaging there. So it did take a lot of time, but I think taking it in bite size chunks was the most with the key for me to be able to do this successfully resting a shirt that they had the main points out there and then every so often, maybe every six or eight months, I would introduce some more content to build out these campaigns and flows. That way it's really good in that kind of there's some of the takeaways that I hear you'd sayings that. I mean, you can't. You have to start with a strategy, and a strategy that's informed with data. Is really big deal on that part. But tell me a little bit about different types of content you're producing me and certainly the email. You talked about email flows. Are there other parts that you're leveraging their en amu or what other types of content have you seen that's working? Yeah, I mean our big focus has been email because we do primarily work with online degree seeking students and they're busy, you know, their adults, and with that then we implemented a blog, more content based, so it's a little bit more robust as far as the information we can get across and a lot of that blog content is really designed around action steps in the funnel. So we realize that you know, maybe are one of our students. One of our main personas of a student were looking at is, I'll say regular old working adults that want to come and complete a degree and maybe they have a smattering of credits from somewhere else. They're looking to have a fast track to degree completion here. Maybe they've been out of school for ten to twenty years and they're just trying to get back into things. We realize that higher education as a whole can be really confusing for those students coming back in and things have changed a lot in that amount of time. So our learning environment has changed a bit. But also with that online learning component there can be a lot of hesitation. So we've built our blog content out to kind of help them feel more confident in their decision and choosing northern walking them through our system. So when they're talking about the application for admission, what should they have on hand as they're going through that that process? Once they're in admitted, we talked about all their next steps, about taking taking advantage of the online orientation. We have an online course prep tutorial for them to take. Okay, what does that look like? Where does it live? What can they expect when they're in those experiences? So it's really just breaking those things apart so it's more accessible to...

...the students and help them feel more confident before getting there. So that's a built in kind of to our email communication, but also as a standalone blog that serves at a laws as as a place to be able to use content, like repurpose content for social content as well. And that kind of goes back to your question about timing. When I first started, I thought I was kind of fell into that trap of feeling I needed to be everywhere all the time and pushing out content, pushing out content. So we had started, like I mentioned, with email. We had a facebook account linked in and instagram and after about two and a half years and re kind of visiting strategy for all three of those, instagram was not performing for us and I had to pull the plug on it and it was a hard decision to make because, you know, there were some of our students that were involved in that platform, but it really wasn't getting the engagement we were we were expecting or what we wanted to and we had revisited the strategy a couple times and we decided to cancel that for now and put our efforts into the channels that were working and proving themselves really well. So we wanted to build those up and gain some more momentum there and focus our effort and really make good use of our time. Again, because I'm a one man show in that regard, I would rather put the effort into something I know is working at this point, with the goal of maybe reintroducing instagram later on. Right. Great, Dan, you mentioned earlier that working adults as a top persona that you go after. What are some of the other top personas that you are going after and what is your approach to content creation as you try to connect with them? Yeah, I mean so, like you mentioned, the adult learner returning to schools is a big one, whether they, and a lot of them, don't have northern experience, previous northern experience. So those are their fresh to northern and then our second, I would say our top two personas would be that adult learner that doesn't have northern experience and then a re entry student to northern that may be stopped out for some reason, whether it be because of grades or family situations, they weren't able to complete their degree and they're just looking to come back because they have that affinity with northern. They know what to expect as far as education goes. So I mean, I think that would probably be actually our top persona that we're that we're after right now, because it's, I'll say, it's lowhanging fruit. You know, they have that private previous experience with Northern, which really really helps their confidence level in choosing us again to complete. Now the online learning environment is much different than what they experience, you know, as a freshman coming in fresh out of high school. So helping them understand what that's going to be like as a challenge. But I think for both of these these personas, these avatars, whatever you want to call them, are, approach to content development and design is very specific because, and this really isn't unique just to online learners, it's it should be common practice and marketing across the board, I think. But if we're not focused on being hyper relevant to our students, they're going to dismiss us. It's online learning is becoming much more competitive. There's a lot more programs and especially with the pandemic. I think a lot more institutions have become confident in their online delivery, so I would expect a lot more programs and courses will be popping up. So it makes me kind of go on the offense of being how can we be more competitive, how...

...can we more appealing? How can we deliver the information in a way that's very specific to these students? And that's what 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 main touch points, when they apply, when they're admitted, once they completed an orientation, that kind of stuff. Those that's general information everybody needs to know, helping them get through the process in a general way just so they can actually progress. But if you're taking things and taking that general information and making it hyper applicable and hyper specific to individual students and what their needs are, that's where that magic is going to happen. And what I mean by this would be so, for instance, if we have somebody coming through our initial RFI form, just raising their hand, they want to get some information about studying online at northern and they indicate will use our Ur ndbsn program as an example. They want to learn more about that program so the initial email that goes out to them is delivered within the hour. Our system has a timing thing, so that's the soon as we can get it out, but within an hour they're delivered a very specific email that addresses their interest in the URN rndobsn program online. We take their state of residency into account as well, so if they're outside of the state of Michigan, we have some information we provide that way. And then we also collect information on their their student type, so whether they're an incoming freshman, a transfer student or re entry northern student or a post baculaureate. And while the I sage just still conveying the same information with the program there are nuances to each of these programs that would be relevant to different student types or where they're from or, you know, their stage if they're transferring, in kind of how their credits work. So instead of just sending them general links to go and sort out the information themselves, we do all that work for them and it's delivered and populates in the emails for them automatically. So that's where the time comes in. We're doing all those work on the back end to really create content for the student when they're having this experience in their web browser. They're going to see what they need to see right away without 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. I really like that because I think that it's so important, and I talked to a lot of people about this, as let the computers do the the tasks and all the other things so that you can focus more on the on the relationships and being strategic. I love the fact that you're automating so much of that because, I mean, you know, the data is in the database. The computer should be able to figure out this person's out of state, so I'm going to insert this particular piece of contents that they have what they need and program specific and other things like that. So I think that that's so it's a critical thing that a lot of people miss is that really take advantage of these automated tools. You know, crm's are I mean, even if you use excel and word. There's ways to automate different things and take the time to figure that out. I think really pays off in the long run and at the end of the day it really makes it a better experience for the user, which is really what we're talking about. So I think that's a it's a really good point. Yeah, and when you're thinking about the content too, it's important, I think, to be thinking about the information you're collecting. And every institution I know operates very differently. So their methods of collecting information maybe a universal, universal form, or...

...maybe they have the flexibility in the benefit of having their own where they can collect whatever information they want. But really being strategic and thoughtful about what information you're collecting to inform how your campaigns are going to be executed is really, really key. So if you're just asking for everything and really don't have 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 almost like the chicken before the egg. What comes first? Is a developing these forms of get leads, or is it thinking about how you're going to what types of messages you're going to send to these students to inform how you're going to build this form? Yeah, and I think that's a really a big conversation that needs to happen within, you know, departments. Yeah, ask too much information, you're going to scare scare them away and they're going to be like I I'm not going to fill out an application just to get some information. And I think that's a balance that a lot of schools don't think about sometimes that you really put yourself in the in the shoes of your prospect who's a busy professional, you know, with with your particular audience, their busy professionals. They're trying to get answers to the questions that they have and they're trying to make some decisions in the middle of balancing work and life and and everything else. And if you're all the sudden asking them, you know, fifteen or twenty questions on an RFI, that is you're halfway down with an application at that point there, it's going to create a wall for them and I think that you're probably seeing that kind of thing in your data and that's probably helping you figure that out. So maybe you know, you mentioned data earlier and how you kind of go in to some of those, you know, analyzing your data to Chers to make better decisions, to choose the content and 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 great question and it's been a big learning process and I'm I'm not going to claim to be an expert. I don't know if this ruins the episode or not, but it's worked for me so far. There's always so much more to learn and I love learning about this stuff. So I mean it's great too. That's I appreciate. What appreciate about your show. You know, can learn so much from the other professionals that are out there. But what I found to be helpful is when I'm looking through this data that we've collected from the way our students behave. Obviously I think it's pretty common to segment into three different different pieces. So the inquiry stage where they haven't submitted an application yet. You got that time with a student where they've submitted an application but they have not been they've not gotten an omissions decision yet, and then from those that have gotten their admission decision, what happens after that, what steps that they take? So I've broke it into those three parts and then I took about a too, because our department was relatively 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 was looking at was how long from their initial inquiry to when they submitted an application. On average, how long did it take a students in that that part of the funnel to take the next action? And that was really really helpful because that was able to inform how long I was going to run an email campaign for that group of students. And I think it's also important to like it's it's easy to want to try to catch every single person, but realizing if we're doing that, that's a always going to be a oneonone system and it's really hard to do that within an automated system. You have to kind of you have to reach the ninety percent almost, you know, and then backfill...

...with individual communication for those it maybe don't fit that. So that's what helps me build the automations is looking at that time frame. So what I found in our information we had about a twomonth window that a student might be hanging out there. From an inquiry to an application, that was about the longest that they'd be in that that stage. And then from application to admission, but a two week window, and then from admitted to enrolled it's another two months, depending on when they're coming in. It depends on start terms. There's a lot of a lot of variables for sure, as I'm sure a lot of you understand, but that just gave me a framework to know. Okay, so if I've got two months to run an email campaign for this specific stage, let's break it apart. Are we doing a monthly email? Are we doing a weekly email? What does this look like? And it just kind of really helped shape that strategy a bit. So that was the key thing I was looking at and then from there it was looking back at any of the other sources we had off look at the inquiry stage, for example, like after after a students submitted their initial RFI. What other touch points at the university that did a lot of them seem to have? Was a phone calls, was it a virtual event of some sort, and that really just kind of helped develop a 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 of look at it, and I'm a big believer that you have to resell your service every time, your product every time. I mean you're doing one type of sale in the inquiry 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 or getting them registered and all those things. I mean there's like four or five different sales processes even up to matriculation, and so it's so critical to even you know whether whether you're looking at ags adult and graduate students or whether you're looking at traditional Undergrad or transfer. I think that there's just so much ways to use that date and I think that's a really, really great point. So thanks for sharing that. Yeah, and I think related to that to there's such a tendency, and I keep focusing on email. That's 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. Like, if anybody's thinking to their inbox, nobody likes to see any email like that unless you're like specifically signing up for a newsletter. We were expecting multiple links, but if we're blasting students with that kind of information unwarranted, it's it's really not going to get any performance on that. So if the beauty of that is okay, so you've got this email with tons of hyperlinks, like you have basically the content you need for a campaign right there. Let's break it apart in two separate emails, deliver it to them and small, bite sized chunks. or it's not so overwhelming. And a lot of times I'm finding even with other within other departments at the university, that they already 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 nine or ten maybe to increase the lifespan of that Daan. We like to close each episode by asking our guests for a power nugget, something that you're doing or maybe you read about that could immediately be implemented by others. Do you have anything that you can share her, I mean without restating the generally specific thing, has been really helpful for me. I'd say. The other piece is really kind of elaborating at what I just mentioned. would be focusing in an email on one action step, maybe even to depending on you know what the actually...

...emails designed for. But if you're really looking for student to take an action in the funnel, that has to be the primary focus. So don't bog it down with other things that they can get distracted on go down different rabbit holes. If you want them to apply, make that your your action. Maybe have a couple links to the application for admission. If you want them to fill out a request for information form, if you're buying lists and things like that, literally your only action they can take should be to fill out that form. There's a bit of a craft, I guess, with creating benefit messaging with an action, but if you keep them pretty short and sweet there's more likely a chance that they're going to actually click through and take the action you want. It's great, perfect. Thank you, Dan. And what's the best way for people to get ahold of you if they would like to? Probably the easiest way would be on Linkedin, just you can search for my name, Dan Freeborne. I'm there. Feel free to message me of any questions that you have. Would love to just hear what everybody's up to and what strategies are. I love collaborating that way. Thank you and Dan, it's been a pleasure speaking with you today. Thanks for having me, Bart. Do you have any parting thoughts? Before we wrap up, I just want to thank Dan too, just for being a guest on the show. I think it's been very valuable, Dan, and I think that I love the fact that you are really focused so much on this sun on the clear content that email can do, and I'm a big believer that the power hour of email is still there. I think you know, obviously with a GS, I think that that's their primary mode of doing that. Whether your Gen wire, jen x or boomers, that's the email is going to be the conduit. But I think even when you look at Gen Z and and parents, email can be a very powerful thing as well. You just have to kind of look at it slightly differently for generation Z and augment it with a few other things. But if you can copy mom and dad on that for the traditional you're right back in the sweet spot with email, and so I love what you've shared today and I love the the content that you've talked about. So thanks again. Absolutely well said. And now we end every episode with our commercial. The High Reed Marketer podcast is sponsored by Kao Solutions and Education, marketing and branding agency and by thing patented, a marketing, execution, printing and mailing provider of high it solutions. On behalf of my cohost Bark Taylor, I'm troy singer. Thank you for listening and supporting our podcast. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time.

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