Stop delivering content chaos
Universities and The five fundamental laws of Content Marketing
Competition between Australian universities is intense. It’s no wonder with thirty nine of them all fishing in the same pool for students, faculty, staff, donations and grants.
A good reputation can help a university attract better talent and more funding, which in turn delivers more success and prestige. It’s a catch-22 situation.
This focus on reputation, along with the rise of digital and social media, is making content marketing an important part of the education marketing mix.
University marketers are lucky to be blessed with a natural abundance of fresh content. But where other marketers struggle to create enough content, universities suffer the opposite problem – how to edit and distil mountains of disparate content into a powerful, effective brand narrative that delivers measurable business returns.
Too often, universities end up delivering ‘content chaos’. And the cause can usually be traced back to a lack of a cohesive strategy.
While most universities today are busily ‘doing’ content, it is usually still treated as a periphery item: an add-on to existing PR, marketing and digital departments. Rarely, if ever, is there a centrally co-ordinated content strategy, working as an arm of an overall marketing communications plan understood by all stakeholders.
Universities are putting out loads of diverse content, across many channels. And that’s fine. What is not so fine is that too much of this content is counter-productive ‘content chaos’. A daily stream of random, even contradictory messages with no apparent strategic purpose, poor execution, little inherent value, and no consistency with the brand story (What? There’s a brand story?).
Simply creating content for contents sake is also known as the ‘spray and pray’ approach. It chews up valuable resources, pollutes important channels, while serving no business purpose.
Content marketing can be incredibly powerful. Especially for universities, who depend so much on reputation, and have a stream of potentially great content at their disposal.
But a complex, diverse, multi-stakeholder institution like a university, absolutely has to do it properly to get a positive result.
The good news is there are simple, proven fundamentals to successful content marketing. Follow them and you success will follow.
Here are our five fundamental laws of effective content marketing:
HAVE A STRATEGY
I’m talking about a real, professional, detailed and documented content strategy. It will use proven methodology, with a clear set of objectives and guidelines and calendars that all content creators understand and follow. All of your content creators work to a shared plan and purpose under an umbrella strategy.
It must be fully integrated with your overall marketing communications plan.
Your chosen content channels each need to be as focused as commercial media channels: What is your business objective? Who is your audience? Why do they care? Why will they stay tuned into you? What are the core pillars and focus of your content? What do you want them to think or feel or do?
Strategy also means spelling out your brand purpose and story: what are your brand values, what is your persona, voice and style online?
Without these guidelines clearly spelled out and policed, your content producers will have free reign to produce random, inconsistent and sub-standard ‘content chaos’ that will ultimately confuse and lose your audience.
DATA AND MEASUREMENT ARE CRUCIAL TO SUCCESS
It’s 2016. There is no excuse for not having a robust measurement framework in place. You must outline the specific business objectives of your content marketing plan.
These objectives must shape your campaign KPI’s. What to measure can be quite subjective, but start from somewhere. Look for the measurable things that are most relevant to your objectives.
Be open to discussing and interrogating your KPI’s with all stakeholders to make any assumptions as robust as possible.
There are many affordable off-the shelf social and digital measurement tools out there. Once you’ve created some benchmarks you’ll have something to measure and improve upon. Great content marketing is always an iterative process, but it begins with clear goals and a focus on measurement and analysis.
INVEST IN CONSISTENT QUALITY CONTENT
Not all content can (or needs to be) polished and expensive. But your content marketing is only as good as the content you produce. Even in-house content should have a ‘brand’ style that keeps it consistent and memorable. This is, again, a part of a solid content strategy: Using consistent fonts; creating an image style code for your team to follow (it could be as simple as some Instagram filters), the tone-of-voice and language, colours, fonts, picture frames and borders etc.
When mapping out the year (your content calendar), identify your big opportunities and events, and make these a focus, with some time and budget to create and push some innovative, high impact content.
These are your opportunities to reach larger audiences than your day-to-day content activities, so it is well worth investing in big ticket content like quality video or digital interactive pieces.
AUTHENTICITY IS EVERYTHING
To be authentic, a brand needs to follow the old adage of “know thyself”. This means having a singular, distinct brand vision and voice. For universities, with their diverse, decentralised structures and multiple content producers, this is a big challenge.
Being clear on your mission, vision and voice means not just jumping on any old trend for traction. Content should always be consistent with your brand purpose or audience values. Humour is fine – but only if it is in context of the brand and audience.
Think of your brand and its audience as a tribe, united by history, values and a shared sense of purpose. The unique values and culture of your tribe is what authenticity is all about – and what your content needs to reinforce.
Like it or not, education is increasingly becoming a highly competitive, commoditised service business.
Your content marketers need to keep your audience and the notion of service at the forefront. Content marketing in the digital and social arena is always a personal, one-to-one exercise.
With this in mind, it is vital that your content and community managers are well drilled not only on how to produce great content, but also to listen, engage and respond to your audience in a way that is personable, positive and consistent with your brand values.