The education market is a growing industry, accelerated by the unprecedented adoption of technology since 2020. Technology has impacted how people learn and teach. And it's contributed to new innovative solutions and competition for education companies.
The education market is unique for businesses selling into schools. There are tight budgets, various stakeholders, and long sales cycles to consider.
Marketing that turns on and off isn't successful for education businesses. Instead, thoughtful, effective education marketing strategies help education companies continually reach customers, despite competition and hard to reach buyers.
Like building a house, successful marketing strategies take some time to design and plan. A marketing strategy framework is the most important - it sets the foundation for scalable marketing capabilities.
In this five-part education marketing strategy masterclass, we'll walk you through the key components of a successful marketing strategy framework.
Lesson #3 Why Marketing Campaigns Fail
Lesson #4 What is a Marketing Stack?
What is Marketing Strategy?
Wondering what the difference is between a marketing strategy and a marketing tactic? That's a common question. There are over 800 Google searches each month on the topic! A marketing tactic is what people commonly refer to when they talk about marketing. It's all of the marketing activities you interact with as a consumer. A marketing tactic is an email, Facebook posts from a company, a whitepaper you download, or an ad see you. They are small and short-term.
A marketing strategy is what connects all of those individual marketing activities. For example, a whitepaper you download is part of a marketing strategy to promote a company's thought leadership. The company likely also has blog posts, webinars, and social media posts on the same topic. The marketing strategy connects many tactics into a high-level integrated plan.
Why Do You Need Education Marketing Strategies?
You need to plan a marketing strategy framework and its related education marketing strategies because of the complex way people buy. When you understand what's behind buying behavior, you will communicate to potential customers in the right way, at the right times, in the right places.
Professor Kit Yarrow has been researching consumer buying behavior for 20 years. Her latest research has found two new trends in why consumers are motivated to buy. The first is because of FOMO (fear of missing out). FOMO comes into play when they see a bargain or an exclusive deal; they don't want to be left out, so they buy. Her research has also found that people are motivated by doing business with companies that meet their personal values. In marketing, this translates to establishing a brand that appeals to the right people.
But before someone takes out their credit card, there is time spent researching which brand or product to buy. You have probably heard about the marketing funnel, an upside-down pyramid showing the decision-making buying process. A more realistic visual is McKinsey's consumer decision journey, which shows this process is more fluid than a linear funnel. It has six phases:
Trigger (awareness): When someone first realizes they have a pain point or need.
Initial Consideration Set: They think about what brands or products they already know of that can help them.
Active Evaluation: They research online or ask friends and colleagues and evaluate all options.
Moment of Purchase: They buy.
Postpurchase Experience: They use the product and decide if they would buy again.
Loyalty or back to the Initial Consideration Set: Depending on how positive their experience was, they will buy again, or they will go back to research other solutions.
The amount of time spent in this consumer journey varies. It's shortest for low-priced B2C purchases, longer for B2B purchases. In the education sector, when selling to a school or company, the B2B buying cycle can be six months to two or more years because of the number of people involved in the buying process and the amount of oversight that goes into budgets and expenses.
As a company, it's necessary to structure your education marketing strategies around this consumer decision journey. Your marketing needs to speak to people at all stages - from when they first realize they have a problem to the moment they are ready to buy. There is a buyer in every stage at any moment in time, which is why tactical marketing is not effective. If you're focused solely on trade shows, for example, you're only going to capture people who are in the evaluation stage. You're missing out on other potential buyers who are just realizing they have a problem.
There's another reason why tactical marketing doesn't work. People are inundated with hundreds of messages per day. They need to see and hear from you multiple times before noticing your company or product. It takes six to eight marketing touches to generate a lead ready for a sales team. That means you need to get your brand in front of them wherever they are - in their inbox, on their phone, on the web, at an event, etc. And as you're doing that, be consistent in how you're communicating your brand so that they realize it's the same company they keep seeing. Make sure you are sharing a consistent logo, colors, and messaging.
5 Education Marketing Strategies
Here are five education marketing strategies, proven to work for a range of education businesses - selling to companies and L&D professionals, universities and professors, K12 schools and teachers, and parents.
1. Create a content marketing system
Content marketing is an effective marketing strategy for businesses selling to schools and other companies. It also works well for schools recruiting students. In these scenarios, the process of making a decision on what to buy and from where takes time. Making a high-priced purchase, especially one that will impact large groups of students or employees, takes time because the buyer needs to trust the company they are buying from.
Good salespeople build trust. Marketing can support the sales process by building trust at a greater scale than a one-on-one sales conversation. By sharing content, including videos, blog posts, images, or case studies, marketing can showcase the company's expertise and experiences. This content fuels a demand generation system that produces leads and nurtures them into buyers throughout the consumer decision journey.
Tracom Group is a B2B corporate training company that uses content marketing. On their website, they post to a blog and have a range of resources, including infographics, whitepapers, success stories, and videos. They also co-host webinars with respected industry groups and share links, short video clips, and graphics on social media. These pieces of content don't focus on promoting their services. They provide helpful information to potential buyers to get to know the company's expertise.
2. Run online advertising for acquisition and retargeting
If you have the budget, investing in advertising can help you stay in touch with people when they are actively researching where to buy. By advertising on Google, you can pay for your ad to show up at the top of the search results for specific keywords you bid on. If those keywords mention the type of product you're selling, you'll get quality traffic to your website. When someone gets to your website, you will want to drive them to purchase or provide their email in return for a piece of content or product demo so that you can follow-up with them.
Another powerful advertising strategy is to run retargeting ads. Those are the ads that show up on websites or in your social media feeds for products you were looking at on another website. You can serve those ads to people who visited certain pages of your website with messages that encourage them to return to your site by reinforcing your value proposition or providing a discount or deadline to buy.
Boston University runs both Google search ads and retargeting ads. When searching for "robotics degree Boston," an ad shows up for their degree program. That ad drives to a streamlined landing page made specifically for advertising. It highlights the program's key selling points and includes a form at the top of the page to provide your email address in return for a fact sheet. After leaving the website, they serve ads for their Robotics degree on other Google network websites.
3. Nurture and upsell leads with marketing automation
One of the most underutilized tools for companies is a marketing automation tool. There are many of them on the market, like ActiveCampaign or Keap. If you have a tool for emailing your customers, look to see if they offer marketing automation. Marketing automation is essentially emailing to the next level. The tool allows you to automate emails to send after a certain amount of time or based on interactions, like after a purchase was made or after someone clicked on an email.
With many of these tools, you can also integrate other ways of getting in touch with prospects and customers, like sending an SMS or serving them a Facebook ad. Marketing automation offers ways to segment and personalize messages, like a SaaS edtech company sending an automated email to a customer when they visit the website's pricing page. For B2B companies, marketing automation tools provide you with data around who is engaging the most so your sales team can focus on who to follow-up with.
Outschool, an edtech company offering online K-12 classes, uses marketing automation to stay in touch with customers and upsell them to take more classes. For new customers, they send an automated welcome series of emails covering FAQs, tips, and links to resources to connect with other parents. They continue to stay in touch with customers after their first purchase by sending personalized emails with recommended courses based on the child's age and interests provided when the profile was set-up, along with a discount code for taking another course or referring friends.
4. Build a community of ambassadors
Word of mouth is powerful. 86% of adults in a survey state that they trust friends, family, and colleagues for recommendations when shopping. There has been a lot of emphasis on the customer experience in recent years, with companies hiring teams to focus on just that. People who have positive experiences with the buying process and in using the product will buy again and recommend it to friends.
One way to support word of mouth with marketing is by building a community of ambassadors. Ambassadors are your best customers. They are the people who purchase with you repeatedly, refer people to you, and support you at events or on social media. Thank them for their support by creating a community that connects them and provides them with perks related to your product. Educators and parents are especially interested in connecting with other people like them and willing to engage in a community.
Quizlet, an online study aid, has an ambassador community for teachers who love Quizlet. They are encouraged to share their expertise at their school and at professional development opportunities. They are also asked to post about Quizlet on their social media. In return, ambassadors get access to an online forum with other teachers like them, coaching from Quizlet employees, beta testing of new features, and Quizlet swag. Teachers fill out an application to join.
5. Test pricing strategies
Everyone likes getting a deal. Whether you are selling to a parent buying an educational service for their child or an administrator signing a 6-figure contract, giving them a discount or extra benefits will help close the deal. There are many pricing strategies, and it's worth putting together a plan to test which has the most significant impact on your sales.
The most popular for edtech companies is the multi-tiered good-better-best strategy presenting three pricing options. For B2C companies, test out different discount amounts, including percent discounts vs. dollar discounts or discount amounts based on the value of a shopping cart. For B2B companies, highlight "added-value" benefits to what you're selling, like a dedicated customer service team, training sessions for staff, or early access to new features.
Masterclass offers online courses taught by celebrities, accessed with an annual subscription. They have tested various price promotions and continually make small changes to their website to perfect how to display their price. Over the holidays, they offered a buy one, get one half off promotion to encourage gift-giving. They also run ads on social media promoting discounts, and they regularly test pricing strategies and price placements on the website. For example, on their homepage, the monthly price has been displayed above and below the form, and they've tested a banner with a 30-day guarantee.
Lesson #1 Why Your Company Needs Education Marketing Strategies
Lesson #3 Why Marketing Campaigns Fail
Lesson #4 What is a Marketing Stack?
Lesson #5 How to Structure a Marketing Team for Your Small Business