Marketing and higher education have a difficult relationship. Going to college—be it a four-year college, a two-year college, a technical college, or even a vocational school—is a big decision, one that takes a lot of financial resources, but also can be a major source of pride. Students want to make the right decision, and they need reliable sources of information to do it.
This need only becomes more urgent during times of widespread uncertainty, when prospective students are under even more pressure to make the best decision for themselves and their families. Community colleges can help by being the source of reliable information that students need.
We joined Daniel Ramirez, Director of Public Relations and Marketing at South Texas College and the incoming president of the Texas Association of Community College Marketers, for a discussion on content marketing and how community colleges can continue to serve their communities and grow awareness for their programs during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what we learned.
- The entire college needs to work together to market the institution.
Most community colleges have a marketing department, but they can’t market themselves well if that department is cut off from the rest of the college. Instead of compartmentalizing the marketing department, community colleges should encourage their entire staff to think of themselves as marketers—and use the marketing department as the hub to coordinate those efforts.
- Flexibility helps community colleges navigate the unexpected.
Real world events, both widespread and regional, can change communities overnight—from a major local employer closing down to a global pandemic altering the course of daily life for everyone in the area. More than most institutions, community colleges are connected to the lives of the residents in their areas. They need to be ready to pivot their marketing strategies quickly, so that they can respond with the right message at the right time.
- Having a content-driven foundational strategy is essential.
Community colleges can roll with the punches more easily if they have a long-term strategy giving their marketing firm ground to stand on. This is where content comes into play. If a community college has spent years building its reputation as a source of high-value content, then prospective students will continue to turn to them as a trusted source of information, even when the career advice the college is offering needs to shift in response to the changing circumstances.
- The message needs to stay on the needs of the student.
All good marketing is based on trust. And the fastest way for a community college to lose the trust of their community is to lose sight of what the students need. Community colleges can put students first by helping them access financial aid, informing them of the student support services available, and guiding them toward a strong career path.
- By placing the community first, community colleges demonstrate their true worth.
Community colleges are very different from four-year institutions in a number of ways, and perhaps this is never clearer than when times get tough. Community colleges exist to benefit the community, and when they put the needs of their students first, the community remembers.