Unpacking a new era of brand experiences in higher ed

Traditional marketing tells you that everything in regards to brand reputation and awareness boils down to the health of your website. You know the drill — You have to rank well, draw a crowd that comes back time and time again to consult your site for content, and then, naturally, you shake them down through the funnel right there on your website.

Or do you?

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Surprise! You don’t.

Frankly, there are a few flaws to this Tried and True Approach.

  1. Following the rules does not always lend room for innovation, creativity, and highlighting how unique your institution is — which is what helps your brand stand out in a crowded room.
  2. Traditional marketing doesn’t tell your target audience much about your brand — it highlights what you do, but not who you are.
  3. Your consumers are skeptical, and this approach is a smidge played out. Your target audience has “wised up” to traditional marketing tactics and, as such, they know the difference between genuine interest in them and someone trying to make a buck.

Furthermore, contemporary branding experts are saying online discoverability doesn’t work that way anymore — saying that a website-focused approach is legacy thinking. In 2020 and beyond, you have to get a lot more creative about how you position your brand online.

Garrett Mehrguth, an international speaker and CEO at Directive, a company that provides performance marketing for SaaS, chatted with the Lucidpress team on our podcast, Brand Land, where he shared how to make your brand discoverable on search engines.

What we discussed with Garrett

Why the traditional marketing funnel is broken

The traditional marketing funnel assumes that consumers aren’t capable of finding their own information. More notably, we make assumptions about how our target audiences go about making their decisions and “buying” something — whether that’s enrolling in higher ed classes or choosing an internet provider.

Alternatively, the traditional awareness phase of the marketing funnel has been replaced with “search and evaluation.” Your consumers search by category, and thus, marketers need to leverage their category positioning. Meaning, your institution needs to understand what people think you do and what your institution has to offer them (them being your consumers), and how to make that value statement discoverable.

Why focusing on “brand awareness” marketing tactics are not a waste of time and money

Brand awareness is the sum of many parts — it’s about a story that you believe in, that your customers believe in, that you’re willing to spend money on and that it’s shockingly memorable. Unfortunately, the mistake most organizations make is to treat brand advertising and awareness like lead generation — but you simply won’t see the MQLs or data you want on brand awareness initiatives.

Because, in part, brand advertising and awareness is not as easy to attribute as you think. And furthermore, most organizations don’t spend enough time and money on their average brand awareness cycle. So you have to stop and think “How much money am I willing to lose to never stop doing brand advertising?”

How to measure success in brand awareness and discoverability

You want your target audience to have an imagination. You want them to believe in limitless opportunities, you want them to feel hope that there’s a solution to their challenges. You want them to see themselves working with your organization, attending your institution, and whatnot.

So, the metrics you want to look at and optimize are impressions (for paid ad search for example), hand-raisers, or applicants. Consider how many target audiences you’ve engaged with and successfully flipped.

How to become “discoverable” in search as a brand

Most organizations are lacking the confidence to stand for something, meaning they lack fans and they lack enemies too. So, how do you become discoverable? How do you make a fan? Or make an “enemy” so to speak?

The first step — Take “your” shoes off and put your target audience’s shoes on. Call your students, alumni, teachers, and so forth. Hear what they have to say.

The second step — Be honest in your marketing claims. Honesty is the best policy. Ask yourself “would I choose myself? Is this the truth about my organization or institution?” If people’s perception of you doesn’t match up with your claims, they won’t go with your organization. Be real, challenge yourself.

The third step — Identify your bottom-of-funnel queries or intent. Are you showing up where you need to be — Are you discoverable? Yes, this is a traditional marketing funnel but the switch being that your collateral is uniquely different in the sense that it emphasizes honesty, your target audience, and feels authentic.

The fourth step — Assess your “CTA” button. Understand your offer. Ask yourself “What does a prospect get in return, as a reward, for providing me with their information or applying to my institution?” Does the prospect get a tour of campus, do they get a 5-minute video of a sample class that they expressed interest in? Give them something in exchange for their information that empowers them to show up to a meeting prepared and ready to hit the ground running with your organization.

At the end of the day

As your target audience conducts their search, you want to show up in what’s called “The Three Tab Test.” Yes, in a beautiful and ideal world you would be the only tab that pops up. But, if we’re being honest here, you won’t be the only institution on someone’s radar. So, realistically speaking, you don’t try to be the only tab — you want to be one of the three tabs up on someone’s browser. Because, at the end of the day, you should win where you can, and lose where you should.