Graduate Management News

July 2014

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Attract More MBA Applicants through Content Marketing

It's all about pulling customers (students) toward your business (school) through helpful content that aligns with their interests, answers their questions and needs, and addresses their pain points.

Content Marketing

One of my favorite memories as a kid was a weekly trip into Harvard Square from our home in the Boston suburbs. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and a stop at the Out of Town newsstand along with a visit to the children’s section of The Harvard Coop Bookstore (and some ice cream) made for a great Saturday. 

Back then (and now), the best thing about newsstands was the chance to browse through all the different publications and check out the cover stories. How fun it was to see what would capture my interest. While my taste has evolved over the years, there’s nothing better than that sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that comes with finding that “must read” that informs and entertains. 

Nowadays, of course, we spend more time finding our favorite reading material online. In fact, I discovered the August issue of Harper’s Bazaar featuring the “Downton Women” cover story on my Facebook feed. No need to hop in the car and drive to Barnes & Noble. It was right there on my laptop in the comfort of my living room. Needless to say, it went straight to the top of my must-read list and I immediately shared it with fellow devoted friends eliciting several “likes” within minutes. 

Why am I telling this story? 

Imagine creating that same level of excitement, emotional attachment, and action with your MBA prospects. 

You can – and many business schools are – through content marketing, which has been recognized as “the proven methodology for our digital age.” If you aren’t familiar with this term, it’s all about pulling customers (students) toward your business (school) through helpful content that aligns with their interests, answers their questions and needs, and addresses their pain points. 

In short, it involves delighting customers so they come back for more like avid readers of The Hunger Games, Twilight, or the Harry Potter series. Furthermore – and this is really exciting part – fans of your content will spread the word within their networks (remember, social proof is the best form of advertising) and make your content go viral for exponential benefits. 

Try doing that with a single ad buy. 

In fact, content marketing is a proven and affordable method to stretch budgets resulting in “significantly lower customer acquisition cost” according to this Forbes article which, incidentally, predicted that the top marketing job in 2014 would be the director of content. 

So now that we know what content marketing is, how can you make the most of it to grow your inquiry and applicant pool? Here are some suggestions below. 

1. Blogging 

Hands down, this is a “must” to draw new visitors to your website and boost SEO. It is especially great for brand awareness because it helps your MBA programs get “found.” The key, however, is to create variety with different voices to connect with prospects on a personal level. Consider posts by current students and alumni as well as staff from admissions, careers, faculty, and deans. 

Need some inspiration? Check out the Dean’s Blog at Carlson School of Management, the Rotman Admissions Blog, INSEAD’s MBA blog featuring students and partners, and this post from a future Tuck MBA student

While there is no set formula for frequency, the more often, the better. A good rule of thumb is once a week or at least every other week. 

And, remember, the most clicked-on and shared blogs use simple and clear language that speaks human-to-human. Be authentic and real. 

2. Social Media 

Content Marketing - ImageI know. This is the Grand Canyon of digital marketing. Social media is so big, but it is so important. While a comprehensive post on social media could rival any of these reads on 10 Longest Novels in the English Language, let me just hit some highlights. First, choose sites that reflect where your prospects are. Where do your targeted prospects spend their time? Align your social media presence accordingly. Second, make sure your social media post meets the “triple E” test: 

  • Is it educational? 
  • It is entertaining? 
  • Does it prompt engagement?
Think about how it will capture attention of prospects in our digital world of information overload. Just like you might reach or (download) one magazine vs. another based on the cover story, you need to make sure your messaging stands out so prospects stop in their tracks and take notice. Don’t be afraid to go against traditional wisdom and incorporate elements of surprise. For example, check out this post from HBS:

Content Marketing - Blog

And speaking of Harvard Business School, be sure to channel Robert Bochnak Assistant Director, Alumni Marketing and Communications. In his blog on social media and higher education, Robert shows how social media isn’t about broadcasting, it’s about engagement. The best way to see this is in action is to check out his Twitter posts on @HBSAlumni

Meanwhile, here’s an example on Facebook from Chicago Booth: 

Content Marketing - Author

3. Website 

When it comes to content marketing and websites, my overarching piece of advice is to leave “Show and Tell” back in kindergarten. Now this doesn’t mean leaving your “points of pride” off the table by any matter of means. We all know that accolades such as accreditation and media rankings are a powerful proof point for prospective students. Instead, I’m referring to language that speaks to the reader. Substitute “we” for “you.” 

While it’s essential to present your unique value proposition, make sure the focus remains on the prospective student. Show that you “get them” and understand their problems. Communicate the benefits. Create buyer personas to personalize messaging to their needs. 

I’ve seen too many higher education websites that go on and on about the features of their programs. Yes, it’s great that you can offer faculty “experts in accounting or finance.” But how does that solve your prospects’ problems? How does it help them reach their goals? Why does it matter to them that your faculty are experts in accounting and finance? It goes back to writing from the “outside in” rather than the “inside out” so that it’s influential and aspirational as well as descriptive. Here is an example from the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University in Canada. What examples do you have to share?  


About the Author

Content Marketing - ExampleBarbara Coward is the founder and principal of Enrollment Strategies which provides strategic marketing consulting services to domestic and international business schools.