Who else feels like they're pushing a five-hundred-pound boulder up a hill?
Everywhere I look, teams are having to do more with less. Learn new technology, find more leads, extend reach, master more, deliver, deliver, deliver.
We're doing twice the work to get half the return.
Tell me this isn't the state of marketing in 2021.
What no one wants to admit is that despite a global reach and more tools than the original madmen could have ever conceived, marketing has fundamentally changed. The entire process has been democratized. The globe is your playing field, yours and every single other school (large and small) that you can imagine.
This means more competition, not less. It means we're all fighting to get our message to the same audience and what it truly means is that schools with name recognition and deep pockets pull further ahead while everyone else is left to fight over the scraps.
Your pain is real, but there is a solution — a better way.
I want you to tell stories. I want you to be...human.
Humanity is The New Premium
For much of the last thirty years, marketing became about how much you could spend and in what unique locations you could place an advertisement — think billboards, digital ads, podcasts, the Super Bowl. As a result, we got lost in the sea of reach, where ads and buyer profiles and SEO and programmatic advertising took over.
The industry got better at tracking and measurement, but we lost in humanity what we made up for in data.
We started growth hacking and perfecting the art of subject lines that convert. We jump from one platform to the next, chasing prospects as their interests ebb and flow. Always looking for the next silver bullet. We've built a digital wall between our prospects and us, and we're all the worse for it.
If ever there were a time to stand out, show your personality, and be different, this is it.
This is where telling stories comes into play.
Stories are how the human species evolved. They're the principal method by which we educate and connect to one another. And there is no greater driver of emotion than a story told truthfully.
A story creates connection, and in this mass-media, always-on world, where we're inundated with messaging, it's the only way to stand out (and to make your prospects feel cared for).
Yes, cared for. By taking the time to craft and tell a story, you're demonstrating that you care enough to take the time to make an experience memorable, and there is nothing more transformative or as effective as showing someone you care.
In a Sea of Sameness, Be Unforgettable
No one else has your story, your people, or you. What better way to stand out from a crowd and draw attention than to highlight the lives, the experience and the expertise of the people who make up your organization?
Better still, what about the lives of your current or past students?
One of the genuinely magical components of storytelling is that human ability to see ourselves inside of someone else's story. We find inspiration and make a meaningful connection with people going through what we're going through, or who look like us, or sound like we want to sound.
Telling these stories adds context and differentiation, and prospects will take notice.
You'll stick in the minds of the people you're talking to.
Let's say you're trying to buy a new phone, and you walk into a big-box retailer where the salesperson starts their pitch with a lengthy list of specs; Mhz this, Gigabyte that, 4k and 5g everything.
Contrast that with a conversation you had with a friend or with someone you respect who showed the most amazing videos they shot on their phone of their family on a trip through the Grand Canyon. How they couldn't believe their daughter was able to handle the insane speed of the water when they were kayaking, or how their son was able to pet a mountain lion. These are stories enabled by the thing you need and want, and by hearing these stories and these details, we now need and want to be able to do the same. That's the phone we need. It'll help us meet lions.
Sidenote: Apple is a good company, but as storytellers, they are in a league of their own.
More Than Leads — Build a Tribe, Build Trust
It's not about finding new leads. It's about building a community you can communicate with regularly.
Honest storytelling builds trust, and when you build trust, people stick around. Your prospects will start to believe ( and feel ) like they're more than disposable ad units. They'll know that you care about them, and for this reason alone, they'll stand by you, and they'll entertain any offer you make.
When you try to berate/swindle/fool/pester someone into buying the thing you sell, you will, on occasion, close the sale. Once. And only once.
When you care for people, when you build trust, when you take the time to build a community, you can sell over and over and over to these people. They're your tribe, you've earned their respect, and they will follow you through the dark and into the light.
Take note, though, like all relationships, the one with your new community requires care and feeding to survive. So check in on people, offer more value, tell more stories...and most important of all, help your community tell their story.
Be Human. We Like Humans and Distrust Brands
There isn't a brand on the planet that is loved.
There, I said it.
Some brands are liked, there are brands that some folks are loyal to, but no brand is loved. What most marketers don't seem to grasp is that it's not the brand we care for. Instead, it's what the brand (or the brand's products) does for us that we love.
We don't love Nike. But, on a personal level, we love the idea of being strong, being healthy or being more like our heroes.
We most certainly don't love the snack food brand we typically buy. But, we love that it brings us comfort and mouth joy.
We don't love our alma mater. But, we love how it provided a jumping-off point and the foundation for our career, friendships and adult life.
Stop trying to pretend that brands are people. They are not. People are people, and we trust people. We do not trust brands.
So let your people, your brand representatives, or your students be the star of your brand show.
Tell the story of Greg (made-up alumnus) and how he struggled to find his way in this world until attending your university, discovering his passion for engineering, and embarking on a career that lets him provide for his family and that challenges him intellectually.
Or showcase the life story of Emilia (another made-up graduate) and her struggle to get ahead in this world, and yet with the flexibility of extended learning/night school/online degree, she was able to start and grow a successful entrepreneurial enterprise...one that enables her to be home for her kids at dinner time and allows her to pursue her love of travel.
Look around. I'll bet there is no shortage of great stories to tell when you start doing some digging.
When we see ourselves in these stories, we develop trust, and that trust extends to the people and the organization doing the storytelling. This is how you create connection in the new world.
Final Thoughts on Storytelling
One of the best things about using storytelling as a mechanism for marketing (and recruitment) success is that we're all capable of it.
Every single one of us (even if we don't believe ourselves to be great storytellers) is, in fact, able to do this well.
Alright, we're not all Hemingways, but I guarantee that at some point in your life, you've talked about something you were passionate about and gotten someone else excited about what you were doing.
That's all we're talking about here — speaking honestly, with emotion and like a human being.
Here are a few pro tips for leveraging storytelling in student recruitment:
- Where to post stories: the front page of your website, your blog, Medium, Facebook, LinkedIn (for recruitment, less prospecting).
- How to draw eyeballs: pull text snippets from your post and put them on Twitter, post your videos to TikTok, Youtube and Instagram. Use storytelling in your replies on Zeemee.
- Go anywhere your prospects are spending time and provide digestible snippets of the content we know these audiences crave.
You'll go from hunting and clawing for every sale, every deal, to swimming in a sea of opportunity. You'll feel better, your prospects will feel cared for, and that goodwill will extend far beyond the reach of any paid media or clever campaign you used in the past.
Note: This post is sponsored by our friends at Goodkind. It was written by Kerry Morrison, Chief Storytelling Officer at Goodkind.