Topic: Strategy

Marketing To Colleges/universities

Posted by camella.ashment on 250 Points

I was hired to help get a marketing plan in place for a non-profit consortium that sells both a membership and a service to higher education institutions. It's a unique model and I am struggling with the best way to go forward. It's most similar to B2B but being in the academic world there is a lot of resistance to anything perceived as "sales-y". The main "consumer/buyer" is usually (not always) the person responsible for data (institutional research) at the institution. They might expect a sales approach from a commercial business selling them software, but not from an organization that they perceive as more of a peer and the consortium leadership/staff also does not want to come across that way for the same reason. So figuring out HOW to get in front of these folks is difficult as you can't just go and buy an ad.

Right now they primarily advertise on listservs (though I designed them a booth and this year they are sponsoring some conferences) and occasional cold e-mail blasts when they host a conference in a region. Though I welcome any tips or thoughts on this what I would love is some relatable case studies, even if it's in another industry on getting in front of a group that is not consuming advertiser-friendly media related to your service and is not particularly looking for the service you provide and/or doesn't know it exists.

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  • Posted by mgoodman on Accepted
    This sounds very familiar. I've consulted closely with a company whose customers are university administrators and academics.

    The first thing I would recommend doing is conducting a series of in-depth interviews with your primary target audience -- at least 12-15 individuals from different geographies, disciplines, roles within the ecosystem.. That will give you an up-close look at how they think and what they value. Don't even think about introducing them to your product/service. Just ask lots of high-gain questions to understand what drives and motivates them. Take lots of detailed notes, of course.

    If you are comfortable with this, use a semi-structured interview approach to encourage your interview subjects to talk about what's on THEIR minds, not about your company or role. Alternatively, hire a skilled market research professional who knows how to do this.

    Once you have at least a dozen sets of detailed notes, let's review them together and begin to formulate strategies to reach your target audience with a compelling story and deliver on their needs.

    Trust me. This is about the only approach that will work with this crowd. I have the dents in my helmet to prove it.
  • Posted by mgoodman on Moderator
    The best way to approach this kind of client is to NOT sell them a membership and a service, but to offer a solution to one of their greatest needs. Do that and they will beg for your involvement, seek out the membership and sign up for your services.

    Marketing is NOT pushing your solution at the target audience. It's identifying an important unmet need and then offering a unique way to meet that need.

    You need to understand the difference if you are going to succeed in your mission.
  • Posted by camella.ashment on Author
    mgoodman I just wanted to send a quick thank you for responding! I forgot that I was filtering all my mail from this site to a separate folder so I just saw it. I'm in the middle of an intensive retreat at the moment, I will come back and respond more fully later. I did not want you to think I was ignoring your response. Thank you!
  • Posted by alexa on Accepted
    mgoodman is right, it's all about solving problems for your audience. Once you have a good understanding of what they are interested in, you might consider publishing information that solves their problems e.g. a report, case study, or articles. Then distribute that content in papers, journals, or forums that your target audience reads. Put your best info behind some sort of registration wall so you can collect email addresses and nurture your leads over time.
  • Posted by camella.ashment on Author
    Thank you again to mgoodman and alexa for answering. I'm very sorry I've been so slow to respond. I really posted at a bad time. I should have known better but had finally felt my question crystalize as I've been working on this for several months now and felt compelled to get it out here.

    I have done many interviews with our member contacts and lately have been focusing on the ones that most closely resemble our market out there today. The fact is we've probably reached the bulk of the member institutions who are in our "sweet spot" as far as being perfectly matched to what we do and each other. Oh, there are still some out there but reaching them is much more difficult. There are many institutions that we could serve but are different in many respects to our traditional members, so I’m currently trying to understand those differences. However, all of them have much the same problem in that they really don’t have a lot of resources. They are often only a one-man office, and often hold multiple titles at their institutions, some of them are just assigned the additional title with no prior experience and have to learn as they go. We provide them with tools and support, that they either don’t have the time to design/pull/format themselves or don’t really know how to do it at all. We also provide them with a community to reach out to. However, our membership is for the institution, not a single office, though we work through one contact, so our membership fee is not something easily absorbed by a single office and there may be many people involved in the decision who are not directly working with us and will see it as an extra unneeded expense.

    Mgoodman - I would love to speak with non-members in our target office. This is where I am inexperienced though. I don’t have a problem doing an interview, I’m just not sure how you reach out to them and get them to speak with you? Frankly, it’s been challenging getting our own members to get back to me. My company would not be able to hire an outside researcher, it’s a stretch for them to have brought me on and I am only part-time. My background is in national media, with a smattering of graphic and web design. Related skills, but not really marketing.

    Alexa - I have suggested we publish more expert content, some of the problem with this is that the people here with the expertise to do it, don’t have the time. However, we do have content out there now that perhaps could/should be put behind a registration wall as you mentioned so we are actively collecting more e-mail addresses, right now its entirely up to them to contact us. I have spoken with them about a lot of this already, there is some resistance to it, so I do not believe I will make any progress until I have a very comprehensive well-argued strategy. Which is probably just as well.

    This has been very helpful to me and has sparked some ideas. Though I would still very much like to hear of the unique strategy that someone has used in a similar situation even though I know it won't match my situation or would be something I would use. Mainly because hearing about things like this, and the thought process that goes into them, usually gives me other ideas. So, I would like to keep this question open a bit longer. I also need to try to go look into how the points work. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to give total points to everyone I want or only one person, or if it can/needs to be split up between responses. This is the first time I’ve done this so it’s not yet clear to me. I’ll go look into it further.

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