Business Schools Should Invest in Content Marketing. Here’s Why

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when prestigious business schools were persnickety gatekeepers, hand-selecting the choicest candidates to enter their hallowed halls. Over the last decade or two, there’s been a relatively monumental shift away from that. In many cases, students are now the selectors; they’re deciding which b-schools fit them the best. This is thanks to more educational options, more awareness on the part of potential students and new ways of thinking about selection.

This shift has impacted American universities in a big way. When the Financial Times, the most-trusted arbiter when it comes to business school rankings, released its 2003 list of top MBA programs in the world, 41 out of the 50 best programs resided here in the U.S. In 2019, that number had fallen to 25, with programs in Asia and Europe now taking their places among the elite.

At the same time, international interest in U.S. institutions has waned. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) released a report in 2019 called the Demand for MBA and Business Master’s Programs: Insights on Candidate Decision Making. The study showed that international students who named the U.S. as their go-to destination for a business degree had dropped from 52 percent to 40 percent.

That represents a seismic shift both for business schools and business in America, and it should act as a wake-up call – even the most prestigious colleges should be making an effort to recruit great candidates. In today’s market, one of the most effective ways to do that is through content marketing.

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5 Ways Content Marketing Works for Business Schools

From the dawn of capitalism up until the early days of the internet, advertising has been the most impactful way to reach consumers. That’s no longer true. As we’ve moved away from print media and television and onto the web, traditional ads have little to no impact. For colleges, this change is especially important because their target audience is young. According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of those in the 18 to 29 age group frequently get their news online, compared to TV and radio, which come in at 27 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Print newspapers were the least-used in this age group, at just 5 percent.

This held true even for 30- to 49-year-olds, the demographic most likely to be looking for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a doctoral degree in business. 49 percent said they often look for their news online.

So we know the internet is likely the best bang-for-your-buck place for colleges, but there are all sorts of ways to marketing online from banner ads to email campaigns. Why, then, does content marketing seem to work the best?

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Here’s are a few reasons:

1. It’s Less Aggravating Than Conventional Ads

Even online ads are going the way of the dinosaur. We hit the skip button as soon as we can, we’ve all become Zen masters when it comes to ignoring banner ads and most of us have installed ad blockers. Why? Because they’re annoying. We know we’re being interrupted by someone who’s trying to sell us something. By not being cloying and obvious, content marketing cuts through the noise.

2. Google Loves Content

As search engines have gotten smarter, so has their ability to understand and filter out spam. Google is surprisingly adept at telling the difference between high-quality content and spammy direct marketing or keyword-stuffed nonsense. Good content marketing that utilizes sound SEO practices will tickle all of Google’s (and other search engine’s) sweet spots. Want to drive traffic to your school’s site? Ditch the cloying, sales-y approach and create valuable, powerful content instead (which brings us to the next point).

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3. Content Marketing Adds Value

Ads have one purpose – sales. Every consumer knows this and when they see an ad, their defenses go up. Content marketing, on the other hand, focuses on offering the consumer something of value. This could be answering a question they’re asking, offering genuine advice or even adding some humor to their day. For business schools, this fundamental difference not only makes a potential student want to give a school the time of day, but it can also help build a relationship and move the focus from the brand to the student. It’s difficult to overstate the value of this; building an ongoing relationship with your target audience is the holy grail of marketing.

4. The Return on Investment is Better

Content marketing is a value compared to other forms of marketing. In fact, compare it to something like paid search or outbound marketing and the difference is pretty shocking. For each dollar spent, content marketing generates three times as many “leads,” but it costs around 60 percent less. What’s more, organizations that adopt content marketing strategies have a conversion rate that’s six times higher than those that don’t.

And, while business schools might not convert visitors into “sales” the same way a business might, colleges do use an admissions funnel that’s quite similar to a sales funnel and these stats show that content marketing influences decision-making in a powerful way.

5. Content Marketing Develops Your Brand

While each b-school thinks of itself as unique, in the consumer’s mind, they all perform essentially the same function – they offer education for people who want a career in business. In order to develop a distinctive identity, schools need potential students to think of their school (or “brand”) in a certain way. To do this, schools can invest in promotional materials that “tell” aspiring students that they’re remarkable. This may have some impact but a better strategy is to “show” them, and that’s exactly what content marketing does.

Want to be thought of as a leader in international business management degrees? Start developing quality content around it and you’ll start taking up mental space in the minds of potential students.

Want to attract a certain type of student? Say, Impactful Innovators over Socio-Economic Climbers, to borrow the terms the GMAC uses? Design your content marketing around that and you’ll start to be associated with this type of outlook.

Here’s the takeaway: schools that want to be competitive for top students in today’s market should be producing compelling content. When it’s done in the correct way, it can be the most effective strategy for long-term success.

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