Five ways to still win with a reduced marketing budget
Budget cuts aren’t anything new to the education sector. But cuts resulting from a global pandemic might not be something that we saw coming. And one of the first places that organisations will often look to start slashing budgets will be in the marketing department.
Now, we all know that this can be a false saving. If anything, we need to ramp up our marketing efforts and budgets to see our sector through the downturn and ensure that our institution stays competitive – especially for international students and business income – when perhaps others are not.
But realistically, I’m sure that in one way or another we’re going to be asked to tighten the purse strings. So, I’ve been thinking about the five places I would immediately look to in order to still win with a reduced budget.
1. Invest in your people
A lot of people are going to start hearing statements like “we have to do more with less.” They will probably understand why. But will they know how? And will they be motivated to rise to the challenge?
Knowing that I’d be limited in being able to invest in increased capacity, I would look seriously to invest in capability and confidence.
For confidence, creativity and motivation, coaching for your team is crucial. Implementing team or group coaching sessions can help them to stay connected to their vision, their sense of purpose and their commitments, while also believing in their creativity. I’m a qualified coach and a company leader, and I can’t stress enough the positive impact that a coaching practice and culture brings to the effectiveness and efficiency of a team.
For capability, training and professional development programmes can then empower them with the skills, know-how and creativity to tackle the challenge.
Training does not have to be expensive:
• Consider online delivery options to minimise facilitator travel costs or travel time (as someone who has facilitated a lot of online training sessions, I promise that this format can really work when the trainer really plans it properly).
• See what else already exists out there (existing programmes might be a more cost efficient approach than having trainers design bespoke packages for you)
• Create a training plan that blends free and premium training solutions, like the one we created for the University of Bath
• Really understand what your skills and knowledge gaps are and design training in a really targeted way to correspond to those. A skills assessment can be a powerful investment, doesn’t cost a lot to do for large numbers of staff, and can massively reduce your training costs and effectiveness of training by being more targeted.
And by implementing group and team coaching, instead of individual coaching, you can minimise the costs there too but coaching multiple people at once. If you’re the leader, still consider individual coaching for yourself. It can really help, especially in challenging and stressful times.
2. Be willing to take risks
When we’re being asked to cut down or cut back, it’s all too easy to play safe and just focus on doing things that we’ve done before. And at a moment in time when you might be experiencing pressure and fear, it’s all too easy to give into fear and retreat into our comfort zone in every aspect of our lives, including professionally.
Consider, however, that this might be the very time to lean into your courage and take a few risks. Try something different. Stand out from your competitors. Different does not have to mean “expensive”. And it might really pay off and transform your relationship with creativity, trusting yourself to take risks, and doing the bold thing.
Notice that as a leader, you are the clearing for how your team is being. So, if you show up from a place of fear, nervousness and playing safe, your team are likely to show up the same way. But if you show up as bold, empowered, trusting, creative and confident, then you create the clearing for them to follow suit.
3. Focus on content marketing, inbound marketing and advocacy content campaigns
An easy place for many institutions to look to slash budgets is their advertising spend. Advertising budgets can often be big ticket items for many colleges and universities. Now, I’m not saying that you should slash this budget. I’m just aware of the likelihood that it will be cut.
Instead, focus your efforts on creating really powerful content marketing assets, and focus on raising your game significantly with SEO and inbound marketing approaches. The style of content that lands well from a content marketing perspective might be a step away from what you’re used to producing, so tie this together with your investment in training. And use those training sessions as a space to create real content during the sessions too, thereby making you even more efficient with your time and resource.
Creating an advocacy content strategy is a powerful place to look too. This is when you create content with the specific objective of having your audiences share that content with their own networks. For this to be successful you have to really step inside their minds and start thinking about what content they would actually share. Typically we share content that presents ourselves in the way that we want other people to see us. So, people who want their connections to think they’re smart and intelligent will share witty content or thought-pieces. Whereas those who want people to think they are funny and have a great sense of humour will share funny content… and so on. So, step into their heads and create content for sharing that really makes them look good to their communities.
4. Get creative with what you have
Colleges and universities have so much content already. Now might be the time to take a really good look at working more efficiently with your existing assets. This is a place to re-use, repurpose and reinvent.
Conduct a quick audit of your content assets and start to pull a plan together for how to re-use what you have. This might include:
• Simply re-sharing something from the archives of your news feed or blog posts. Much of your content will be evergreen, so work with that and give it a new outing.
• Taking content you’ve used before and re-packaging it. For example, turning a long case study into a short quote-image for social media accounts. Or using old video rushes to edit them into a new video. Or creating videos from still images. Or extracting audio sound bites from longer form content (like recorded lectures) and weaving them into new multimedia formats telling a snappier story.
• Look in different places for content. Some universities have created amazing digital content simply by exploring their campus archives. This can be anything from showing “retro” old versions of your viewbook or prospectus, or digging into local photo archives, or showing items from special collections in your libraries. Or consider other sources of content such as teaching materials, lecture recordings, or research datasets that you could create something new from. There is potential in everything.
5. Be more efficient with what you have
The way in which many colleges and universities manage their content and marketing assets is hugely inefficient. Places where inefficiency routinely rears its head in the education sector include:
• Creating and editing content by committee (this is an often unnecessary drain on staff time)
• Not being joined up in knowing who creates what, and when, meaning that sometimes the same piece of content created by one faculty or department is also being created in a similar form by every other department or faculty too
• Not using structured content and content models, meaning that we publish the same piece of information over and over again across our websites, and when we need to change it, we have to change it everywhere.
So, embrace the challenge of budget cuts as a moment in time to look at:
• Designing more effective content production workflows, with an aim of reducing the combined staff hours that goes into content production
• Creating shared journey maps and content plans, and shared editorial calendars so that content is not created 20 different times by 20 different departments when it could just be done once
• Taking a hard look at creating a single-source of truth for our website content, with create-once-publish-everywhere (COPE) approaches, reducing inefficiencies caused by having to publish it and edit it in multiple locations.
6. A bonus final suggestion…
Talk to us. We can offer a fast and low-cost audit of your current approaches with speedy recommendations for doing more with less. Whatever recommendations we make will save your institution so much more than the money you invest in having us develop those recommendations for you. So, consider it money well spent.