Marketing in Higher Ed: Messaging at Colleges & Universities

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By Patrice Meadows — May 1, 2018 11:00 AM


Marketing is all about communication. If you don’t know who you’re communicating with, what they want, or how to help them, you can’t market effectively. Understanding each of these factors is what makes effective messaging (and marketing) possible.

What is messaging?

Messaging is a strategic approach to communication that achieves a specific goal. Often, this manifests itself in marketing with organizations messaging to individuals, other companies, or governmental entities.

Effective messaging is usually guided by a messaging platform that explains how to communicate with audiences based on what brands know about their needs, interests, and behaviors. If you read last week’s blog post on buyer personas, this should sound familiar. Buyer personas summarize critical information about sample customers from each audience segment.

Q: What is a messaging platform?
A: Messaging platforms describe brands, their value, and other information that dictates their portrayal in the marketplace.

You probably use messaging every day without knowing it. Something as simple as changing how you communicate with others to influence their behavior qualifies as messaging. Below are some of the elements of more formal messaging platforms.

Elements of messaging platforms:

  • Value Proposition
  • Key benefits
  • Messaging pillars and proof points
  • Style guidelines

How to create a winning messaging strategy for your institution

As with anything, crafting a winning messaging strategy means doing a lot of work. To help you get there, we’ve highlighted three musts for creating messaging strategies that work.

Know the landscape: Understanding the current competitive landscape is the first step to creating a message that will stand out. Without a firm knowledge of who is out there, what they’re saying and where there are gaps, you risk developing something that won’t resonate.
Know your value: Crafting messages that align with target audience’s needs while reflecting what you can deliver is sometimes difficult.  Although there’s plenty of temptation to over-promise, under delivering can ruin your reputation. Find ways by capturing your unique selling point. If you’re struggling to do so, it may be time to update your USP.
Know your audience: Without a keen understanding of your target audience, you’ll find that it is pretty difficult to communicate with them. For instance, if you’re trying to reach high school students, LinkedIn is not an appropriate option for doing so. Content, context, and timing play critical roles in driving conversions. Choose your words and mediums carefully when developing your messaging strategy.

How does it look in the real world?

While it’s easy to understand what messaging is, why it’s important, and how to develop a messaging strategy; translating all of that knowledge into action often proves difficult. Below are a few examples of how colleges and universities use their websites to message prospective students.

Mount Royal University

Mount Royal University uses the  ‘Why MRU?’ page to highlight unique selling points. This page showcases how existing students benefit from MRU resources to convince prospective students to attend.


The University of Scranton

The University of Scranton's homepage conveys central messages to prospective students. Their tagline, ‘opening doors’ communicates the university's unique selling point to students. Three message pillars support this USP and explain how students benefit from attending the university. Messages highlighting value, prestige, and student experience draw prospects further into the site where they’re presented with more targeted messages associated with each pillar.


Want to know how the University of Scranton uses Cascade CMS to build a mobile website? Read this case study to learn more about their experience.

Southampton Solent University

Video is a powerful messaging tool that brands are using more and more to highlight key differentiators and USPs. Southampton Solent University uses video to prove their value to prospective students by highlighting the institution’s state-of-the-art facilities, student-led programs and job placement services that support student development.


How do you share key messages with prospective students? Share your secrets below or tweet us @hannon_hill. Don’t forget to check out the next entry in our Marketing in Higher Ed series where we will share tips for managing content across platforms.

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