All About Marketing in Education with Marc Johnson
Content marketing methods and ideas differ from one business to another. However, in the case of mission-driven non-profits in education and healthcare technology, content marketing can be an entirely different ballgame.
As COO & Co-founder of Pepper Content Rishabh Shekar chats with Marc Johnson, Director of Content Marketing, TCS Education System, many secrets are revealed. Still, the resounding theme of understanding the customers and addressing their major pain points stays the same.
1. Could you introduce yourself and apprise us of your career journey?
I'm currently the director of content marketing at TCS Education System. My primary focus is on higher education marketing and also medical technology.
TCS Education System offers backend services for non-profit colleges across the United States. This includes the recruitment of local and international students. We have a lot of partners across the globe. We do international study abroad opportunities, and one of the areas in which we support these colleges is marketing.
Our marketing department rivals the marketing department of many agencies. It's an in-house agency hybrid setup. We've won dozens of awards for our content.
I look at content marketing across the board because trends effectively are important to follow regardless of what industry you're in. Before working for TCS, I was a freelancer for several agencies around Chicago. I've written for several products, from consumables to guitars. I've also done a lot of work in healthcare technology.
2. You have spent considerable time in your current and previous jobs. That's not the case usually with content marketers. What made you stick around in content marketing?
Number one, it's the opportunity to work in a space you feel good about. I have worked in writing, copywriting, building videos, and building campaigns for brands that I’m not particularly proud of. When dealing with education or recruiting students to make a positive impact in the world, you feel good about that at the end of the day.
I've had the fortunate opportunity to follow our students and document their experience in South Africa as they helped rebuild a school in an impoverished area. I've had the opportunity to manage video crews and writers as they followed people in Tokyo, helping out folks in that area.
Even though I am marketing a product to prospective students, I feel glad to have the opportunity to change their lives. That's a solid purpose to pursue.
3. How do you structure your team to build such effective content?
Our entire team is divided into different areas. We have the marketing communication side, which includes effectively anything written, video, audio, podcasting, etc. This is the production arm of the entire organization.
We also have a digital side, where we work closely with digital ad space, SEO, etc.
And we have a print design team and the field team that acts as a liaison between the different schools. Then we have the operations team and the compliance and accessibility team. So we have all of these different arms that we're constantly managing simultaneously.
4. Which content channels or tabs have you doubled down into?
We look at this targeting as an entire ecosphere. When trying to reach somebody, you have to meet them where they're at. So there is this entire ecosphere that people experience. Whether it's your website, social media, digital ads, print media, out-of-home, or billboards, all these are an experience that your prospective student or your customer will see or enjoy.
So it's up to you to make that experience into something that addresses their direct needs or wants. So if let's say a single mother in South Africa, who has been a teacher for years, wants to possibly get some more education or build a certificate to serve her students in her classroom better. How do we speak to that particular population? They have access to social media and have some touchpoints, but they may experience different things. Their experience will differ from somebody who might be in downtown Chicago, who's next door to one of our campuses.
Let me give another example. Marketing to an international student is very different than marketing to students from within the US. International students need assistance with the visa type the college offers. They also want to get in touch with people who will help start the visa process. So we must ensure that the content is served to them in the right order and places.
So for us, it is all about looking at each of those individuals or groups, figuring out what that experience will be for them, and then trying to tailor content around that.
So, tailoring that messaging based on each group we're marketing to is important.
5. What is your content creation function like - internal or external?
We work with outside agencies. We call them partner agencies because we build lasting relationships with these folks. For digital, we have been working with an agency for 12 years. So they know our brands very well. At the same time, many of these agencies see significant turnover, so some of that knowledge about the brands tends to get lost. So it's important to have that centralized understanding and clear comprehension of brands. And that needs to be internal.
So our internal group focuses on understanding the schools, the brands, and who we're trying to speak to. And then, they can work with outside groups and confidently lead them where they need to be in that discussion.
If you don't have a strong foundation of targeting and messaging, you will not be able to manage an agency and get those qualified leads. So, you need to have that strong brand foundation to lead those external agencies.
6. What's your current marketing tech stack like?
As far as our general tech stack is concerned, a lot of what we use is on the publishing side. That's what our biggest vendors handle. We also have agencies that are Google partners, so many of our ads are pushed out through Google. We use our way of monitoring those pieces that we publish on our websites through Google Data Studio and all.
For content creation, we don't typically use any centralized tech stack.
7. A piece of advice for anyone starting in the content marketing industry?
At this point, just broaden your experience and learn as much as possible from the digital side: writers, video producers, designers, leadership team, liaison team, marketing managers, etc.
Have those conversations and work with those individuals so that you get a clear understanding of the ecosphere. Make sure you're involved in as much as possible and get a true understanding of what the user experience will be.
For individuals managing marketing teams, listen to the people who report to you. Refrain from going into a room thinking you're the smartest person there because there are so many ideas you can get from the team that you would never have thought of. And honestly, some of those have been the most remarkable and successful ideas this organization has ever had.
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