Why Defining Higher Ed Marketing Personas is a Must

Is it just us, or is it a little crowded in here?

When it comes to higher ed marketing decisions, it seems like everyone (and their mother) wants a seat at the table. Instead of trusting your marketing team to speak to targeted demographics, internal stakeholders at your institution insist that they know who your audience is and what will grab their attention. Individuals in leadership positions—often want to chime in and call the shots. We all know that one biology professor who insists on a landing page devoted to their sea kelp research.


The reality is, you can’t please ‘em all, nor should you. This is especially important to keep in mind when leadership is involved. You may be tempted to placate the most important stakeholders in the room, just to keep a project moving. But in doing so, you risk having a false priority set and losing sight of your marketing goals. And that’s a risk that you can’t afford to take, especially in a competitive higher ed digital landscape.

Persona Exercises Hone Your Audience

You already know that prioritizing the wrong personas means you miss the opportunity to speak to the motivations and needs of the audience who matters most. It also hampers your ability to create relevant calls to action that increase conversions and move your ideal prospects along the enrollment funnel.

A game-changer is a higher ed persona worksheet. This resource is critical to prioritizing your audience and creating consensus among stakeholders.

With personas, you can understand your audiences at a deeper level — this includes buyers, decision makers, influencers, et al. And a successful higher ed marketing persona exercise sheds light on more than just superficial qualities. After all, personas aren’t just “18 to 24-year olds” or “parents.” They are so much more.

A persona exercise can tell you what a prospect’s motivations are. What does this person want? Who (or what) influences them? What are their psychographics? When you fill out a persona worksheet, you define who your audience is, what they need to hear, and what drives them at every stage of the enrollment funnel.

And the persona exercise will serve as an ongoing resource for the marketing team. Because ultimately, the target audience should be your guiding light. From your branding, to your marketing strategy, to your messaging, to your sales, personas shape it all.

Persona Exercises Foster Internal Buy-In

A persona worksheet is more than just an effective marketing tool. It’s the key to getting your higher ed institution’s leadership and internal stakeholders aligned. Why? Let’s just say it’s hard for egos to get bruised when there’s a data and consensus-driven document that everyone is working from.

During the persona work, stakeholders are forced to empathize with the needs and motivations of the audiences. This keeps your marketing efforts on track, but it also keeps the peace. There will be less to debate if your stakeholders are answering to process, instead of a single person asserting their credibility on the subject.

Here are a few other tips for getting everyone on the same page.

Start With an Inventory of Internal Stakeholders

You know better than anybody that you can’t keep everyone out of your marketing decisions, save for your marketing team. Higher ed just doesn’t work like that. This work requires you to be both delicate and diplomatic. Some internal stakeholders need to be considered, either because they provide valuable insight or because they ultimately are making the decision. Here’s where creating an inventory can help.

Your internal stakeholder inventory should list those who would want to chime in on a marketing decision. The list should also include the weight assigned to each person’s input. Basically, you need an at-a-glance sense of how much each individual should influence a decision. Whose feedback is most important in shaping marketing strategy? Who gets to be a part of the conversation as opposed to having the last word?

There’s a difference between including internal stakeholders in the process — and letting them call the shots. The latter should be up to the experts, and leadership and stakeholders are more likely to see that if they feel like part of the team.

Include Internal Stakeholders Early in Your Process

By including internal stakeholders and members of leadership in the persona process, you’re communicating that their input has value. So loop them in early, especially if you want to avoid roadblocks later on. Making leadership and other internal stakeholders feel included will foster more openness during discussions, and less defensiveness. This openness can pave the way for consensus and understanding around strategies and tactics in the long-term.

Advocate for Your Audience

Once your team and its stakeholders reach consensus on your target audience, you will be expected to hold the team accountable to the persona worksheet. It sounds obvious, but a lot of marketing leaders forget this. Advocating for your target audience is what you were hired for. No one else in the room has the same authority to remind folks who they ultimately should answer to. In fact, everyone in the room will rely on you specifically to push back if the team is headed in the wrong direction.

If you put in the persona work early on, and include stakeholders in the process, it will be easier for you to hold the line and for people to listen. One of the beauties of a higher ed marketing persona worksheet is that it’s a formal process. Once it’s made, no one has to tiptoe around marketing decisions.

A Higher Ed Partner Can Provide an Outside Perspective

Without consensus on who your audience is, you end up making decisions based on subjective data or “gut instinct.” Leadership or faculty members, while their intentions are good, don’t necessarily have the kind of business mindset you need to successfully market to your audience.

But getting everyone on board with data-driven marketing strategies takes skill and stewardship. And often, it takes an outsider.

Partnering with a higher ed digital marketing agency brings an outside perspective to your marketing efforts. Armed with data-driven marketing strategies, an agency can help you prioritize your marketing personas and meet your marketing goals — all without ruffling too many feathers.

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At Rowland we take pride in being knowledgeable, experienced, and accessible. We're ready to talk about how we can help you meet your higher ed marketing goals.