8 Education Program Marketing Principles to Revisit or Research

Association professionals must be competent in many areas—or domains, if you’re CAE-bound. Yes, you are modern Renaissance men and women. One of the many competencies you need, no matter your position, is marketing. 

But marketing is a profession unto itself and many of us amateur marketers don’t always know what we’re doing, although we fake it pretty well. Since marketing is constantly changing as new technology and strategies arise, it pays (literally) to review basic principles and experiment with new tactics. 

8 program marketing principles to revisit or research

During the 2024 Learning Business Summit hosted by Leading Learning, Ashlee Tselikis and Sonya Guthrie of Up10 Solutions shared tips for improving your marketing game. Here’s a compilation of ideas from them, the folks in the session chat, and me.

#1: Remember, you’re a person talking to a person

Because AI tools make it easier to customize email messaging, you hear about personalization all the time now—and that’s a huge gift to marketing. But when planning and writing marketing copy, remember you’re writing to a person, not just an audience, persona, or membership segment. 

When crafting copy, think of a real member in the targeted segment. Write to that person. Think about their situation and feelings. Acknowledge what you know about their challenges and paint a picture of the desired outcome your program will deliver and the impact it will make in their life.

Be a real person for them too. Don’t be anonymous. Don’t end emails with a sign-off from “the education team.” Use your name(s). Make the association more human in your recipient’s mind. In the age of AI, you want to remind your audience that the email sender and program host are people too, people who have given a lot of thought to planning and promoting these programs.

#2: Get into the head of your email recipient

Collect data that helps you understand what audience segments are interested in: demographic, psychographic (motivations for buying, values, interests), behavioral (website, email, social), and engagement data. To talk with people in a way that resonates and to send emails they welcome, you have to know what interests them.

The association market is full of tools to help you bring data together from different systems so you can have this insight at your fingertips. If you send irrelevant information to people, they’ll stop opening your emails. 

The consensus in the session chat: dedicated emails (focused on a single program) to a target audience have a better conversion rate than emails shilling multiple programs. The subject line must make it absolutely clear what’s inside or you risk getting deleted. 

#3: Throw your person a lifeline: guide them toward the purchasing decision

You’re up against whatever your recipient is up against. Namely, inbox noise and clutter. How can your email stand out amidst the hundreds of others they receive daily? 

Associations are always blasting out promotions of some kind. How can your team differentiate your promos/emails from all the other emails sent out by your association? In short, yours must be targeted and relevant with a clear subject line. Bonus points if you include useful information alongside any promotional copy.

You’re also up against limited attention spans, which is a dual-faced problem. First, you must hold the recipient’s attention long enough for them to open the email, skim the message, and, fingers crossed, take action.

But you also have to convince them they have the attention span for the program you’re offering. Learning takes effort. Reading all that content? It’s not like scrolling through Instagram. Check out last week’s post about priming people’s mindsets—you can help change someone’s mind. 

#4: Eliminate obstacles to the purchasing decision

Help push people up and over the obstacles preventing them from taking action. Remove any friction caused by limiting beliefs. The good thing about sending lots of emails is the opportunity to allude to and dismiss each of these: 

  • Fear of failure or memory of past failures
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Doubt about receiving approval from their boss—or life partner
  • Worry about fitting the program into their busy life
  • Worry about their ability to establish learning habits
  • Concern about measuring up to others
  • Concern about fitting in
  • Anxiety about competing priorities for their time or mental bandwidth
  • Stress about the cost
  • Lack of personal desire or motivation

You can help people overcome doubts by sharing stories from learners who had the same issue—and by talking about the support you provide during the program. Testimonials prove you get their pain and illustrate the positive outcome that’s possible if they move forward.

program marketing in action - woman making a purchase decision

#5: Generate warm leads with content marketing 

Use informational content—such as blog and newsletter content, podcasts, and webinars—as a tool to attract prospects and members to your website and learning catalog. Content marketing proves you understand their needs, challenges, and aspirations. It establishes your expertise, turns people into loyal readers, and inspires them to take action, such as subscribing, clicking on a link, browsing your site, or paying more attention to your next email.

This blog post is content marketing. It’s not promotional. It’s sharing information in the attempt to show we understand your issues. Content marketing helps get your name out there, establish credibility as a trusted source of information, and build relationships. It’s about sharing, not selling, not yet, not this time.

#6: Explore interactive marketing tools

Give your audience something to do instead of just reading or watching. Remember how many friends used to take quizzes on Facebook? That impulse is still there. Come up with fun quizzes that relate to your education programs and your audience segments’ interests. 

  • How well do you really know…?
  • What’s your favorite…?
  • What can you not stand about…?

Use trackable links to gather data about quiz-takers—data that helps you better understand their needs and interests. Offer more serious self-assessments too that reveal knowledge gaps your programs can help someone fill. 

In the Summit’s session chat, attendees mentioned another interactive tool, PropFuel, “a conversational engagement platform [that] empowers organizations to ask, capture, and act to personalize the member [or prospect] experience.” 

#7: Expand your reach with a little help from your friends

Advertising is not always cost effective, especially if it gets lost in someone’s information stream. Instead, reach somebody else’s audience and network by building strategic partnerships. Establish an affiliate marketing deal with an organization whose membership and audience are like yours.

Influencer marketing is another option. Identify influencers in your market who can get your audience’s attention. Some people may be more likely to listen to the influencer than to you.

New word-of-mouth and community marketing tools in the association market, like Gleanin and Snöball, leverage the influence of speakers, registrants, and sponsors. 

#8: Keep marketing after the purchase

In some versions of the marketing journey or funnel, the final stage is loyalty or delight. You want to turn customers (learners, members) into loyal fans and, ideally, word-of-mouth advocates. You want to keep them close. Think of learners and attendees as program alumni with whom you’re beginning a relationship. 

How to keep them close? If you have learning pathways for different career goals, you can guide them toward the next step. Eliminate the uncertainty for them.

Send them a questionnaire a few months after the program. 

  • How are they using what they’ve learned? 
  • What do they wish they had learned? 
  • What do they value most now about the program? 
  • What do they want to learn next?

For answering the questionnaire, promise them a promo code to use for an upcoming program or to share with someone else.

Invite them to join an alumni community. Hold exclusive online events for this audience, perhaps discussions with experts or meetups with influencers. Ask sponsors to help you host and moderate these events. People love belonging to communities, but they only get involved if the value is more tempting than other distractions and responsibilities. 

Don’t leave all the marketing up to your association’s marketing team. You can increase interest, participation, referrals, and revenue if you keep your marketing hat handy. 

online marketing
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