Content strategy in Higher Education


By Ed Layt

Think of some of the best publishers and broadcasters in the world – the ones that produce gripping content time after time that gets you, and the wider world wanting more: BBC, Guardian, New York Times, Economist, Huffington Post, Wired, TED… the list goes on…

And what enables them to deliver such quality content? Well, besides resource and talent, it’s a combination of having both a clear understanding of their audience’s interests/needs/wants and also the ability to strategically conceive, plan, design, produce, deliver and maintain their outputs.

For publishers and broadcasters, this is their core business. Naturally, you’d expect them to have the necessary set up to deliver award winning content that engages audiences. But what about Higher Education marketing teams, who don’t have the same capabilities, but are increasingly looking to engage audiences on a more meaningful and emotional level? How can they make content work for their marketing strategy?

When faced with this challenge, the first thing to remember is that you’ve actually been in the content game for a long time, creating prospectuses, leaflets, web content, press releases and imagery, so you are not starting from scratch. Therefore if you are under pressure to ‘do content marketing’ – the good news is, you already are!

An education on marketing

But how do you take things to the next level? This is where content strategy comes in.

Having a content strategy provides a clear articulation of the rules of content engagement. It enables all appropriate stakeholders to devise, create and distribute content in a way that will align with your business objectives, generate value and most importantly change or enhance consumer behaviour.

Firstly, you should enhance your understanding of your audiences, who they are, what drives them and what type of content will resonate – find out as much as possible using as many data sources and techniques as you can. This will ensure the content produced further down the line and the distribution channels utilised, will work for your audience and deliver them maximum value.

Secondly, and often the real challenge in creating and implementing a content strategy, are the processes that enable you to put great content ideas into practice. Any flaws in these processes, or if they don’t exist at all, will impact your ability to take full advantage of those content ideas and the great content that already exists across your institution; a research story; an event or a blog post from an academic colleague…

Chalk it up to experience

At SMRS, through the work we have undertaken with a number of clients, and our partnerships with publishers across a range of sectors, we utilise a model with four phases to construct the perfect content strategy in Higher Education: Insight > Strategy > Creation > Distribution. Simple – but effective. Each phase consists of a number of further steps that enable you to align your audience’s requirements and your business processes, allowing you to implement a scalable and sustainable approach to content marketing.

Core to this process is deciding what your content is going to achieve, and most importantly, what value it will provide your audience and then encapsulating this into a single ‘content mission statement’. This statement is central to the whole strategy and enables you to maintain focus, providing you with a position on what to say yes to, as well as what to say no to.

Finally comes distribution, the moment you get to see your content fulfill those original objectives. This should utilise your bought and owned channels as well as integrating your social media strategy to maximise earned channel value.