And higher education content marketing pros succeeded if they offered content and keywords at each stage of the funnel, building trust with a potential customer along the way, until they converted. But the one thing the buyer’s funnel didn’t address was that it focused all of its energy at the top – attracting new customers, and trickled to a sharp point, understanding that not all potential customers would convert. Oh, how the tides have changed! Then, at INBOUND 2018 (an annual marketing and sales conference) in September, Hubspot’s CEO Brian Halligan, announced they were retiring the funnel and moving forward with a flywheel. A flywheel is a revolving wheel used in machines that increases momentum and creates stability during the delivery of power to its machine. In higher education marketing terms, the flywheel puts more emphasis on the student (which is at the center of the wheel), and places an equal amount of energy – or effort – into all stages of the buyer’s journey. Instead of focusing all energy at the widest (top) part of the funnel, the flywheel recognizes that customers may enter their journey at any point, and equal efforts should be put in all areas of marketing to maintain customer relationships. If you were using the buyer’s funnel as a way to create your inbound marketing strategy, don’t worry. You can make some slight changes and still succeed using the flywheel model. Here’s how: First, let’s take the core elements of the funnel and apply them to the flywheel:
- Attract – Using quality content to create new relationships with your target audience, i.e. prospective students.
- Engage – Providing solutions for your target audience to maintain lasting relationships with your target audience.
- Delight – Creating a seamless experience that adds value and leads to your target audience actually promoting your higher education institution.
These three elements would be on the outside of the wheel, with the customers always placed in the center. Your marketing strategy may have additional elements that you can include in your flywheel, as well. You also may benefit from creating multiple flywheels for different parts of your strategy. For example, you could have one wheel for social media and another wheel for your website. If you’re new to the concept of inbound marketing, you can start from scratch! Here are three steps to creating an inbound marketing flywheel strategy, whether you’re starting fresh for a new degree program or transitioning from the funnel model:
1. Create a map
Okay, so not a literal map, but in this initial step, you’ll put the core activity your institution has invested in for each of your attract, engage, and delight goals. Put each activity with its corresponding stage in the flywheel. For example: Attract: At your institution, you may use events to attract prospective students, or webinars, Twitter chats, or a series of informative blog posts. Engage: To engage prospective students, maybe you provide video tours of campus, written testimonials from successful alumni, or an opportunity to spend time with a student representative. Delight: This could be an outstanding user-experience on your website, or free downloadable guides, or even a useful web portal that helps prospective students keep their application and other paperwork organized.
2. Identify Success Metrics
Next, figure out how you’ll measure success for each activity. The type of metrics may be different for each activity, and that’s okay. These success metrics will likely also evolve over time as your goals change. Depending on your goals, you may just be looking at the number of website visits each month. If you’re good on web traffic, but you need more conversions, make that your goal. If you haven’t been tracking your conversions, that’s something you might want to add here. If you start to notice prospective students jumping off at the same point, you may have too much friction in your plan, and you’ll need to revisit your user experience. Once you identify your metrics, start tracking and recording them month-over-month and/or year-over year so you can start to look at trends.
3. Improve the User Experience
If you have historical metrics to look at, you may be able to identify areas of friction that need improvement. If you’re just now starting to track, it may take a few months to see problem areas. Friction can be many different things, including:
- A slow website
- Broken links within your website
- Lack of follow-up with prospective students
- No fresh content to keep prospects returning to the website
- Information on the website isn’t useful to the target audience
Once you identify these problem areas, you can assess and start fixing them to see better results. Some areas of friction may take longer than others to fix, and that’s okay. See? The flywheel isn’t completely different from the funnel. This is just another example of how marketing efforts have to change because potential buyers – including prospective students – are changing the way they make decisions. Now, more than ever, prospects are aware of blatant marketing efforts and they see right through them. That’s why institutions have to provide more useful, quality information that’s packaged in a seamless experience. The user experience is even changing the way Google and other search engines rank sites, and this will be especially important in 2019. It’s getting tougher and tougher to be recognized out there, and your marketing efforts have to reflect that. Since everyone is creating great content and everyone is present on social media, customers have started to place more value on how businesses treat their customers. They want to know if you’ve got the reviews to back up your claims. This is why the flywheel puts the customers at the center of marketing strategies, instead of off to the side. No matter all of your online efforts, your direct mail, or the heavily-produced videos, Hubspot research shows that 55% of customers say word-of-mouth referrals are how they make their purchasing decisions. So, the funnel is dead. But you can recycle some of those ideas and repurpose them to fit the flywheel, and in return, be a better resource for your target audience. Learn more about our higher education marketing and other services.