Sustainable Marketing

When we say “sustainable” we aren’t talking about going green (though we support preventative climate change measures!) When we talk about sustainability in marketing, we mean planning for the long-term.

Much of the marketing you see day-to-day is flashy, and it can be easy to give into the temptation to follow and mimic the shiniest object. This reactive methodology feels productive in the short-term, but in the long-term ends with many unsuccessful efforts that leave you burnt out and discouraged.

As you create your marketing plan, incorporate these three considerations in order to design a more sustainable plan. We’ll use interest in a new social media channel as an example to illustrate these points.

Think realistically about resources: Marketing efforts take work, work that will be on top of your other duties as assigned. Consider if you—or your team—has the time and the skill to start, support, and sustain this effort over multiple months or years. And if your idea will cost money, make sure you have enough funds to not just complete the marketing effort, but sustain it.

Example: Social media channels are a commitment: they require consistent upkeep, daily management of comments and direct messages (DMs), and regular content in order to get results. Does your team have someone who can be the designated social media account manager? If so, are they familiar with creating content, posting content, and the different capabilities of each platform? If you wish to run paid advertising on social media, do you have the money to run said campaign for multiple months? Do you know how to do so?

Skill can be learned, and there are several courses on LinkedIn Learning or other learning platforms that can get you started, including some of our own courses like an introduction to Canva. Learning these skills requires commitment and, once again, time. So, make sure that is built into your plan as well. Will a supervisor be able to support and be willing to encourage an employee to take the time to learn these skills?

Plan ahead before committing: If you’ve concluded that you have the bandwidth to support this marketing effort, then the next step is to determine that you have enough content to commit. It may seem counter-intuitive to build a content calendar before committing, but this is one of the best ways to see if this effort is sustainable.

Example: Your department is interested in starting an Instagram page. First, write down a list of ideas that you could reasonably sustain. Second, create a draft content calendar for the next two months. Do you have enough unique, engaging content to post 2 -3 times per week? Are your post topics diverse (meaning you aren’t posting only about the same 2 events or deadlines)? Do you have enough ideas left over to carry you through the following months? If the answer is no to any of these questions, then it’s time to regroup and rethink the plan, and maybe also fill out the marketing request form to request a meeting with the CHSS social media manager or marketing team to help brainstorm and discuss strategy.

Make the most of your content across multiple platforms and mediums: There are many opportunities to utilize preplanned events for multiple uses and reuses. Leverage what you already have happening around your department to create a more robust and sustainable content calendar, as well as get more eyes and participation in your events.

Example: Your department has already planned a lecture series. Go live during the lecture on social media for real-time engagement. Record the lecture and utilize the recording to create smaller soundbites that can be posted on social media at staggered intervals. Write a recap of the event and post it online to CHSSweb and share the link via social media. Upload the full recording to YouTube or another service and use the recording on your website or marketing emails.

Keep your brand and audience at the forefront: Who you are, what you do, and why it matters should drive every decision you make in marketing. Certainly, some departments might be “meme brands,” for example—those for whom utilizing a trending meme would make sense—but that’s not for everyone. Memes change constantly and are not a reliable source of consistent, meaningful marketing. Consider, instead, what content and what marketing best aligns with the persona of your department. Are you creative? Studious? Dedicated? Interested in the unusual? Which theories, areas of study, or projects best represent your students, both present and future? Let your brand be your compass of what will make for sustainable, and your audience the path markers.

Example: The Instagram account for Mason’s art history program uses art from decades, even centuries, ago to create clever graphics that 1) communicate important information to students—such as upcoming add/drop deadlines—in a unique and entertaining way, and 2) showcase the core of their program of study. With seemingly infinite inspiration from the art worldwide and from the vast expanse of time, they have found a sustainable way to use their Instagram that makes sense for their brand and audience.

Studies of graduate students, for example, have shown that they require anywhere from 17 to 27 touchpoints—or moments of interacting with or seeing the school and/or program—before they decide to apply, and that the average time a prospective graduate student spends researching their programs before applying is around 12 months. Your program’s goal is to fill that time, through multiple mediums and various efforts, with reminders that, “Hello, we exist and would be a good fit!”

Despite what it seems, a lot of marketing is about the long game. Rarely will a consumer see the first post you publish and convert immediately, especially for something as significant as applying for and starting a degree program. Successful marketing campaigns—in which a consumer sees the product and “converts,” meaning they fulfill the goal assigned to the campaign by the marketers (purchasing a product, signing up for an event, completing an application) --are about multiple, consistent touchpoints. Not pestering, but developing brand awareness and knowledge until the user is ready to take the next step.

Don’t fall into the trap of following the newest trend or platform just because you think you can or should. Marketing is an endurance race, not a sprint. Focus your resources; home in on where you think your money, time, and effort will be best spent; build your plan around what best represents your department or program; and always keep your SMART goals in mind.