A chat with ContentEd speakers: Doug Washburn and Rachel Weiner

We’ve already heard from their student ambassadors, so we thought we’d now hear from the speakers themselves. We chat with Doug and Rachel, both Project Managers at Study in Sweden, about how they’re using content strategy in their day-to-day work.

In a saturated market, what are you doing to ensure that you stand out from your competitors?

Rachel and Doug: At the national level, differentiation is largely about positioning. We work a lot with our brand and we are doing a better job about not being afraid to stand out and highlight areas where Sweden has a strong profile even if it’s not necessarily directly related to higher education. We’re also currently trying to look more into what makes people choose Sweden over similar countries. It’s easy to say why we’re different from India or China, but maybe harder to make a clear comparison with Denmark or the Netherlands. So that’s a work in progress.

We currently differentiate ourselves from our competitors in the following ways:

  • Students run a lot of our marketing themselves. This gives a huge amount of authenticity to our message.
  • We’re not afraid to try things out that may or may not make us look ridiculous and don’t take ourselves too seriously.
  • In the context of international higher ed, we have an unusually stylish graphic profile and web presence and try to put a lot of focus on usability as well as using the platforms where are users already are.

Can you share a content strategy success story from your institution?

Rachel and Doug: Although it’s possibly off-brand for us, we decided to develop a Buzzfeed-esque “weird Swedish food quiz” for the Chinese market, initially just for students who had been accepted to programmes starting during the upcoming autumn semester. We designed a series of cute food cartoon characters and built the archetype for each character around the values in our brand platform. We then sent the quiz out to all accepted students and sorted them into WeChat groups based on their results. Not only did we have a great level of engagement with the quiz itself, it led people to join these WeChat groups that have been incredibly useful for the students during their preparations to come to Sweden. People are also huge fans of the cartoon characters and we’ve developed stickers, magnets and even t-shirts. It’s essentially impossible to measure the spread of profile products, but it certainly puts a smile on our faces to imagine youths in Shanghai or Guangzhou with a Swedish herring sticker on their computer.

What technique have you used that has helped drive traffic to your content?

Rachel and Doug: I wouldn’t say I have any special “techniques” aside from tried and true practices like working on SEO, cross-promoting content where appropriate, not being afraid to occasionally spend money, and harassing people “IRL” to remember to share our content in their networks.

Who is doing content strategy well outside of education that the sector can learn from?

Doug: Hubspot is the first company that comes to mind. They obviously need to stand out in content strategy given that they work with inbound marketing, but they really do an excellent job providing value to their customers by providing excellent content about content marketing, social media marketing and SEO. I think the education sector can learn a lot from the way they collect leads and how they provide tailor-made information to their customers based on their interests. It’s also exciting to see how they work offline, and how they’ve developed the Inbound conference into such an important event.

Rachel: The first thing that comes to mind is more of a content marketing example, and that’s the beauty company Glossier and their associated website, Into The Gloss. They actually started the other way around, as a website with content about beauty, and grew into a beauty company. But the site itself is phenomenal content marketing for what now has become a company selling a product. Not only do they produce great, useful content, they use the site to have an ongoing dialogue with their readers about what products they should develop for them.

Into The Gloss

What book or resource would you recommend to those trying to further their knowledge on content strategy?

Rachel: Bookwise, I’d of course recommend Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach. I’m also a big fan of email newsletters from blogs that I’m too lazy to regularly visit – GatherContent, the NielsenNorman Group. These aren’t on content strategy per se, but Higher Education Marketing and Bob Johnson are good for digital communications in higher ed. Last, but certainly not least: the ConFab conference!

Doug: Like Rachel I’m a huge fan of email newsletters such as Hubspot. Like Rachel I recommend Higher Education Marketing and Bob Johnson for digital communications in the education sector and am a huge fan of ConFab.

The ticket deadline has now passed for ContentEd, but make sure you follow the activity on our Twitter feed and through the hashtag. You can find out more about Doug and Rachel’s session on the schedule.

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