Using Storytelling to connect with prospective students

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
Kerry Morrison

May 18, 2021




If you do the same as everyone else, my father used to say you get the same as everyone else gets.

Yet another reinforcement of his belief that it was hard work that made a difference in life.

You want to succeed, you put in the hours, you grind that stone, you do more than the other guy ( and gals ), and if you do, you'll get ahead.

He wasn't wrong ( don't tell him I said that ). But I'm not sure he was entirely correct either.

When I look around and see my peers, my friends and our customers at Goodkind, they're all working hard. Everyone is putting in the hours, doing all the things, running up those hills. And yet time and again, I hear the same refrain. 

We're not getting the results we used to


For you, my friends in Universities in Colleges across the US and Canada, This is especially true.

Even before Covid, student recruitment was challenging and getting more complex.

Shrinking resources, tighter budgets and last I checked, no administration was suddenly ok with the idea of significantly fewer students enrolling.

Yet, that's what is happening.

Sure, the Harvards, MITs and Stanfords of the world are inundated with applicants. Always have been, likely always will be.

But the next rung down from those elite schools, the picture isn't so rosy. Applications are down and, in some cases, way down.

"Applications fell by 14 percent at the State University of New York, the largest public college system in the country. At Portland State in Oregon, freshman applications were down 12 percent and transfers down 28 percent. Loyola University Maryland, a private liberal arts school in Baltimore, has seen a 12 percent drop in total applications, even after extending its deadline by two weeks." - https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/us/colleges-covid-applicants.html

So what do we do? How can we get past the challenge of fewer resources and growing needs?

How can we be successful now and into the future?

It's simple. I want you to tell stories.


The Value of Storytelling


Stories are all around us. They're at the heart of the movies we watch and the songs we love. They're how we communicate with our family and friends and the people around us.

When told authentically, they're the most powerful device for building connection, and throughout the ages, the most effective way to motivate people to do the things we want them to do.

The effectiveness of storytelling isn't conjecture. This is science. When we listen to stories, our bodies release both Oxytocin and Cortisol.

Oxytocin, often referred to as the feel-good chemical, helps us build empathy and relate to what we hear, while Cortisol puts us on high alert and gets us to pay attention. The combination of these two chemicals not only shapes emotion but influences listener behaviour.

Alright, our brains want stories. Storytelling is an effective way to build connection and show you care. So how do we use stories to make us better and more efficient student recruiters?

Here are four ideas to help you on your way. 


Talk about the promised land

‍Too much of traditional marketing is about pushing facts and figures. In contrast, with Storytelling, we're looking to paint a picture of what life is like after you've bought the thing, or in our case, enrolled or even graduated from your school.

We call this the promised land. It's similar to selling the dream, but the more we can root this story in reality, the more effective we can be.

For example, instead of mentioning that your school has certain facilities or that X% of students join the workforce, talk about the day-to-day life of the student body. Better yet, get students from the faculty the prospects are interested in to showcase precisely what life is like at your school in the program the prospect is interested in.

Another example, find a graduate from the program to talk about what life has been like since attending the program and what opportunities have been enabled, and what life is like now from having that degree.

Make it about the future and make it relatable. 

Paint a picture of what life will be like when attending your institution from the students' perspective, or demonstrate in the clearest of terms what their life will be like upon successfully graduating.

Paint them a picture, not with promises, but with truth and honesty, even if that's not always bright and shiny.

Be honest. 


Helping is selling

‍Great Storytelling is authentic. It's genuine, so should your intent be with the stories you're telling.

I know there's a dream out there where we send one email or one video, and our prospects accept and sign the paperwork. But in the real world, it takes more than that, on average, seven touchpoints before any deal is complete.

If we know we're not likely to close the deal with one message, let's offer value, let us educate and let us inform.

Use Storytelling to paint a very intimate picture of what life is like on campus or how students balance work/life and classes. Tell the story of day one for incoming first-year students, or introduce them to the life story of one of their new professors to create an early bond.

The point is the craft content and telling stories that aid, demonstrating we are interested in them as people, and in their success, not just the institution's success and in hitting our quota. 


Measure once cut a hundred times

Next is more of an efficiency tip than pure storytelling, but something I encourage everyone to think about with all of their content.

Go in with a plan as you make these stories to craft them so that they can be chopped up in myriad ways to spread the reach and save time.

One blog post, or one article, needs to provide, at minimum, dozens of touchpoints. Snippets of the piece as callouts for Twitter, summaries on Facebook, republishing on Medium. If video is your storytelling channel, then that reach has to across Youtube, Twitter, TikTok, Snap and Instagram.

Go where your prospects are spending their time and provide the digestible snippets and the formats of the content we know these audiences crave.

Make the content work for you.

Don't tell, show

‍Nothing takes a story to the next level of effectiveness, like imagery. So use pictures and video to reinforce your message and help it land more effectively.

The good news is, it's never been easier to produce rich media content.

Canva.com has a wide range of photos and video templates, with an easy-to-use content editor.

Lumafusion is a free video editor with a feature set matching all the pro applications ( MacOS and iPadOS ).

Apple's Clips app or Adobe's Photoshop Camera Photo Filters will let you quickly and add flair to the photos you take.

Almost every smartphone sold in the last five years has a camera capable of recording content that is more than appropriate quality-wise for web usage.

Once you've created your stylized photo or video content, you're ready to distribute it to the places where students spend their time.

Now the traditional way of pushing this content out would be in sponsored posts or ads. But the most significant benefit to being more authentic with your content, and telling stories, is that they won't, after a time, need ad spend to attract eyeballs.

When you're trying to help, you'll build authority and trust as opposed to just trying to sell. You'll become a resource that will attract attention, even without spending money on ads.

And as more people visit and more links point to your content, you build a never-ending source of leads and well-informed prospects.

Selling to these people is also less about convincing and more about verifying and answering questions.

Everything becomes easier.

Final Note

Choosing the storyteller route takes effort. There's no getting around that.

Before you dismiss what I'm saying because you're already too busy, ask yourself whether you can see, on your current path, the hamster wheel ever slowing down, ever stopping.

With storytelling, I promise you, if you commit to taking this path, it will pay back tenfold, a hundredfold, and you can spend your days finding new and exciting ways to tell incredible stories, rather than just working to keep your head above water.