Why EDU Needs More Storytellers

Why EDU Needs More Storytellers


Good marketing is storytelling. Storytelling is good marketing. Either way you look at it, whether you’re selling a product or an experience, storytelling is the holy grail of relevancy. At its core, storytelling connects individuals to your brand. It speaks to their goals, challenges and motivations. When most effective, it inspires a “Hey, me too!” reaction. Like our counterparts in other transforming industries, EDU marketers must frequently ask, “How do we tell better stories?”

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I recently attended a workshop, The Foundational Elements of Storytelling, geared toward aspiring authors. It provided a unique perspective on storytelling that had the marketing synapses in my brain firing like a gang of Western gunslingers.

Below I’ll share a few reasons why we should challenge ourselves to be better storytellers and ways we can lead the charge.

The Enrollment Funnel is Our Storytelling Arc

If you’ve ever taken a writing course, you’re probably familiar with the storytelling arc. It includes all the elements you need to hook your reader — exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.

As education marketers, we interact with the storytelling arc every day. We call it the enrollment funnel.


Awareness (Exposition): This is how the story begins. While casually browsing online one day, Megan stumbles across a display ad for your MBA program.

Interest (Conflict): Megan’s interest is piqued, but she gets distracted and makes herself a sandwich. The next day at work, Megan’s coworker, Jessica, is promoted to manager of their department. Megan says to herself: “I’d really like to move into management someday. Maybe I should think about earning an MBA. But I bet it’s expensive, and where will I find the time?”

Consideration (Rising Action): A few weeks later, Megan mentions her idea to her husband at dinner. “Hmm…” Jeff says, his mouth full of lasagna. “I like the idea. I’m just wondering how we’ll pay for it and if it’s worth it. Will Denise give you a promotion?” Megan and Jeff decide to give the idea more consideration. As Megan scrolls through Facebook that night during The Bachelor, she sees another ad for your MBA program in her news feed.

Intent (Climax): It’s been a few months since Megan and Jeff tossed around the idea of Megan pursuing her MBA. Yesterday, another one of Megan’s coworkers got promoted. With renewed interest, Megan goes to Google to search for MBA programs. There she finds a search ad for your MBA program. “An online option? Megan reads. “I like the sound of that.”

Inquire (Falling Action): Megan clicks on your ad and finds herself on your landing page. She scrolls down the page to the form, hovering her mouse over the form fields. “Should I request information?” Megan asks herself. She decides to fill out the form and submit her information. Within 24 hours, an admissions rep reaches out with the program details.

Enroll (Resolution): In the coming months, Megan attends a webinar, shares a brochure on the ROI of an MBA with Jeff and talks to her boss about changing her schedule to accommodate her course load. All the pieces are finally coming together. Megan applies online and a few days later, receives her acceptance email. The next day, she officially enrolls in your MBA program.

See what I did there?

Your Story Needs GMC

Not to be confused with the auto manufacturer, GMC stands for Goal, Motivation, Conflict. We typically think about GMC like this:

Goal: What does the character want to achieve or avoid?

Motivation: Why does the character want this goal?

Conflict: What’s standing in the character’s way?

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Your prospects’ lives revolve around GMC — they have goals they want to achieve, motivation driving them to succeed and obstacles they must overcome to reach their goals. GMC is the lens through which we should view every strategy we develop and every piece of content we create. Unless you know your characters inside and out, it’s difficult to tell your story without it.

Give Your Characters a Purpose

Prospective students are characters in your story — so are current students, alumni, faculty, deans, provosts, directors and presidents. With such a large cast of characters, your story can start to resemble an episode of Game of Thrones. If those experiencing your story constantly ask, “Who is this person, and what value do they add to the story?”, it might be worth simplifying.

Take recruitment videos, for example. Mary is a prospective student. While browsing your website, she finds a video about the student experience at your school. This is what Mary has been looking for — she knows that you offer the program she wants and how much it costs, but she can’t tell what campus life is like for a non-traditional undergraduate student.

Mary hits play. Beautiful images flash across her screen. “Wow, the campus looks amazing!” Mary says. She sees students playing Ultimate Frisbee in a park, a professor leading a discussion, your school’s mascot dancing during the homecoming parade and a group of smiling students studying in the library. Mary can practically envision herself on your campus.

Then the upbeat music slows. For the next three minutes, the president of your school tells Mary how excited he is that she’s considering your school. From behind his desk, he tells her about the school’s mission, history and faculty accomplishments. Then the provost talks about the quality of academics and the outstanding student experience Mary will receive. When the video ends five minutes later, Mary realizes something: she didn’t hear from a single student.

It goes without saying that every character plays an important role, from your president to the administrative assistant in your admissions office. However, depending who’s listening to your story, you might need to tell it a little differently. It’s okay if the story you tell a prospective student differs from the story you tell a prospective faculty member.

Rough Drafts Lead to Finished Stories

Every well-formed story begins with a blank sheet of paper, and it’s impossible to refine a story that hasn’t yet been developed. We work with many institutions that are still working to identify their characters and craft a story that resonates across audiences. If your institution is among them, you’re in good company.


  • Think about the enrollment funnel as your storytelling arc. Each element is essential — would you read a story without a resolution?
  • GMC helps you better understand the characters in your story. When you can speak to their goals, motivations and challenges, you’ll be one step closer to telling a story people want to hear.
  • When casting the characters in your story, make sure they have a purpose. Depending on your audience, you might need to alter how the story is told.
  • Don’t be intimidated by work in progress. Every great story begins with a rough draft.

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Do you consider yourself a storyteller for your brand? Give us your take on storytelling best practices in EDU. Comment below or reach out to start the discussion.

Amanda Tower
Amanda Tower
May 2, 2017