4 Key Lessons Every Marketer Can Learn from Community Colleges, with LACCD’s Juliet Hidalgo

January 17, 2024

When it comes to great marketing, community colleges don’t often come to mind. Yet these schools excel at outreach. How? By grasping basics other marketers forget.

So, we grabbed a room at the Museum of Ice Cream and sat down with Juliet Hidalgo, the Director Communications and Marketing for the Los Angeles Community College District. Here’s what she had to say:

Lesson 1: Get to Know Your Audience Intimately

"I wanted to go where students were like me. First generation…who walked on a college campus and had no idea what they were doing. That’s who I wanted to market to, who I wanted to work for, and who I wanted to help” says Juliet.

Community colleges obsess over who they serve – often first-generation students lacking guidance to navigate higher education's unfamiliar terrain. She recalls her own experience, wandering onto the Cal Poly Pomona campus utterly lost, just looking for college close to home.

Top brands also thrive by truly understanding their customers as complete, complex people. Beyond demographic data, who really are they? What personal priorities, values and challenges shape their worldviews? Go beyond data points to immerse yourself in customers' experiences firsthand.

Build advisory panels, engage customer advocates and embody the user journey. This “walk in their shoes” insight enlightens strategy and forges bonds that data alone cannot. After all, Hidalgo’s connection to the student experience fuels her drive. Follow her lead to intimately grasp where target audiences stand today – and where they’re trying to go next.

Lesson 2: Spotlight Accessibility and Support

From food banks to free transportation, LACCD offers an array of services ensuring students can focus on learning instead of where their next meal comes from or how to get to class. Juliet aims to broadcast this support ecosystem far and wide. “Do students know that we have free education? Do they know that we have wraparound services for them, like mental health resources, food banks, free transportation, and that we’re looking into student housing?”

Companies expecting brand loyalty should take note and proudly tout how they empower customers to achieve their goals. Issue-solve creatively like community colleges, clearing obstacles to facilitate target audience success. Weave accessibility, support and services prominently throughout messaging and brand experiences.

Verizon doesn’t just provide network coverage; its priority plans keep customers connected when it matters most. Salesforce isn’t just a CRM platform; its Trailhead up-skilling program leads to high-paying jobs. And LACCD isn’t just college courses; it’s a path to socioeconomic mobility. Lead with how you enable transformation.

Lesson 3: Start Early and Build Momentum

Juliet refers to dual enrollment programs where high schoolers take community college classes early to build confidence and momentum: “If they could take one college class when they're in high school that they never thought was possible, then they will go on to higher education.”

Early wins shift mindsets before they solidify. Savvy marketers should identify similar transition points to influence personal and professional trajectories before fixed paths form – perhaps targeting ambitious sophomores and juniors to score student accounts ahead of the competition.

Plant seeds for future organic growth by making early introductions to pave the way for long-term relationships. Capture the right moments to convert agenda-setters early, setting your brand apart as an ally along the journey.

Lesson 4: Lead with Purpose

"It's a social justice issue. If you really think about it, like it's helping students achieve a different socioeconomic status. If you change a student's life, you change the family’s life. If you change the family’s life, you change a community. If you change a community, you change the whole entire region" Juliet explains.

Here lies the true north guiding community college marketing – it’s about changing lives and advancing equality of opportunity by making education far more inclusive. When branding flows directly from a higher purpose rooted in positive social impact, authenticity follows – which is critical for resonating in an increasingly cynical and skeptical age.

Today’s savvy brands all lead with purpose, whether it’s Dove supporting beauty confidence, Airbnb spreading belonging or Starbucks strengthening communities. Define your “why” – the difference you make – then build messaging and experiences focused on that inspiring, mobilizing purpose.

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