Thanks to the rise of flexible online MBA programs, reach of digital and online marketing, and ongoing pressure to improve rankings, the world of MBA admissions continues to be hypercompetitive. Prospective students have a wealth of information at their fingertips and that means a glossy admissions brochure or a flashy website is no longer enough. To stand out from other MBA programs, your marketing needs to form an emotional connection and communicate information in a way that’s easy to understand.

Students, faculty, alumni, and staff are your MBA program. They define your culture and your brand both internally and externally. They’re the reason why applicants choose one school over another. As a result, their stories should fuel every aspect of your marketing.

Enrolling in an MBA program is one of the biggest career decisions someone can make. Beyond tuition, they’re also spending a substantial amount of time away from friends and family and taking on the additional pressure of balancing life in and out of the classroom. For the next 12 to 24 months, the MBA program becomes their universe. If there’s one time you don’t want to have to worry about buyer’s remorse, this would be it.

Brand storytelling is the single most effective way to give prospective students a peek behind the curtain—to form genuine connections with students, faculty, and alumni and experience the culture of the MBA program first hand. Best of all, brand storytelling can be an unlimited source of content for your website, social media, email marketing, and overall marketing messaging.

Think about your MBA program. How could you use brand storytelling more effectively?

Before you can fully leverage the power of brand storytelling, you need to truly understand your brand and what makes your MBA program unique from other peer schools. In our work with MBA programs, this is often a grey area. What you might think is a clear point of differentiation might instead be a point of parity. Here it is important to look at student and alumni surveys, feedback from MBA applicants that did/didn’t enroll, and input from faculty and staff. We also rely heavily on competitor benchmarking to help define brand perceptions of other like programs. Once you’re able to uncover and capture those insights, you can empower your MBA program team to start telling their stories.

A lot of marketers confuse communicating features and benefits with creating a brand narrative. Features and benefits speak to “what.” A brand narrative is an invitation, a start of a conversation that ultimately explains “how and why.” Narratives have a voice, a perspective and an arc of a story. They take many forms. Often the best brand narratives are not about the program but about the people who come through it and make it even better.

Michael Schinelli, CMO at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Give prospective MBA applicants a glimpse at the admissions process in a much more personal way. Focus on the applicant journey, highlight student and alumni stories, and look for opportunities to bring your core values to life. Also, don’t overlook the power of personal connections. Whenever possible, facilitate classroom visits and chats with current students and alumni. Those interactions are absolutely invaluable and an incredibly powerful way to tell your brand story. Here, you might also want to consider live streaming functionality such as Facebook Live or Snapchat to reach and engage with your target audience.

Ask current students to share their stories about student life, academics, community service, and their post-MBA job search. No admissions brochure can replace the power of personal connections and the inspiration that can come from their individual journeys. Because they’re hearing the information directly from their peers, the story will also be more relatable--a key element to effective brand storytelling. Also, because many MBA programs have limited bandwidth, students can also be an invaluable resource when it comes to generating content for an MBA program blog, social media, etc. Don’t be afraid to include them in the process. The last story you want to tell is a Facebook page for the business school that hasn’t been updated for months.

When it comes to academics, a lot of MBA programs talk about the quality of their faculty. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business took that story one step further. As it turns out, their faculty has more Nobel Prize winners than any other business school. That’s part of their story. Academic rigor. Unmatched faculty. Something prospective applicants can easily understand as an immediate point of differentiation. The key with faculty is to share their stories in a way that’s relatable. That usually includes a mix of relevant research and publications, insights into their academic and professional backgrounds, and connections with current students and alumni.

Brand storytelling should be at the center of your MBA enrollment marketing strategy. To stand out from the competition, you must empower students, faculty, staff, and alumni to share their stories—the stories that define the culture of your MBA program including its values and what it stands for. Once you’re able to start capturing your brand’s narrative, you can share the story on the MBA program website, social media, live streams, etc.