Have you ever wondered how some online creators are able to grow, scale, and attract new students month after month while others struggle to just get by? Success seems to follow them no matter which channel or platform they use. It is like they have magical marketing powers where everything they work on turns to gold.
Well, the magic is nothing else but a decent marketing plan and a marketing strategy.
This article will walk you through 10 proven steps to create a working marketing strategy to sell online courses like a pro-marketer-creator.
The following article covers:
Do I even need a marketing strategy?
If we are keeping it short, yes! No matter your niche and specification, mapping out your marketing strategy and plan is essential for scaling and outdoing your competitors.
Just think about it: scaling your online course business without certain tactics and strategies is like going to explore the sea without proper gear. Here, you might be the best diver in the world, yet, you cannot go too far as you have no plan, no tools, and no preparation.
In the same way, without a marketing strategy, you're essentially hoping that students will stumble upon your courses by chance. Sure, you might get a few enrollments here and there, but the growth will be slow and unpredictable.
Besides serving as a guide, your marketing strategy helps to reach your target audience better, get measurable outcomes, and be consistent.
You are perfectly aware that the online teaching business is not just about getting enrollments. It is also about retaining students and keeping them coming for more. If this is your business goal, the following steps are just for you!
Marketing strategy and Marketing plan
Wait, aren’t marketing strategy and marketing plan the same thing? While we may use the terms “strategy” and “plan” interchangeably in our everyday life, both are completely different concepts in the marketing world.
What is the difference?
The main difference between the two concepts is that marketing strategy outlines what you are trying to achieve within your business. At the same time, the marketing plan includes the execution steps helping you to realize that strategy.
Marketing strategy answers the questions like:
- Who are you trying to target
- Who is part of your ideal customer profile
- Why do they need to consume your courses and products
- Why should they care about your offers
- How the students will interface with your online school brand
- How will you position your online school in the market
- And other general matters
In the meanwhile, your marketing plan provides the “how to” part of your strategy. It includes all the details of what you're actually going to do to achieve your goals.
Let’s say you intend to attract new students with the help of your current students as part of your marketing strategy. So one of the goals is to have your students share about you with their family, friends, and network. In this case, your marketing plan may include things like offering loyalty discounts, creating a referral program, encouraging testimonials, providing shareable content, offering freebies, hosting webinars, etc.
How are they interconnected?
The two discussed terms are interconnected, as without a marketing strategy, you cannot make a relevant plan and vice versa.
Therefore, take this into consideration.
Your marketing plan and strategy have to be aligned and work hand in hand for your online course business to succeed. We can easily provide that in the example of the famous Coca-Cola campaign.
When Coca-Cola introduced its new product, "New Coke,” it started focusing on the younger generation like Pepsi did as part of its marketing plan. However, they did not consider the emotional attachment and loyalty their loyal consumers from older generations developed toward the original brand.
So, what you should keep in mind, is that
- your customers should be the basis of your marketing strategy
- your marketing strategy cannot act separately from the marketing plan.
Before you move to map out the whole strategy, you can use this marketing plan template adapted from Alan Dib’s “The 1-page Marketing Plan”. It will help you get an idea of how you envision your perfect marketing strategy.
10 Steps to create an online course marketing strategy
Creating a working marketing strategy may seem like a daunting task. However, it is not that hard when you have a defined approach. And the approach is the following:
- Define your target audience and business goals
- Research your market and competition to identify opportunities
- Develop a cohesive marketing plan that integrates various tactics
- Adapt your strategy based on data-driven insights.
Let’s go deeper into all these steps and break everything down.
#1 Write down the 7Ps of marketing model mix
The 4Ps of the marketing model (Price, Promotion, Product, Place) was originally developed by E. Jerome McCarthyand got published in his book “Basic Marketing” in 1960. Later, the idea developed, so we got three more Ps (People, Process, Physical Evidence).
Your goal at this stage: Define the 7 essential elements of your online course business on which you are going to elaborate further in this strategy.
The 7Ps of marketing are like the seven dwarfs - you are familiar with them, you just don’t remember the names. They will help you understand most of the elements that make up your online course business marketing strategy. So, the 7Ps stand for:
1️⃣ Product - what you create and deliver to meet your students' needs. It encompasses quality, content, design, and everything else.
2️⃣ Price - how much your students will be paying for your products. At this stage you want to price your courses in a way that is competitive and profitable. Because according to a study, 70% of students are more likely to buy if the price is competitive. This is why you should think about incorporating a discount system.
3️⃣ Place - where your products get created, found, distributed, and sold. It can refer to not only a physical but also a digital presence. For example, your online teaching platform, social media platforms, communication channels, or any other platform that makes your courses accessible for your students.
4️⃣ Promotion - how you present your products to the target audience to encourage them to buy from exactly YOUR course.
5️⃣ People - this is you, all your team, and other stakeholders who stand behind providing an exceptional learning experience for the students.
6️⃣ Process - every step you do to create & deliver your online courses and make them accessible to the students.
7️⃣ Physical evidence - the digital environment you create around your courses, also including the ratings and reviews.
So, what you need to do is to put down all these 7Ps defined in a spreadsheet. After that, you will be one step closer to creating your unique marketing strategy for online school business.
You can download the template of 7Ps and get the first step done in 3 minutes.
The author and educator Peter Drucker mentioned
❝ Marketing is the whole business seen from the point of view of its final result, that is, from the customer's point of view ❞.
Make sure you follow the advice and look at the matter from the student’s point of you when filling out the template.
#2 Do market research
There is no marketing without market research. All the further elements, including your messaging, offers, promotional and other efforts, will be based on that.
Your goal at this stage: Find who your competitors are & what they are already offering, and decide on what uniqueness you will bring into the market to fill the gap.
Analyze the competitor’s value proposition
Not knowing your competition and still offering an online course is the same as driving a car blindfolded. You may drive at the highest speed, however, you will not have a view of the track ahead. And if you already know one or two competitors, it does not mean you are done with this step. It is essential to allocate a considerable amount of time to research, where you end up finding out about at least five competitors.
You may have:
- Direct competitors - online educators who offer similar courses and offers in your exact niche and target the same students as you do. For example, if you create courses about nutrition, your direct competitors are those who offer nutrition courses as well.
- Secondary competitors - online educators who provide courses in a different niche from yours and target other students. For example, for nutrition course creators, the secondary competitors may be fitness course creators.
- Substitute competitors - these are businesses with a completely different offer for the same audience you will target. It may be an app, software, seminar, wellness organization, youtube videos, blogs, etc.
After you have the list, create a table with the names of your competitors and the 7 Ps we have discussed above. For each criterion, rate you and your competitor on a scale of 1-5.
Your table may look something like this.
Product (Course) quality
Place teaching platform)
People (team, if any)
Physical evidence (reviews and ratings)
To go a step deeper, you may develop a SWOT analysis based on which you determine your competitive advantage. You can learn more about it and download a template from here.
Define the market gap
Remember that the goal of this research is not to copy what your competitors are doing, but find what differentiates you in the market.
Based on such insights identifying the market gap and opportunities should be a piece of cake.
For example, you may notice that your competitors are all offering general nutrition courses and no specialized courses are available for athletes. This could be your golden opportunity to stand out!
The goal of this research is not to copy what your competitors are doing but find what differentiates you in the market.
#3 Conduct ideal audience analysis
Conducting audience research is the cornerstone of your marketing research. It helps you to understand your potential students, allowing you to build your marketing message and online courses around them. Of course, such a personalized approach will capture their attention and give you a competitive advantage.
Your goal at this stage: Gather and analyze valuable information about your target audience, their preferences, behaviors, demographics, needs, etc.
Identify the student’s pain points and motivations
The most essential thing is to identify at which point in life they would take courses from you. That is the potential student’s motive & goal to enroll in the course. You should also consider how the course you offer will satisfy that motive.
Usually, the best way to identify your students’ pain points is by asking them directly. So, you can
- create and conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups
- follow social media insights, website analytics, and email campaign metrics
- engage in relevant online communities where your audience hangs out
An indirect way will be analyzing the feedback and reviews the students leave for relevant courses.
Someone might join your course to create career opportunities, find remote work, improve existing skills, increase income potential, etc. Your task is to understand whichever that is and make it a basis for your course, product, or resource.
Create your ideal student persona
You have already gathered a huge amount of data and insights. Now it is time to put everything together and create your ideal buyer persona. It would be a fictional representation of a specific segment of your target audience. To describe your buyer-student, include information about
- Demographics (age, location, education, job/occupation, income level, etc.)
- Phsycohraphics (interest and lifestyle choices)
- Behaviour (the way students interact with your school and their buying pattern)
- The pain points and motivations
- The touchpoints with your brand during every stage of customer journey
Besides the description, it would be better to have a visual representation of your personas.
You can find the buyer persona templates on Visme.
Now, every time you come up with a course idea or make a decision bear these student personas in mind.
#4 Set business & marketing objectives
Having something in your head is one thing. Putting them down on a piece of paper is a whole new story. While you almost know your ultimate goal, defining them specifically and outlining a few objectives is still necessary.
Your goal at this stage: Foresee your wished outcomes and develop an action plan.
Align the business and marketing objectives
Once you already know what you want to achieve, you should also make sure the business goals are in perfect harmony with your marketing goals. Let’s say you want at least 87 students to complete your course six months after the launch date as your business goal. This means, as a marketer, you should be increasing the number of enrollments by 8%.
Besides, to reach your business goal in 6 months, you should focus on raising awareness, generating more leads, and finding other ways to engage your students.
Thus, you can create a simple chart according to the WOOP goal-setting technique (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan). Have your business goals written down in one column and list the marketing objectives supporting that business goal in the next column. Afterward, include the possible obstacles that may hinder your success and start working on an action plan.
Create a defined timeline to achieve your milestones
As your chart is almost complete, be realistic about the time you need for each developed milestone. You can use your calendar, spreadsheet, or physical planner to set the timeline.
The timeline will be effective only if you stick to it. So, in case of a setback, adjust the timeline and keep moving forward rather than being discouraged.
#5 Map out the type of content your students want to see
You already have a clear idea of what your goals are and how you are going to make the vision come true. Well, these goals will guide you to the marketing content creation process.
Your goal at this stage: Identify the trends and publish content your students will find 100% helpful.
The combination of most of the following points will make your content perfect.
- grasps your students’ attention as it is based on their preferences.
- includes the recent trend as it is based on your market research
- is also presented in visual format
- has high ROIs and conversion rates
- leverages social proof, such as testimonials or case studies
- has consistency in branding and design elements
- incorporates a strong call-to-action
- balances information with entertainment and is not too dry
- encourages interaction by comments, polls, discussions, etc.
And if you want to create the type of content with the highest ROI, you should try presenting it in short videos, focus on influential marketing, and consider advertising.
To learn more about the most popular content formats, check out “The State of Content Marketing in 2023”.
#6 Set your budget
Of course, the type of content you plan to use depends greatly on your budget. And the expenses are not limited to the content solely. That is where estimating all costs comes our way.
Your goal at this stage: Break down the costs and allocate your budget based on importance, effectiveness, and priorities.
What’s important is that you do not have to start everything you are planning at the same time. Let’s say your marketing budget is only enough to run a blog and post on social media. It means your intention of running paid ads or using influencer marketing should momentarily be set aside.
But what if ads could actually drive better results? Wouldn’t it be better to allocate more budget, you may ask? This is why you should adjust your budget while everything is in its “trial period”.
We would suggest following the 70-20-10.
Allocate 70% of the budget to everything that has proved to work previously, 20% to what you are not very sure about, and 10% to what you have never tried before.
Simply see which channel works for you best - social media, email marketing, PPC, SEO - to know where the larger part of investments should go. Take into account not only quick wins but also long-term tactics.
#7 Position your courses through Paid, Owned, and Earned media
At this point, you are already done with most of the research and heavy tasks.
Your goals at this stage: All that is left is to organize all the insights and resources you have to your utmost advantage. To make the management even easier, we will divide them into three main categories:
1️⃣ Paid media is the promotional or advertising channel you pay for to reach new students. It includes television, radio, print, social and search ads, and sponsored media. Paid media is a nice way to raise awareness about your online school and affect the potential students’ consideration.
2️⃣ Owned media is the digital assets under your control. It includes your teaching website, your mobile app, email & notifications, the content you create, and organic SEO results. It is usually lower in cost than Paid media.
3️⃣ Earned media is when the students promote your online course business by leaving reviews, sharing about you with their network, tagging you on social media posts, etc. Practically, you have almost no control over this.
The important thing is how you can integrate these three to get the maximum outcomes.
For example, you could create a compelling landing page for one of your courses. Later, you can consider running a PPC campaign to increase visibility and drive more traffic. As a result, a student may write a review or share their experience via a video about your course.
#8 Include the metrics and key performance indicators
This whole strategy would be worthless if you ignore the key performance indicators and other metrics. KPIs are crucial because they give you a clear picture of whether you're meeting your goals and progressing toward your objectives.
Your goals at this stage: Identify your strengths and weaknesses, which will allow you to make informed decisions. The KPIs may include:
- Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) - it simply measures how much it costs to acquire a new student. It's calculated by dividing your total marketing and sales expenses by the number of new customers acquired within a specific time period.
In simple terms, if you lower the CAC while maintaining quality, you will improve profitability.
- Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) - estimates the total revenue a student will generate throughout their engagement with your business. It helps determine how much you can invest in customer acquisition and retention strategies.
- Churn Rates - calculates the percentage of students who stopped enrolling in your courses and products. Using customer success software can help you effectively monitor and analyze this metric, enhance the learning experience, and ultimately reduce churn rates, contributing to the sustained success of your education business.
- Return on Investment (ROI) - is used to measure the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns, launches, and other initiatives.
You can also take into account the enrollment rates, course completion rates, your website traffic, student rating, and feedback.
So, how can you actually use these metrics to improve?
Imagine you set up your course page, launch it, and promote it across your channels. Over a month, you notice 300 people visit your course page, but only 50 actually enroll. That's an Enrollment Rate of 16.67%. Your task is to understand the reason behind it. Based on that, you can tweak your course description or, perhaps, improve your landing page.
The metrics you choose to follow are completely up to you.
#9 Choose your marketing tools
The appropriate tools will not only help to measure the results but also organize the process effectively and save a great deal of your time.
Your goal at this stage: Maximize the effectiveness of the whole process with the help of the right tools.
If you have already selected an all-in-one online teaching platform, it will save you the trouble of running from one tool to another. For example, with a platform like Uteach, you can:
- Create and use CRM fields to centralize your student’s data
- Run an SEO-optimized blog by filling in the meta description, titles, keywords
- Make your sales offer more attractive by creating promo codes
- Create an affiliate program for students
- Optimize ad campaigns with integration with Facebook Pixel
- Run successful email marketing campaigns with integrations
- Make your website SEO- friendly
- Check your website performance with integration with Google Analytics
- Create compelling landing pages
- Send automated emails and notifications
- See detailed reports regarding your sales, revenue and so much more
Check out all features, and find all the tools you need within one platform.
Additionally, you may consider tools, such as
- Google Workspace to store all your files
- Asana, CoSchedule to organize your marketing calendar and not only
- ContentCal, HubSpot Content Strategy to create, schedule and manage your marketing content
- Buffer, Hootsuite or Hootsuite competitors to schedule social media posts and track results
#10 Document the results to make data-driven decisions
After you have implemented all the steps you included in the marketing strategy, one of these three scenarios can happen:
- Your marketing strategy fails, as you have spent more than you generated a revenue.
- You have no idea whether you won or not, as you didn’t measure the results presented in point 8.
- Your strategy succeeded, as you gained more revenue than you had spent on marketing.
Each of these scenarios has a simple solution.
- If you have failed, you should change your strategy or marketing plan.
- Nowadays, it’s more than easy to measure marketing results and expenses with so many tools available.
- If you get high ROIs, you should not only keep up what you were doing but also try new tactics.
And advice from Alan Dib himself: set an unlimited budget for marketing that works.
Make your online course a success
A killer marketing strategy implies setting specific goals, doing tons of marketing research, choosing the right channels, and measuring the results. Of course, all these can take a considerable amount of time and effort. Thus, you would like the implementation of your marketing strategy to be as smooth, quick, and effective as possible.
One way of making this come true is being able to create courses alongside marketing them. If you ever thought about it, you need no other tool than Uteach.
With Uteach, you can create and manage courses, coaching & live sessions, and more. It allows you to run and measure the results of the marketing campaigns, see detailed analytics of all your initiatives, and be the leader in your industry.
Curious about how Uteach can increase the efficiency of your tasks by 67%? Try Uteach for free and get the feel of being a successful creator.