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Higher education marketing: 5 Takeaway Points from the 2013 AMA Symposium

Last week's 2013 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education was the best attended one yet, at over 1,000 people. That's a tribute to all the program planners, starting with the chair Terry Flannery. After my Digital Marketing Strategy tutorial on Sunday, I had a chance to visit several presentations, many good, some great, and a few not so good or great.

Let me share 5 takeaway points that stand out a week later:

  • Going mobile: Options exist for how to take your "traditional" big screen website to the mobile world. Jon Brousseau at Boston University did an excellent job of presenting three options that included responsive design but were not limited to that approach. The takeaway: responsive design may often be the best technique but consider all options before a final decision. Different parts of your website may work best in different formats. Special kudos to Jon for using some of the best, most legible-from-the-rear-of-the-room slides of anyone I saw present. 
  • Killing View books: The title was "Will Video Kill the Viewbook?," a strong session with Jim Walls and Tammo Walter from the 160over90 agency and Joyce Lantz from University of Notre Dame. Jim answered the question up front as "No." That's the conventional answer that everyone seems compelled to give but after this session it was hard to believe that not long from now the answer will be "Yes." The reason is simple: view books exist to tell a story that is better told in video. That was my takeaway point after watching the examples.
  • Price, Discounting, and Public Universities: A session with Terri Harfst and Abbey Fischer from Southern Illinois University and Tom Abrahamson from Lipman Hearn took me way back to the mid-1990s. To boost enrollment at the upper end of its academic profile, SIU has started tuition discounting with merit scholarships. As a result, enrollment conversions from this pool have increased as has the ACT level of the freshman class. Not a big surprise. The takeaway: If enrollment pressure is forcing public sector schools into merit scholarships and tuition discounting, the transition is slow.
  • Content Strategy "Story Champions": Jamie Ceman and Mandy Potts from University of Wisconsin Oshkosh did a fabulous job recounting how they created and support a corps of "Story Champions" across the university to create content that tells a coordinated university brand story. Story champions come from just about every area from admissions to faculty to fundraising and more. The key to success: champions meet weekly, with 10 to 15 people attending. The takeaway: a great way to circumvent silos without having to destroy them.
Is Integrated Marketing Possible at a Large University?

All the keynotes this year were good but I found one especially interesting. Mary Baglivo is the newly appointed Vice President for Global Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer at Northwestern University. That's a most distinguished title for a person who, as she told her story, is essentially a consultant to the president. No direct budget or staff control here over the many other areas at Northwestern that "do" marketing. 

Mary talked about "Love Stories that Sell" with examples from outside higher education. I'd love to hear her again next year talking about lessons learned from her first year experience. Just how integrated can marketing become at an organization like Northwestern?

Next Year in Austin

Plan now to attend the marketing symposium's 25th anniversary meeting in Austin next November.

Next year's co-chairs are Deb Maue at mStoner and Jason Simon at University of California, both members of the program committee this year. Good luck to them both.

That's all for now.

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Digital marketing... 5 points important to higher education marketers

Digital marketing in higher education is on my mind as I start preparing for a new series of 2 and 3 hour workshops. To help kick my brain into gear, I prepared an outline of my first thoughts about what to include and sent it to 20 or so people working in a variety of marketing and enrollment management positions in higher education. About 15 sent back a great range of topics to cover. Enough to plan a book. Certainly more than will fit in a single workshop.

As always, different people have different interests and goals. Today I'm listing 5 comments that stood out to me as I read through the responses. Not, certainly, the only important ones and not presented here to suggest order of importance. 

How many of these digital marketing points are on your mind?

1. Social media vs. social media business
  • "Given the decentralized nature of higher ed, depending on who your audience is, I think it would be helpful to have a discussion of social media vs. social media business. David Armano from Edelman does a good job describing the distinction on his blog. Social media is the actual implementation of it - administering an individual Facebook page, for instance. Social media business is what I do - integrating all of the individual practitioners, developing social media guidelines, linking everyone's individual pages together, developing strategic planning templates, etc."
2. Media relations in a digital strategy
  • "Media relations is actually an important part of search strategy. These things are really connected - and because web and media relations teams are often separated in an institution - it can be hard for both to understand.
  • "I see media relations teams often concentrating on getting "the big hits" in a national publication to the expense of their local/regional efforts. But, if one newspaper (even a small or mid-size) one runs a release/story on their web site about your programs - then people searching for say "online MBA in Ohio" find mentions of your university in the news. Not to mention, this just gives your school/program that much more exposure in the "ecology" of the web as people share stories."
3. The peril of contacting people too often
  • "E-burnout via too many messages in your inbox and even on Facebook from the same person or organization (is a problem). In the three years we've been tracking our alumni email blasts and opens, we've lost about 6,000 subscribers because we could not segment the messages." 

4. Keep a personal, human to human, touch
  • "Don't hide behind computers/email/social media/video games. Stay personal. High touch still works. Watch out for high tech backlash."
5. How can we keep some control in a social media world?

  • "I've been on the lookout for tools which incorporate social media-like experiences into channels over which I have a little more control- not to the exclusion of Facebook, YouTube, etc., but in addition to. How can institutions capitalize on the familiarity and popularity of social media without forfeiting all control?"

First digital marketing tutorial: J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference

Look for more notes on digital marketing strategy in the future as the first version of the workshop takes shape. The debut is at the J.Boye Web and Intranet conference in Philadelphia, May 8-10.

New "Writing Right for the Web" Conference in May

The second 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" conference is happening May 24-25 in Atlanta. We'll explore in depth one key part of a digital marketing strategy: how to best present the content your audiences want on "traditional" websites and in the social media and mobile worlds.

Check the conference details and register to join us in May.

That's all for now. 

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Higher Education Tag Lines: Does your brand really need one?

A friend forwarded to me an RFP recently posted in a CASE listserv. Among a variety of marketing communication and research items included was development of a new "marketing tagline."

The RFP nicely set out the tagline dilemma: "We have not identified a marketing tagline that both resonates with our intended audience(s) and enjoys support from campus constituents."

Mission impossible? You'll easily find more than one marketing communications firm happy to take your money and guide you on your quest.

My personal opinion is that the time, energy, and resources spent developing tag lines far exceeds the marketing rewards reaped from them. Most higher education taglines don't say anything meaningful to potential students about the schools that use them. Exceptions exist, but not many.

After scanning the RFP, I filed the email away. Reading the April 18 Education Life quarterly supplement from The New York Times brought the RFP back to life. What, I wondered, were the taglines used in the print ads from various schools?

Play This Tagline Game

And so here is an invitation to play a game in two parts: 

    • Read the list below. Imagine what college or university (or even type of college or university) might fit behind the taglines. Then click on your favorites and see where you end up.
    • When you arrive at each home page, do an exercise in integrated marketing: see how long it takes you to find the tag line. Hint: sometime is it quite obvious, sometimes you won't find it at all.

Here are 8 taglines from the Sunday supplement.

 That's all for now 


Social Media Marketing... the new Mass Marketing Platform?

At the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education earlier this week, social media marketing was the hot topic at presentation after presentation. And there was strong interest in how to demonstrate "ROI" from the financial and human investment needed in this area.

ROI is a worthy topic to explore if the goal of social media marketing is to increase conversion in enrollment campaigns or to increase alumni giving rates.

But what if social media marketing isn't about immediate conversion results but general brand awareness? A story in today's Detroit Free Press positions social media as the next mass marketing vehicle. Ford Motor Company is enthusiastic about the results of a 6-month social media campaign to create pre-launch awareness of the 2010 Ford Fiesta, ready for sale next year.

60% Brand Awareness from Integrated Social Media Campaign

Ford gave 100 cars for 6 months to "mostly young, hip drivers" who were "savvy" with Facebook and Twitter and counted on them to ignite a fire of awareness. Read more about the program at the "Fiesta Movement" website. The results:

As a result of that activity, Ford has measured brand awareness by the public at 60 percent, a level that it projects would have cost more than $50 million in traditional media spending.

Impressive result. But not a car has yet been sold. If you only define ROI by sales results (or students enrolled or dollars raised), there is no direct "ROI" from a campaign like this. 

Note that Ford did one thing that is too often left out of budget-tight higher education branding campaigns: traditional market research that measures results after a campaign is over.

Creative Risk-Taking Needed

If higher education moves forward into social media as fast as ROI measurement allows, that move will not happen very quickly. We need creative risk taking, along with an understanding that measuring the exact impact of individual marketing elements on a final decision to enroll or donate (or buy a car) is not an easy thing. Some would say it is not possible.

What is clear is that we can measure the swirl of activity that does take place around a social media campaign. And we can do that better now than we could for traditional public relations and brand awareness campaigns back in ancient times. We can see and feel and hear the activity taking place. And that just might be all the ROI needed.

That's all for now.



You can't do any better than the Pew Internet & American Life Project research reports on how people are using the Internet. The most recent report on "Adults and Social Network Websites" was just released on 14 January.

After reading the report, some elements that seems to stand out for higher education marketers recruiting adult students and wondering how to best integrate social media into their recruitment communication plans.

  • 75% of adults 18-24 have social network profiles somewhere, as do 57% of adults from 25-34. Expect that last percent to grow steadily as some people age and others continue to join for the first time.
  • Participation falls off rapidly past age 34, declining to 30% for people 35-44 and less than 20% for anyone older than that.
  • As of last spring, MySpace was the place of choice for 50%, with Facebook at 22% and only 6% at LinkedIn.
  • Men and women participate at about equal rates.

Some possibly unexpected findings:

  • African-Americans (43%) and Hispanics (48%) participate at higher rates than Whites (31%).
  • Based on income, the participation rate is highest among families with annual incomes of less than $35,000.
  • Based on education, the participation rate is higher for people with less than a high school education (43%) than for those who have completed college (33%).

Twitter fans take note: the survey data is from spring and fall 2008, so it started well before the "boom" for Twitter. And the impressive growth rate for Twitter is based on a leap from a small beginning. LinkedIn still has far more users than Twitter.

Marketing notes from this report:

  • If you want to reach adults on the social networks, consider MySpace as well as Facebook. Demographics differ so this one depends in part on the profile of the person you are trying to enroll. According to a November report, Facebook has now passed MySpace in total users, but both are in the 14-15 million range.
  • MySpace users are more likely to be women, African-American and Hispanics without college degrees, while Facebok users are more likely men with college degrees.

Most adults use their social networks to stay in touch with the friends they already have. There's nothing in the Pew report about how open people are to advertising on the social network sites. Like any other form of advertising, done correctly you should expect good results.

LinkedIn is worth a special test to advertise to upwardly mobile young professionals looking for online degree opportunities. About 4 million people are using LinkedIn now and many if not most of them are very interested in advancing their careers.

My sense is that higher education marketers hold Facebook in higher regard than MySpace and thus don't pay quite as much attention to each as they should. Given the origins of Facebook, that's understandable. It might also be a marketing mistake. DIOSA Communications is one of the better places for frequent updates on both these sites and others as well.

That's it for now. Explore the Pew Report and you'll no doubt find more information of special value to your own adult recruitment plans.


Bob Johnson
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