Posts Tagged marketing

Practice what you teach: The $4.8 million case for centralizing university marketing

Doing marketing and PR within higher education is among the most complicated jobs imaginable. I tell my former colleagues working in consumer or corporate positions that it’s a lot like 10,000 of your customers living together in your company’s building and their parents live around the corner.

The crisis and contingency planning in university PR alone eats up the best of us. The worst-case scenario in my former corporate PR jobs was that the stock price drops a few points. The worst-case scenario in university PR is enacting the active shooter plan and figuring out who calls the FBI, when to reach out to parents and staying behind to deal with CNN while everyone else is evacuated. I used to think the only difference was the stock options.

The recruitment marketing side of things aren’t that dire, but it’s no less daunting from a channel and content perspective. Your target audience is a teenager living a busy high school life while planning an adult life and career. Their influencers are parents, friends, guidance counselors and aspirational people (real and fictional) in the world at large – experienced through countless media platforms. Factor in the 12 to 18 month sales cycle during the prospect’s most formative years and you have a job wrapped in a riddle.

Thirty years ago when I was 16, universities had to coordinate two primary media: print and broadcast. Within those there was owned (school collateral sent snail mail), earned (media placements) and probably TV advertising. (If you were lucky your school had a Division 1 team and got on national TV once in a while.)

Today, the recruitment marketing funnel looks like this with the many touch points and channels across the top.

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Assuming you can master each of these channels, getting your content to look and feel the same in a print catalog, your web site, paid promotion on Facebook, search on Google, email marketing and signage during an event is no small feat. Success is a function of organizational design and having a centralized department directing all of these channels and the content that flows through them.

The fly in the ointment for many universities is mobile – the most important medium of this generation of high school students. According to Chegg 81% of todays teens have visited a college web site for admissions information using a mobile device. Unfortunately, according to Noel Levitz, only about half of colleges have a responsive web site.

Imagine if only half of all college admissions buildings had a door.

Clearly, there are huge gaps and inefficiencies in this marketing model and it shines some light on why 4-year private colleges spend a median of $2,433 to recruit a single student – that’s $4.8 million for a freshman class of 2,000 students. This fall, 18.1 million new undergraduate students arrived on campuses in the United States.

Do the math.

Integrating all of these channels with an emphasis on mobile can drive these costs down, streamline processes and avoid the dreaded 15th email to the same prospect from three different departments at the same university. But getting your story coordinated internally is just part of it. Mapping it to the new careers-first logic being applied to college research is the last and most important mile.

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@wiltanger Tweets about her daughter’s college research approach.

Not too long ago we went to college to figure it all out. You marketed a school as a place to be because it was enough to get there to find yourself and come out as a “college man.” Now, students go through college. It is a means to a vocational end for the affluent, middle class and lower class. The wealthy want to stay that way and the rest of us want a bigger piece of the action so the search begins with a career path and ends with the educational solution that gets them there.

Leaning into this vocational positioning for most universities is hugely problematic. It goes against generations of selling the self-realization destination and social status that comes with college. And, more practically, staying on the high ground above the University of Phoenix. The good news is all of these new channels for reaching prospective students (mobile, search marketing, social media) are perfect platforms to engage in the discussion about career outcomes. It just takes planning and execution against a single strategy.

Channel coordination and consistent positioning is something every business and organization faces as it grows. Universities should know this better than anyone. Because many of their schools actually teach those lessons of integrated marketing communications within their degree programs every day.

No university in the world grants degrees in silo-based marketing, but plenty of them practice it.

– Jose Mallabo

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Updated: 7 (not 6) lessons higher education has taught me about marketing for Millenials

There’s been more research done to study Millenials than any other generation of American consumers. I’ve read my share of the studies, but the greatest lessons I’ve learned have been on the job at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) as senior vice president of marketing and PR.

Here are my top 6 lessons (so far):

1.  Be nimble.  Before I made the move to higher education I co-founded a fashion and lifestyle startup built on the Twitter platform targeting early adopter Millenials. As we were releasing our second product the core of our targeted consumer was still very much in love with Facebook and flat out dissed Twitter. Four or five months later, after I had taken over marketing at SCAD, that all changed very dramatically. Teenagers and young adults started leaving the suddenly parent heavy Facebook for the easier and more mobile friendly Twitter world. These platform shifts will continue to happen so pay attention and organize your teams to be able to react to major media consumption shifts like this.

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2.  Have a point of view.  Perhaps this is part of my personal opinion mixed in with the lessons this job has taught me but as the research has suggested Millenials have a more global view of social, political and financial issues than generations that preceded them as teenagers and young adults. More than anything they have a point of view about issues small and large that my generation simply didn’t start thinking about until much later in life. Trying to get your brand’s point of view in agreement with that of this generation would be a mistake. However, appearing to be neutral is a bigger mistake. It shows your company has no conviction and hints that perhaps your organization hasn’t bothered to give it any thought — which makes you neutral. In this very noisy, always on world neutral is invisible.

3.  Account for family influencers.  Remember that these are young adults who still rely on parents and other family members to make big decisions. This is especially true for making decisions about big-ticket items like college. The consideration to go to college runs very broadly into familial networks (i.e. legacy, heritage and location) but very specifically to mom. The lesson for college and non-college marketers alike is that when targeting Millenials you must address the conversation they will be having with parents and others in the family. Build a relationship with that influencer through the medium or channel of their choice – which will not be the same channel. See my note about Twitter and Facebook above.

4.  Test your message.  Millenials are nothing if not professional multi-taskers especially when it comes to media consumption. Gaming. Social media. Music. YouTube. Text messages. Chats. Email. All are used on multiple devices at a pace that makes us old farts rather dizzy. If your message is not on target immediately it is ignored. Unlike my generation (who disdained advertising and marketing as a rule) Millenials actually like to interact with great marketing but your message and content has to be framed within a worldview they already have. This is true for every consumer, but more so for the generation who has grown up with the unsubscribe button at their fingertips right out of the womb.

5.  Email is not dead.  Coming into my position at SCAD, I thought that email was irrelevant to our targeted consumer compared to search engine marketing, social media and PR. I was as wrong as acid wash jeans outside of a truck stop. Email can play a critical role in your communications strategy and media mix, but it has to be integrated with other content on social and the web. In my opinion, email to Millenials is something you introduce well after they’ve started to engage with your brand. It cannot stand on its own and less is definitely more. For people over 40 spam is annoying but tolerated. To Millenials SPAM is the devil burning Styrofoam cups on their iPhone. A few months ago, my team launched an email campaign (tied to other content) to an already used list of teenagers and we increased click through rates 383% and click to open rates by 502% from one campaign to the next — using the same list. We were very selective about the messaging, creative and time of delivery. It can be done. (See the before and after.)

6.  Print publications are (almost) dead.  I am writing this in a hip coffee shop where I am easily the oldest customer; and I just did a lap around the room. Not a single Millenial has the print edition of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times (or any print publication for that matter) open. As a 46-year-old who started my career in a New York PR agency, I love the feel of the New York Times in my hands. It makes me feel like a better person just clutching it let alone acting like I’m reading it in public. But I’m not my target audience, they are. So when it comes to launching an integrated PR/marketing campaign for Millenials save that earned print media push for their parents.

7.  Understand a 15 year old’s motivations.  Sophomores and juniors aspire to a lifestyle supported by a career and the money that comes with it. Your college is a way to get there, not a destination. Remember that when you’re drafting an email or copy for your web site — they don’t care about what it’s like to get there, they want to know what you can do to help them achieve their career goals. And despite the outcry and media headlines, money is no object. Families are more than willing to foot the bill to get their posterity on a career path.

Other stuff to read.  Other than this brilliant post, if you’re going to do some reading about marketing for Millenials pick up “Chasing Youth Culture and Getting it Right” by Tina Wells. It is far more than a primer on the subject but really expounds on the many issues identified above and in more white paper like research about this generation of consumers. I pick it up and re-read chapters just as I do with “The Tipping Point” or “Positioning” before I build a campaign.

– Jose Mallabo

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Does talent matter?

Does talent matter? Of course it does. But how that talent is deployed within an organizational design matters more.

Every day and nine times on Sunday you pick Michael Jordan first (sorry Hakeem and Sam) for kickball, basketball or whatever because talent is talent and like every coach or manager in the world would say you can’t coach talent. People have it or they don’t.

Most of us lead highly matrixed (particularly in PR and marketing) teams so I would never argue with the virtue to hire the smartest, most talented people you can find. But it won’t matter if you can’t put those people into a system that makes the most of that talent at scale and over time.

It took Michael Jordan seven seasons (and a banged up Lakers team) to win his first NBA Championship. It took getting him into the vaunted triangle offense and building a supporting cast of characters around him for him to became the greatest basketball player ever. Without that triangle offense (what we office workers would call organizational design) Michael Jordan, dare I say, may have become the Dr. J of his time: great talent, amazing jumping ability and bring-the-house-down dunks but not the greatest ever.

In public relations and marketing, how you organize talent matters immensely because of the need for scale, repetition and consistency every day. No one thinks of it, but PR is closer to operating like finance than you think. Just like finance with its need to consistently report the same figures across multiple channels, PR and marketing programs and messages must be repeated consistently plus the added degree of difficulty in localizing those programs at a consumer level all around the world. It would be like the CFO having to report earnings or a Form 10-K simultaneously in multiple languages, media and channels in Asia, Europe and North America everyday.

That’s today’s marketing.

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The only way to ensure that is an organizational design that allows your people to focus on executing programs instead of wasting time with administration or office politics that are typical of lower functioning companies. Michael Jordan wouldn’t be the legend he is now if he spent his career worrying about where his teammates should be standing when the ball was in play or if Scottie Pippen was upset about the email exchange from earlier in the day. The triangle offense and great personnel management took care of that and allowed Jordan to be much more than his God-given talent.

Unless you are Bruce Almighty’s boss, you can’t control for how many uber talented people were born in 1975 and are now in the job market. But you can control for where you put those people once you find them.

When I got to LinkedIn to run international corporate communications, there were essentially two PR teams: the one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. (which served as the hub for PR agency teams in 6 European countries). The two were loosely tied but served different agendas. After opening and launching offices in India and Australia I set to organize the international PR functions into a single group that worked in concert with the U.S.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t about staffing at all.

PR in Europe was being led by two incredibly hard working and sharp people – who spent a big chunk of their time managing and administering 6 different PR firms in 6 different countries. The rest of their time was spent managing internal teams in London and reporting into Mountain View. Not enough time was being spent on executing actual strategies and programs in each of these countries that drove member growth and engagement with the product. 

We reorganized the internal and agency structure to allow them all to execute on market and customer facing programs and less time reporting to each other. Instead of my internal team serving as the administrative hub in London to each of 6 agencies operating in each of the 6 countries, we moved to a single agency (5 less invoices, contracts, weekly calls and monthly reports) with the hub relocated to Spain. And, in this new model the agency served as hub (not my internal staff) and was comprised of a multicultural and multilingual team that could execute media relations and content campaigns from central Europe into each of the 6 countries. It allowed my remaining internal PR staffer to have a single point of contact on the agency team, which freed up his time to coordinate strategic direction with LinkedIn leadership in London and Mountain View.

I can’t tell you how much money we saved, but that happened, too.

– Jose Mallabo

 

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