Posted: March 2, 2015
Last week, during the first major snowfall of 2015, I had the opportunity to escape Raleigh’s icy roads and travel to sunny Orlando for the CASE III Annual Conference. It’s always encouraging to attend a variety of presentations and see what challenges other marketers are facing across the higher ed landscape and the positive impact of new and creative solutions.
At this year’s conference, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the busiest sessions from the Marketing Track were focused on how to centralize the creation of a cohesive strategy with input from across campus but then decentralize the execution of marketing initiatives. In other words, how to own and champion a vision while motivating others to help you do the work.
In our experience, we’ve found that marketing across campus is almost always executed through a combination of centralized and decentralized resources. The challenge here is creating an effective structure of resources that still allows for and supports a unified message and strategic marketing execution across campus.
We delivered a two part presentation series at CASE III this year about the steps in building a truly integrated marketing approach. We thought it would be useful to share a few takeaways here for anyone who wasn’t able to attend our presentation. We believe that an integrated marketing approach offers an effective solution for higher education. A focus on goal setting and strategic decision making ensures that marketing execution across all contributors is consistent, efficient and achieves results.
The Spectrum of Centralized to Decentralized
Before we got too far into this, let’s make sure we’re all speaking the same language.
Centralized marketing means that one team has control over all marketing operations. This team can direct units that contribute content (colleges, schools, departments, etc.), but ultimately has final approval on what is published and distributed. This method is great for producing marketing content that is consistent and meets predetermined standards. However, when your marketing team is small and extremely busy (which is almost always the case in higher ed), this also means that it can take weeks, even months to get new material approved and posted, making it difficult to produce relevant and timely content.
Decentralized marketing means that marketing operations are determined by the individual units at your institution. Each unit has the autonomy to do what they feel is needed to accomplish their goals. This can allow for quicker content generation because there are fewer levels of approval before the content is published. Also, subject matter experts are creating content as opposed to asking someone else to publish for them. While this means that content will sometimes be accurate and informative, it may not be the most engaging for users. This approach often results in inconsistent messaging across an institution.
The Integrated Approach
An Integrated Marketing Plan is a strategic approach to prioritizing your marketing efforts based on your institutional goals. The first step is gaining campus-wide consensus on those goals. Building consensus early on is key to ensuring that all units are committed to the integrated approach and will support this unified marketing effort.
The first step in the process is to really understand your audience. Your target audiences (prospective students, current students, staff, faculty, alumni, etc.) should align with the already established goals of your institution. We suggest creating personas for your most critical audiences that can be referenced throughout the strategy and execution of your marketing plan. When writing personas, make sure to include each persona’s behaviors, goals, attitudes, motivators, skill sets and demographic information.
Integrated Marketing Strategy
Next, you’ll create high-level strategies that inform the creation of your final marketing plan. It helps to complete a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to determine what strategies will be most effective for your school.
Once you’ve gained agreement on the high level strategies, you’ll want to consider the engagement process for each of your target audiences. Consider things like how prospective students learn about your institution, where they go for more information and what are the biggest factors in their decision to apply. For an alumni audience, you’ll want to consider how they maintain contact with the school and what motivates them to contribute and stay involved.
Engagement process mapping is a great way to brainstorm types of content and best ways to reach a specific persona as they move through the engagement cycle. This cycle can be applied to each of your marketing goals from enrollment to giving. A clear understanding of the engagement process for each of your audiences will inform what tactics are worth the investment.
Finally, it’s time to build your plan. The plan will serve as a master timeline for everyone involved. It details out what tactics will be used, when content needs to be created and published, as well as the budget for each initiative. Having a plan that incorporates units across campus will help ensure that all marketing efforts are working together to be as efficient and effective as possible.
There’s a lot that goes into creating an effective integrated marketing strategy and plan. This is a new approach for many institutions and will likely involve a cultural change to gain consensus and support from everyone involved. We’ve found with our clients that establishing specific task forces or committees are necessary to ensure you get campus wide input into your marketing strategies but also critical to building advocacy through education and communication across your entire institution.
If you missed our presentations at CASE III and want to find out more, download the PDF to review the sides. If you have questions or want to talk through the information, feel free to contact us. We’d love to hear about your experiences and challenges.