Integrated Marketing: Higher Ed Marketing 101

Posted: March 28, 2018

Diane Kuehn Founder & CEO

Integrated marketing is one of those trendy terms that people throw around because it seems to be a hot topic; but in reality, they may not fully understand what it means or how to go about implementing an integrated marketing strategy for their own organization. 

We recently wrote a blog post about strategies vs. tactics and how these terms are incorrectly used, or worse, completely misunderstood. They are terms that gain a lot of traction in popular content but sometimes are so haphazardly employed that they become mere buzzwords rather than actual distinct concepts that have a tremendous impact on the success of any marketing plan. 

Integrated marketing has become one of those hot topic buzzwords. Similar to taking a holistic approach to maintaining good health, marketers like to talk about integrated marketing as a holistic approach to marketing. Do it, we say. It’s good for you.

Integrated marketing is good and it may be hot, but it’s not a new invention. Perhaps it didn’t have the word “integrated” attached to the concept, but even in the olden days (i.e., 20 years ago?!), marketers aimed for creating cohesive and comprehensive messaging for brands. It was perhaps a little easier when all you had to worry about was coordinating your creative and messaging across print and maybe a couple of broadcast channels. Today, it’s a completely different scenario.

The new landscape

Within the past few years alone, the explosion of social and search platforms has made an integrated approach to marketing both imperative and way more complicated than it used to be. One-way communication channels between brand and audience have morphed into interactive and immersive experiences where your audience can interact with your brand or messaging on a 24/7 cycle, and with a host of devices and channels from which to choose. 

Seemingly overnight, new digital channels are popping up, while the old standbys keep changing the rules. (Hello, Google surprise algorithmic changes and Pages-killing organic Facebook changes?) Keeping up with the Joneses in marketing terms now means keeping up with them in print, on video, in AI, AR, VR, social ads, organic search, email marketing, blogs, whitepapers, case studies, infographics, online quizzes, Pinterest boards, webinars, podcasts, and Snapchat stories — to name just a few. We have an entirely new marketing vocabulary to master. The need to be “holistic” across this multitude of channels understandably leaves many brands desperate for help.

What is Integrated Marketing Anyway?

What does integrated marketing mean in today’s world? Now, it’s all about experience. Integrated marketing is giving your audience a consistent and seamless experience every time they engage with your brand — across every touch point and across every channel.

What does that mean, exactly? Put it like this: integrated marketing keeps your brand from suffering a multiple personality disorder, something that is easy to succumb to in our fast-paced, multi-channel, multi-device digital world.

Let’s face it, if you are engaging in higher ed marketing of any kind, a big chunk of your audience is likely composed of multitasking, search-engine-proficient pros. And most of them are a lot younger than you are.

As any parent of a typical, prospective college student will tell you: marketers, you’ve got your job cut out for you. Your audience is savvy, online, and searching for you — while they are doing their homework, filling out a college application, watching one of your YouTube videos, listening to Spotify, looking for financial aid information and opening your website in the 20th tab of their browser window, texting friends, checking out your school’s Instagram to see if it passes muster, reading a blog story about campus activities that was linked to from an email, signing up for one of your events on Facebook, and posting anxious questions in college-comparison online forums. Oh, and did I mention this is all taking place around 11:00 p.m.? And all at the same time? 

Integrated marketing is giving your audience a consistent and seamless experience every time they engage with your brand - across every touch point and across every channel.

Find Your Audience and Be There

The moral of the story is: you better be where your audience is. And you better look good everywhere they look for you, and you better give them the information they need, when they want it. Integrated marketing can help you deliver that.

As an agency specializing in higher ed marketing, our job is to make sure that our clients’ branding and messaging are firing on all cylinders — simultaneously —  and doing so harmoniously. Integrated marketing means ensuring the branding a student engages with on Facebook or Instagram is carrying through to the content the brand incorporates on their website, in videos, or on paid social ads. If marketing strategies are disjointed — an old logo here, a rogue department website there — it ends up as just a lot of dissonant promotional noise. But, when you take an integrated approach to marketing, then you have the makings of a brand symphony.

How Does Integrated Marketing Work?

VisionPoint has been in higher ed marketing for a long time, and we listen to and speak with many community colleges and four-year colleges and universities every day. One of the things we hear the most is: We need help with integrated marketing. We understand. 

It’s not as if schools are making their marketing deliberately disjointed; it’s more that successful integrated marketing is not easy; educational institutions often lack the organizational structure, know-how, and resources to do it well — or at all — on their own. That’s normal. The job of these institutions is to educate. Our job is to use our expertise to help them implement integrated marketing that achieves their organizational goals and reaches the audiences they want to engage with.

It’s No Mystery: It’s All About Goals, Strategy and Engagement

When you take an integrated approach to marketing you act and build upon a goal-driven, strategic marketing plan; one that communicates clear and compelling messages across multiple channels in order to move your audiences through an engagement process and toward a final conversion.

If that still sounds like a mouthful, let’s unpack that definition a bit. Effective integrated marketing is:

  • Goal-Driven: Marketing for marketing’s sake is a poor waste of resources. Every strategic and tactical choice across channels should be focused on achieving specific, measurable goals.
  • Strategic: Decisions should be based on an honest assessment of your institution, its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). Greater knowledge leads to better decision-making.
  • Clear and Compelling in Its Messaging: In all of your marketing execution, what you’re saying should be not only consistent but rooted in your institution’s brand promise and written in such a way that it motivates your audience to take action.
  • Multi-Channel: Your audience is not sitting still in just one place at one time. Integrated marketing is not about how to use any one channel. It’s about how to use a selection of the right channels to work together to achieve your goals.
  • Engaging: This means engaging not just in terms of being interesting but in terms of actually building relationships with your audience and nurturing them through an engagement funnel. The aim, ultimately, is motivating them to take some sort of action. 

Integrated Marketing Is “Good” for You

Sure, integrated marketing is key to the all-important conversion, the thing you want your audience to do, whether that’s apply, enroll, donate to your alumni fund, or just become aware of your existence on the competitive landscape. But it also offers a number of other benefits for higher ed institutions. 

For one thing, taking an integrated approach makes marketing accountable in that it sets specific, measurable business goals to achieve. In doing so, it maximizes both efficiency and marketing ROI. This allows for more strategic, data-driven allocation of resources into marketing channels that yield the best return toward an institution’s goals.

Integrated marketing is here to stay. And that’s a good thing when you want a lot less disjointed noise and a lot more symphony.

VisionPoint Marketing has deep experience in developing comprehensive integrated marketing plans for higher education institutions. If you have questions or want to start a conversation about how we can help, please visit our website or reach out to our team. We’re always eager to help higher ed institutions succeed.