Why marketing’s role must increase
Cost and value. Changing and declining demographic numbers on traditional students. Public trust. Today’s colleges and universities are facing more challenges than ever before. While they are not for-profit businesses, the stakes are still high. The changing dynamics mean higher education marketers will continue to square up against some of the same issues consumer marketers deal with.
That’s where the fun begins.
A recent CMO study by higher education research, marketing, and branding agency Simpson Scarborough shows that 75% of marketers say that their departments do not have the budget and resources needed to meet expectations of senior leadership. The other 25% are simply in denial. While marketers have more than enough work, the issue is that they do not have enough people, time, budget, space, autonomy, authority, consistency, trust, conviction and support to do that work correctly.
To meet those demands, Jason Simon says marketers must find ways to get projects done, oftentimes sacrificing quality, skipping vital QA/QC checks, spending unnecessary money on temporary help or incurring rush printing and shipping charges, and so on.
“You end up losing sleep at night because deep down you know you are settling for below-average work and allowing things to slip through the cracks,” says Simon, COO of Simpson Scarborough. “You and your department are capable of better work, but the current environment does not allow you to realize your potential.”
With more than 15 years of experience leading marketing efforts in the higher education sector, Simon has had an inside look at how the whole process works. Over the years, his expertise in brand strategy and positioning has helped launch ground-up efforts to build a case for marketing’s effectiveness in establishing brands and positioning strategies.
In today’s highly competitive landscape, one dominated by the continual growth in digital and social, Simon believes higher education marketers must up their games. “There is great competition among brands and everyone is competing by building strong customer experiences and loyalty,” Simon says. “It has never been a more exciting or challenging time to be a marketer.”
“There is great competition among brands and everyone is competing by building strong customer experiences and loyalty.”
— Jason Simon, Simpson Scarborough
That is an extremely important point when you look at how today’s marketers are angling for a seat at the C-Suite table. Jeffrey Hayzlett, founder and CEO of The Hayzlett Group, takes it one step further, saying the goal should be one every higher education marketer shoots for.
“The best companies are doing just that,” says Hayzlett, who also is chairman of C-Suite Network, home of one of the world’s most trusted network of C-Suite leaders. “Marketers recognize that in order to succeed, organizations need a wide array of voices and opinions at the table, which ensures everyone’s voices and contributions are heard.”
And while the final decision may fall to a university’s leadership team to make that decision, every department, especially marketing, must be empowered to take things to the edge of the table. “The role of the corner office is to make sure they don’t fall off the table or that things get too far,” Hayzlett says.
Pull up a chair
Having marketing represented with a seat at the C-Suite table in every institution is something Marc Lyncheski believes in wholeheartedly. In fact, he says giving senior marketing leadership a much-needed voice on the executive level would be a real drop-the-mic moment.
Why? Marketing must be a driving force behind the relentless pursuit of understanding when, where, why and how to communicate with the right audience, especially on the higher education level. “Now, more than ever, higher education institutions must lean on their marketing teams to gain a better understanding of how the current economic, political, social and cultural environments are affecting how customers think, feel and behave,” says Lyncheski, director of marketing at Laguna College of Art & Design.
“Now, more than ever, higher education institutions must lean on their marketing teams to gain a better understanding of how the current economic, political, social and cultural environments are affecting how customers think, feel and behave.”
—Marc Lyncheski, Laguna College of Art & Design
Simply put: Accounting departments interpret the numbers, legal departments interpret the laws, and marketing departments interpret the people. “It is our specialty, and we need to be given the reins to do it,” he says.
Lyncheski believes that building awareness, understanding, conviction, loyalty, and advocacy for their brands and institutions rests squarely with a university’s marketing arm. “Without senior representation at the table, a marketing team runs the risk of simply becoming an internal production house that serves various captains instead of leading an integrated, strategic, long-term approach.”
In the current and future higher education marketplace, there are certain trends that indicate that an already challenging environment is going to get even more challenging. The growing costs of education, the demands of repaying student loans, and the projected decrease of college-aged students down the road are going to make recruitment and retention efforts more difficult. It is here that marketers can step up and fill in the gaps.
That is why Simon recommends that higher education marketers start elevating their game plans now (See “9 Ways to Up Your Marketing Game”). “Get an early win,” he says. “Whether that’s a piece of insight or an innovative idea. It gives you the rope needed to be effective. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need to do the job. Expectations of marketing are big, but budgets are not. Spending a little only to lose that investment in the future because of incremental impact is a waste.”
“Marketers recognize that in order to succeed, organizations need a wide array of voices and opinions at the table, which ensures everyone’s voices and contributions are heard.”
— Jeffrey Hayzlett, The Hayzlett Group
9 ways to up your marketing game
- Become a data machine — Data has always been the language that higher education leaders understand. There is pressure now to come with a plan. By being the voice of the customer and having strong market research, marketers can really inform their leadership and boards to action.
- Lead with strategy, not with tactics — There is no magical website, email campaign or brochure that is going to directly affect the issues that are of concern to your leadership. Elevate the marketing conversation.
- Build bridges, not walls — Effective marketing leaders identify the areas of most importance to their schools and worry less about where the staff or resources lie and are able to become experts that are a magnet to others.
- Be both innovative and critical — It is important to try new things and take risks. But it is equally important to recognize when something is not working and move on.
- Be a Zen Master — The most influential tactics require patience, discipline, and the perfect balance of assertion and diplomacy.
- Dress the part — To be part of the C-suite, you will need to demonstrate that you represent the university’s ideals on every level, not just job performance.
- Exude confidence — In your communications with the C-Suite executives, stay focused on high-level messaging and do not get bogged down in the minutiae, unless it is absolutely necessary. Show them you can make efficient, strategic decisions and that you are thinking long-term.
- Be a problem-solver — Do not wait for others to initiate a project, and do not wait for permission. Coming to a manager or C-level exec with a solution instead of a problem makes their world easier and shows them that you can operate as a peer.
- Play nice — Build connections one conversation, one smile, one accomplishment at a time. This approach takes time and patience, but it can gradually convert that top-down structure into a peer-to-peer dynamic with mutual levels of respect.
Source: Jason Simon, COO, Simpson Scarborough; Marc Lyncheski, Director of Marketing, Laguna College of Art & Design