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Marketing. It’s More than Promotion.

April 8, 2009

Let’s define what I mean when I speak about “marketing.”  When most people use the term, they use it as a synonym for advertising and publications and the sort.  But those are promotional strategies. So, let’s get it straight.

The American Marketing Association in 2007 defined marketing:

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

Marketing higher education is clearly about the product and products of an institution of higher education, as well as how to communicate the values and benefits of the institution and its programs to students, parents, donors, alumni, community leaders, vendors, partners, the society at large, etc.

But what’s the big deal? Well, how one defines and uses the term, “marketing,” tells you a lot about how they view the role of marketing on a campus. If leadership at a college or university only use “marketing” to refer to advertising and promotion, it’ll tell you a lot about how integrated their chief marketing officer is in the business of the institution. Not much.

Well then, what business should marketing be about on a college campus?

Traditional marketing theory focused its research on the three C’s, now the five C’s: customer analysis, company analysis, collaborator analysis, competitor analysis, and context analysis; and focused the marketing plan on the four P’s: product management, pricing, place, and promotion.

Now, the four P’s are being pushed out of the picture by marketing professionals in favor of theories such as this one that favors a set of five C’s in the blog, Recognition Marketing: Consumers, Context, Convenience, Convergence, and Community. Other authors propose a different set of C’s. This shift to the C’s here and elsewhere is to emphasize the importance of the customer and the market.

I prefer to stick with the four P’s in a university setting. It’s sort of a measuring stick. A chief marketing officer should be involved collaboratively with faculty leadership with academic programming; should be integrally involved with the CFO and President’s Cabinet with tuition-setting (at private universities); should have a voice on academic delivery system selection; and of course, should lead the development of promotional strategies.

The problem is everyone thinks that they know marketing. I am reminded of what a screenwriter once said about the lack of respect on a film set for the screenwriter. He griped that no one attempts to move the lights, take over the camera work, etc, because they don’t know how to do those things. But everyone is familiar with words, and just about everyone thinks that they can revise a screenplay on the set.

To me, that’s how a chief marketing/enrollment officer is sometimes treated on a university campus; particularly on a small campus where senior administrative officers must bear multiple roles. The academic house launches new programs, tuition is set by the CFO alone, and individual schools or departments set their own branding identity. I’ve seen it on too many campuses after talking to colleagues nationwide. The end result is a disjointed approach to the market.

Bottom-line starting point for a chief marketing/enrollment officer? Marketing plans—both overall and for academic programs–that cover the four P’s, based on and inspired by all the necessary and illuminating research on customers and market; and the interpersonal skills necessary to develop key relationships with senior administrative colleagues and faculty leadership to advocate for such plans, and their involvement with them.

More posts on marketing plans:

Planning for Changes in the Market

The Marketing Plan. Navigating Your Way.


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2009 1:14 PM

    Very interesting, although I think that adding another “P” for position is worthwhile. A positioning statement helps you understand your position in the marketplace and provides clarity to your marketing messages.

    In addition, having agreement across university departments on a positioning statement means that you have buy in from all stakeholders – hopefully adding some cohesiveness to communications that may come from multiple sources.

  2. Rick Hardy permalink
    June 4, 2009 1:28 PM

    Thanks, Arne. I agree with the additional “P.” It should be a part of your marketing plan. Positioning is also a part of your branding process that includes your message statements. Buy-in from departments from across campus is a must, but as you may know, it’s a challenging thing to do in a higher education setting where management is not strictly top-down. But it’s a must for a cohesive marketing and branding effort, as you’ve said.

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