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Adjusting to the Technology Empowered Consumer and Student

November 1, 2009

Late at night last July, I was with my Millennial son when he stopped at a gas station to fill up. As he got out of his car, a supposedly down on his luck stranger approached him and asked for some money for gas. Deciding to pump a couple of gallons of gas in the guy’s car, he put his ATM/credit card into the gas pump. But nothing happened. He then gave him a couple of bucks, but the guy looked suspicious and wasn’t either pumping the gas or leaving the station.

Concerned that his credit card may be vulnerable, I watched my son, in about 5 minutes time, use his BlackBerry to go online with his bank, transfer all money out of vulnerable accounts, cancel the card and order a new one. It was amazing to watch him do all of that so quickly. It was fascinating to watch a digital native at work.

Fast forward to the World Series. After instant replay had exposed terrible performances by Major League Baseball umpires during the playoffs, technology again points out glaring mistakes by umpires in the World Series. Asked about implementing instant replay to correct mistakes, Commissioner Bud Selig, says, “Yes, we had some incidents that certainly need to be looked at…But do I believe in instant replay? No, I do not. Human Error is part of our sport.”

Blown Call

Umpire calls runner safe

Amazing. While this statement could have been stated 30 or 40 years ago without controversy, it’s simply an unacceptable statement today. And the audience baseball isn’t reaching–the under-35 market–isn’t buying it. It may sound right to Selig, but it doesn’t ring true for any brand in today’s market–you’re not going to get it right when you have the ability to do so?

It’s not just that those umpiring mistakes become viral, it’s that the world is different now. We are changing. Or more accurately said, those of us who are not digital natives are changing. Digital natives aren’t changing. They are by definition, connected.

While Selig and others may see technology as an add-on to life as usual, technology is becoming a way of life. It is changing how life is experienced.

What’s this mean for marketing higher education?

1. It is the chief marketing officer’s role in leading his/her team to educate the president, administrative colleagues, and faculty leadership on how and how much technology is changing people and the marketing environment.

2. Colleges and Universities should be ahead of the curve with addressing the significant changes to the marketing environment because of how they’re already set up to manage consumers, constituencies and communities. Marketing leaders just have to understand the changes and implement strategies to address them.

3. Your primary consumers–your students–are on mobile devices constantly. What do they see when they visit your website? Your marketing plan needs to include a mobile strategy, beginning with adapting your website for mobile devices. Your students and prospective students shouldn’t have to go online with their Mac or PC in order to navigate your site.

All of us make mistakes, just like major league umpires. But when you’re responsible for marketing strategy for your college or university, don’t pull a Bud Selig and underestimate the significant sea changes happening in the marketing environment that impact your ability to connect with your students, constituents and communities.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2009 2:17 PM

    Love this post. Came at just the right time for me.

    • Rick Hardy permalink
      November 2, 2009 9:30 PM

      Glad it did. Thanks, Tara.

  2. November 2, 2009 7:46 PM


    Great post – and love the connection to the World Series! I think we are experiencing the Tipping Point taking effect when it comes to technology, and there is no way to fight effectively against this wave. Trying to educate clients to recognize they are NOT (in most cases) digital natives, and to help them see things from a different perspective is part of my daily mission.

    I was thinking the other day about those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that were big hits when I was a kid. In a way – they were like an early version of what we experience today. It was amazing to read a book and feel that you were in control of how the story would unfold, and of the final outcome. Today, digital natives expect this kind of control with everything. Much like your son who quickly took control of a situation and remedied it using nothing more than his Blackberry, today’s students are actively engaging with technology and expect it to do what it should.

    If you aren’t paying close attention to the expectations of your audience (no matter what you personally think about the good old days of marketing and the beauty of human error in the game) you will be left in the settling dust of an empty stadium – with the new game in town being played somewhere else.

    • Rick Hardy permalink
      November 2, 2009 9:29 PM

      So well stated, Tracey. Yes, we are in a transition period, trying to get non-digital natives to get it. Because you’re right. There’s no turning back. And it will leave some in the dust if they don’t adapt to this new game that is being played somewhere else, as you so eloquently said. Thanks for your comments.

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