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Building Marketing Strategies–All of them

September 6, 2010

Concordia University Irvine

This is my 50th post for the Building Marketing Strategies for Higher Education blog. Writing the blog stirred in me a desire to return to campus life where I could again lead a brand and put into play my ideas about marketing higher education.

Just last month, I landed a wonderful job for me professionally and personally at Concordia University Irvine, a thoughtful academic community committed to its historic mission and looking to further expand its enrollment, but still needing to know more about its brand.

So it seems to me that it’s a perfect time to set the table again and define what it is when I talk about building marketing strategies for higher education. The following is an update of a blog post from April, 2009. Much has happened since that point in the world of marketing-not the least of which is an evolving acceptance of a fifth “P” of marketing.

Building Marketing Strategies–All of Them

So to begin, 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, 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.

What is clear about this definition is that marketing is a comprehensive process. 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, prospective students, parents, donors, alumni, community leaders, vendors, 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 has focused the marketing plan on the four P’s: product management, pricing, place, and promotion.

In marketing higher education, these four P’s play a huge role in marketing an institution whether administrators, faculty and staff are aware of it or not:

  • Product Management – academic products that appeal to market segments
  • Pricing – tuition and fees that impact the institution’s brand and market position
  • Place – traditional and non-traditional delivery systems that make academic programs accessible
  • Promotion – a mix of traditional recruitment/PR/fundraising techniques and search/social media tactics

Now, it’s increasingly being recognized that there is a fifth P of marketing: People. With the emergence of new media and technology-empowered consumers, organizations must now have a people strategy as a part of their marketing plan. PR now more than ever stands for People Relations, and a new role has been emerging in marketing and public relations: the community manager.

Although there are other models that represent marketing, I prefer to stick with the five 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 and new program development
  • integrally involved with the CFO and senior leadership with tuition-setting (at private universities)
  • involved with academic delivery system selection
  • orchestrating the strategic use of promotional strategies
  • shifting the university to view PR as People Relations, viewing social media as a strategic way to influence the influencers

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. The academic house launches new programs, tuition is set by the CFO alone, and individual schools or departments set their own branding identity. They all know best. I’ve seen it on too many campuses. The end result is a disjointed approach to the market.

Well, that’s not the formula for a marketing program that will effectively advance the institution’s mission and strategically position its brand in a very competitive market. What is needed is a comprehensive approach to marketing.

A comprehensive marketing program:

  • begins with an understanding of the institution’s brand and mission
  • is executed from thoughtful data-informed marketing plans covering the five P’s
  • requires strong marketing and enrollment management leadership that have the interpersonal skills necessary to develop key collaborative relationships with administrative colleagues and faculty leadership

It is not an easy process. We are talking about a wonderful but politically complicated university campus. But it is the only way to build a lasting and strategically effective marketing program that will help a university navigate the very challenging waters ahead for higher education.

More posts on marketing plans:

Planning for Changes in the Market

The Marketing Plan. Navigating Your Way.

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