Published on 2018/05/23

How Higher Ed Marketers Can Learn From the Corporate World... and Where We’re Already Ahead

The EvoLLLution | How Higher Ed Marketers Can Learn From the Corporate World… and Where We’re Already Ahead
While there are some significant differences between marketing in the corporate world and in the higher education space, the similarities between the two are robust and the lessons postsecondary marketers can learn are numerous.

Having worked at a startup, a mid-sized company, a corporation, and now in higher education, I have a unique perspective on how marketers—and management teams more broadly—work across these different spaces. To be honest, there are more similarities than differences, but there are still a few valuable lessons higher ed marketers can learn from the corporate world.

The Differences

My experience is that there are significant differences in the approach to project management of marketing campaigns across the different industries.

At startups and mid-sized businesses, we used agile project management—scrums, sprints, and scope creep were a big part of my lexicon in those days, and the marketing team’s priorities were almost always aligned with (and sometimes beholden to) what the engineering team was working on. We primarily used issue-based project management software like Jira and Confluence to track the team’s deliverables and due dates.

In higher education, even working at a tech-savvy online school, I have found that the relationship between our technical team and marketing team is more fluid and less codependent, which has been a breath of fresh air for me. To manage marketing campaigns, we’ve adopted helpful project management tools that work well for creative folks, like Asana and Slack. Our approach to project management can be best summed up as, “Don’t let process get in the way of progress” and “Progress, not perfection.” That’s not to say that other project management methodologies are not valuable, though! I think finding what works best for your team takes time and patience, and there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach for higher education institutions.

Another key differentiator between marketing in the corporate world versus higher education is the comfort level in taking risks and being experimental with marketing tactics. At Berklee Online, we frequently look outside the world of academia to model our tech stack, programs, website, and marketing messaging on innovative consumer-based companies (i.e. the corporate world). Our approach to marketing automation, customer relationship management, and eCommerce are all forward-thinking because of this.

The Similarities

In higher education, the marketing channels by which we communicate with prospective students are nearly identical to the channels I used to reach prospective customers when working in the corporate world. Paid search, landing pages with lead acquisition forms, social media, email, PR, and so on and so forth—all of these channels, plus a focus on trackable marketing tactics, have been a mainstay throughout my career regardless of the industry or size of the company.

Additionally, and most importantly, I’ve been fortunate to work with incredibly talented and smart marketers over the years, and working in higher education is no exception. Before I transitioned from marketing at a startup to marketing at a college, I had some preconceived notions about the new work culture I was about to walk into. I had mild anxiety that the pace might end up being too slow, too bureaucratic, or too “traditional” for my liking. Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong! The marketing team I work with now has accomplished things that were pipe dreams at some of my previous companies—I’m especially proud of the robust, intelligent marketing automation campaigns that we’ve set up in Marketo, and how we’re currently using sophisticated CRM and data analysis tools (Salesforce, Tableau) to better segment and target our audiences with marketing.

The motivation and drive to always do things better is something that I think marketers in any industry or company have in common.

Three Lessons Higher Ed Marketers Can Learn from the Corporate World

Looking at both spaces, and reflecting on the similarities and differences, I have three central lessons and best practices from the corporate world that I think could be of benefit to higher ed marketers:

1. Take the time to find and refine the project management approach that works for your team. Generally I recommend something that falls somewhere between an Excel spreadsheet and a more structured methodology like Agile. Marketing campaigns have a ton of deliverables, and knowing who is accountable is key. Which leads me to my next point…

2. Corporate-inspired work strategies (in the form of an acronym, no less) can be useful. For example, I learned about the RACI matrix when I worked at a mid-size company that was about to be acquired. Especially during times of uncertainty and change, organizing your team’s work around the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrix can be an incredibly helpful tool for making sure your team is aligned and working efficiently toward completing marketing deliverables.

3. Focus your spend on trackable marketing endeavors. In general, I think many colleges and universities continue to rely heavily on traditional print media, with little clarity around whether or not their efforts are producing results. Our marketing team still utilizes print to a small extent, but a vast majority of our marketing budget is spent on digital campaigns that we can track through the funnel from prospect to matriculant. Building a database of permission-based contacts also has a much longer marketing shelf-life than a print ad—we consistently and automatically communicate with hundreds of thousands of leads on a regular basis, which we find to be far more impactful than a single-touch print piece.

How We Market to Our Diverse Audience at Berklee College of Music

Berklee consists of five enrollment divisions, ranging from summer programs for young high-schoolers, to campus-based undergraduate programs for music, dance and theater, to graduate and online continuing education programs. The audiences we serve are simultaneously niche and diverse, which can make audience targeting challenging. Again, we focus our efforts on developing highly trackable digital marketing campaigns that allow us to understand which messages are the most effective at engaging different subsets of prospective students.

All of our digital campaigns utilize UTM parameters for tracking. We use first-touch marketing attribution to associate leads with the campaigns that influenced them to take action, and can follow a lead’s activity all the way down the funnel to application start and submission. Data feeds into Salesforce dashboards that allow us to easily understand how many leads we’ve acquired and from which marketing channels and campaigns those leads came from.

In many senses, we run our marketing campaigns much like a corporation would—using enterprise-level marketing, automation, CRM, and reporting software and allocating a majority of our spend toward digital marketing. This has allowed us to be efficient in spending our budget, and effective in ensuring the right campaigns are being targeted at the right audiences.

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