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The Ice Bucket Challenge and Other Phenomena: Four Ways Higher Ed Marketers Can Leverage Different Disciplines (Part 2)

The Ice Bucket Challenge and Other Phenomena: Four Ways Higher Ed Marketers Can Leverage Different Disciplines (Part 2)
Given the expansion in the breadth of marketing responsibilities, an interdisciplinary approach is critical to campaign success.

This is the conclusion of a two-part series by Ram Singh discussing some of the lessons higher education can learn from other disciplines, and how they combine to make marketing efforts successful. In the first installment, Singh discussed the importance of understanding customer behavior and motivation, pointing out the lessons marketers could learn from psychology and sociology. In this piece, he discusses three other approaches marketers can draw from.

The Mind: Understanding Brain Physiology

Linked Disciplines: Neuroscience

Understanding how our minds work can be a critical factor in the success of a marketing or branding campaign. The growing popularity about the connection between marketing and neuroscience has resulted in the creation of a new field called neuromarketing. A simple understanding of how our minds respond to marketing stimuli can provide a huge potential for marketers to understand consumer behavior and decision making in ways never before explored.[1]

Understanding this connection can help determine the frequency of impressions, choice of messaging, strategies to help a message go from the temporary memory to the permanent memory, and so on. There are many brands, such as Frito-Lay, BMW, Daimler and The Weather Channel that have started using this knowledge for their marketing strategies. The implications are phenomenal, and the uses are practical, such as digital banner design, TV or radio creative design, frequency of media buy, email creative, messaging and so on.

The Glue: How it Comes Together

Linked Disciplines: Mathematics, Statistics, Finance

Once the different student (customer) profiles have been established, motivations and needs are understood and their impact on campaign has been hypothesized and established, it’s time to bring it all together in the form of a portfolio.

Higher education marketing cycles tend to be long, and customer decision points are spread out. In other words, a prospective student may collect one piece of information from TV, another through paid search, a third through organic search (if your destinations are different) and then synthesize it together and talk to a school staff in a fourth interaction; so, how do you know if the campaign is working? For most traditional as well as online schools, this journey could also range from a few months to over a year, creating an additional time lag effect for consideration.

The options need to be considered carefully. To illustrate this point: if there were five initiatives that could be undertaken, there would be 31 ways in which one or more initiatives could be chosen to create a portfolio, but which one would serve the institution best? These questions are not uncommon in higher education marketing and they can be answered by using various financial, statistical and mathematical models.

This doesn’t imply that marketers need to become statisticians, but specialized marketing requires this to be included in the strategy formulation phase. It also has an impact on the spend allocation across channels, such as paid search, SEO, print media, PR, TV, radio, campus tours, coaching and more.[2]

The Motor: Access and Automation

Linked Disciplines: Information Technology

There has been an explosion in technology-fueled growth in the recent years; case in point – the Ice Bucket Challenge may not have had this level of success if participants had to take a picture, print it, affix postage stamp, include a pre-paid envelope to send donations to ALSA and mail the whole package to their friends asking them to participate.

Marketers worldwide are realizing the importance of understanding the technical enablers for their campaigns to be successful. Whether it’s a successful drip campaign or a robust CRM or implementations of Big Data, all require good understanding of technology and its impact. Like the above disciplines, this doesn’t mean one must know coding or programming, but an understanding of how technology determines the shape of the campaign is essential.


A few decades ago, Wind and Robertson identified the limitedness of the marketing body of knowledge due to an effect they termed as “the interdisciplinary isolation of marketing” and, at the time, this was significantly due to the short-term thought horizon associated with marketing products.[3] Three decades later, the breadth of marketing responsibilities has increased multifold; it includes marketing services and also has responsibilities for managing the overall customer experience and lifetime value. In order to deliver on these goals, there’s a need to expand the body of knowledge and use advancements in other disciplines as well, to develop the next generation of specialized campaigns, which could not only help higher education institutions with more students, but might also allow them to present their innate values and benefits to a much larger audience.

So, are we there yet?

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[1] Lee, N., Broderick, A. J., & Chamberlain, L. (2006). What is ‘Neuromarketing’? A Discussion and Agenda for Future Research. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 63(2007), 199-204. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2006.03.007

[2] Singh, R. (2014). Demystifying Data-Driven Approaches: Three Myths.

[3] Wind, Y., & Robertson, T. S. (1983). Marketing Strategy: New Directions for Theory and Research. Journal of Marketing, 47(2), 12.

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