As a higher education marketing communications professional you wear many hats. One day you’re managing a task force comprised of associate deans, high-powered alums and staff in a branding exercise. The next day you’re defending the tactics chosen for your latest enrollment marketing campaign. And every day – yes, every day – you’re living life in the middle, bridging communication and fielding questions of varying sophistication from internal audiences. Questions like these:
- Why is the retired dean not seeing our ads when he surfs the web? (Hint: he’s not the target)
- How come more of our budget is going towards Twitter than Facebook?
- Does our messaging hit home with key audience “X”?
Taken in a vacuum, they’re one-off questions to answer. But viewed in a more connected way, every question offers an opportunity to gain or lose ground when it comes to internal alignment.
Internal alignment – the buy-in from peers, leadership and key decision-makers – is critical. The savvy higher education marketer understands this. They know achieving and preserving a certain level of trust is the difference between crafting and executing their vision as a leader or becoming an implementer of someone else’s, no matter how un-strategic it may be.
This is why you must prioritize measurement in higher education.
Despite its widespread adoption in other verticals, higher education institutions have been slower to embrace measurement. It can easily be perceived as a broad, loaded word. And with so many stakeholders and departments, it’s often tough to achieve.
It doesn’t have to be. Smart thinking still carries the day, and a sound measurement infrastructure tied to institutional goals is an aid to inform that decision-making, allowing you to achieve internal alignment.
Measurement helps you lead the conversation
Most institutions, schools, and even smaller departments and centers within schools, have Google Analytics in place and are at least passively collecting data. They have an idea of top-line metrics like website traffic, page views/engagement, and referral sources, to name a few. As leadership increasingly asks questions about marketing tactics and spend, pressure is applied downward upon you and your team.
What can you do? Get out ahead of the questions. Involve key decision-makers in a planning process where university challenges, opportunities and initiatives are laid out on the table. Take the first crack at leading everyone in shaping what’s important, why it’s important, and how you’ll measure to understand if you’re succeeding. Your internal audience will appreciate the proactivity and leadership shown, and you’ll get to frame the exercise. At the very least, share the measurement plan with any important individuals who did not attend planning meetings and invite comments and questions on the front end prior to finalization. By inviting these players, they become co-signers to the process.
Measurement helps you quiet second-guessers
These same key players – involved at the initial stage – will also defend it down the road. Brought in and bought in from the planning stage, they’ll be able to speak to the rationale and planning process more intelligently. Don’t underestimate the value your now-ambassadors will bring in allowing ample time for your initiatives to launch as intended, quieting the noise of the second-guessing crowd. When inevitable questions come from alumni, staff, and others, they’ll be met with an education as to how the plan was conceived, how it aims to accomplish shared goals, and a reasonable timeframe for evaluating it.
Measurement helps you evolve your strategy
Once your goals are set, tracking infrastructure is implemented, and you’re out in the market, the initial period will be a benchmarking one. We’ve discussed the importance of benchmarking before here. Establishing a strong foothold is invaluable.
Over time, you’ll collect a treasure chest of first-party data about audience behaviors that can help you gather intelligence, inform your content strategy, test novel approaches and ideas, and improve the way your institution tells its story and engages with its key audiences. The information also serves as a great check-and-balance to quickly challenge, validate or dispel assumptions made by internal staff, which helps things to operate efficiently.
If approached collaboratively and with an eye towards organizational psychology, the benefits of measurement in higher education will have a cascading impact, helping to set course for the institution and keep internal teams and players aligned.
Chris is Vice President of Client Services Innovation at RDW and the talented wearer of many hats. A former practicing attorney and current nationally-recognized Atlantic 10 basketball conference media maven, Chris is presently leading client engagements in the higher education, scholarly publishing, healthcare, and real estate sectors. If you want to talk college hoops this (or any) month, follow him on Twitter @CDiSano44.