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Realigning Higher Education Marketing

Is it time to rethink the "4P" strategy? Technology and consumerism have shifted the focus of marketing decidedly toward the customer, expanding it beyond "product, price, promotion, and place."
University Business, Oct 2006

Integrated marketing guru Don Schultz, author of scores of books on the topic, professor (emeritus-in-service) of integrated marketing communication at Northwestern University (Ill.), and president of the global marketing consultancy Agora, delivered the keynote presentation on the final day of this year's Strategic Integrated Marketing conference, hosted by Stamats.

Nearly 300 higher education marketing practitioners filled the ballroom of the Chicago Marriott Downtown to soak up Schultz's sage counsel. And did he deliver. However, what he told the audience caused a few folks to scratch their heads in mock confusion, while most others chuckled in approval.

"You can never integrate higher education marketing because no one on any campus ever wants to be integrated into anything," Schultz began. "It's inherent in our systems. We're divided by colleges, divisions, departments, groups. All separate, all independent. So when you come dancing in saying you're going to integrate, they say, 'The hell you are!' They don't want it. They won't do it."

"Marketing was never developed to deal with a marketplace like this."
-Don Schultz, Northwestern University

Schultz admitted that his first interpretation of integrated marketing was simply tactical, not terribly strategic, and largely focused on the traditional, sender-centric 4Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, and place). But technology and consumerism have shifted the focus of marketing decidedly toward the customer. "The 4Ps are gone because they are internally focused. They never talk about the customer," Schultz announced boldly.

"Believe it or not, marketing was never developed to deal with a marketplace like this," he explained. "All of our training is based on talking rather than listening. This is what your administration does not understand. Your primary task [as a campus-based marketer] is to educate your board and your administration on what the world is really like today. It's not the world they grew up in, and it's not the world they were trained to function in."

The best that can be hoped for, Schultz suggested, is to align the issues, initiatives, and stakeholders at a school to focus on the needs and expectations of key constituent groups. This makes the primary role of today's campus-based marketer to sell the school internally as much as externally. Schultz suggested that the real marketing issue at any school is to align the campus community to focus on the learning experience-how they're delivering it better or differently than the competition.

"I am increasingly convinced that the brand is what your people are," Schultz said. "Your school's brand comes from inside; it does not come from outside. It needs to bubble up from who your people are because it's who you are. If you don't do it that way, you'll get found out."

He continued, "We're living today in a 'pull' marketplace. That's what changes all of what we've been trained to do, to develop promotion and to push it out. Today the most important thing is how quickly you can respond to a request for information."

Today's prospective students are polychronic: They're processing multiple information streams simultaneously.

Schultz suggested that today's marketers have been trained to function monochronically. They think in sequential or linear terms; one influence or stimulus happens after another. However, Schultz explained, the students being recruited today are polychronic: They're processing multiple information streams simultaneously. "When we send monochronic information to a polychronic receiver, we're fooling ourselves to think we're capturing their attention," Schultz warned.

While technology has certainly helped colleges and universities to bolster their response times, it has also created more than its fair share of challenges. Schultz made that point painfully clear when he noted that "in two-tenths of a second, everything you have planned and executed is destroyed by some blogger who positions himself as an expert."

Schultz helped conference attendees recognize they are part of the marketing machinery of a services business rather than a products business. In the service business, he explained, the output is created cooperatively by faculty and staff, and by the students they serve: "They create value together."

The core service of education is co-created by the "supplier" with the "customer," Schultz explained. "A school's service is emergent, unstructured learning, largely uncertain in terms of specific outcome," he said.

Finally, Schultz reminded conference attendees of one of marketing's most important, yet most ignored, contemporary fundamental principles. "What you say is considerably less important than where you say it," he warned. "Because if you can't get your information through to your audience, it really makes no difference what you say."

Co-authored with his wife, Heidi, Schultz's book IMC, The Next Generation: Five Steps for Delivering Value and Measuring Financial Returns (McGraw-Hill, 2003) details a five-step integrated marketing communication process he believes can help to align a college or university with its key audiences. Those steps, adapted from the book for a higher education audience, are:

1. Identification of students from behavioral data

2. Valuation of students or other audiences

3. Creation and delivery of messages and incentives

4. Estimation of return-on-student/audience investment

5. Budgeting (investments), audience-specific allocation, evaluation, and recycling.

Eric Sickler is principal consultant for Stamats Communications. He can be reached at

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