Surviving & thriving in digital marketing… 7 tips to start

What makes an effective digital marketing strategy? 

Just about a month from now I’ll be for the third year presenting a tutorial on Digital Marketing Strategy at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. As in past years, the various ways to advertise online will be a primary focus. But this year I’m starting with 7 key points to keep in mind as you ponder the best way to “go digital” for marketing success.

Here are the areas that I think are important to develop strategy and tactics that will work whether your interest is in enrolling students or raising money. Wise minds can disagree on many of these so I expect interesting questions and comments in November. 
1. Embrace “Big Data”
  • Not everyone likes the name and many people are still caught up in discussions over privacy. Get over that. The data available today allows marketers to send advertising messages to people who are most likely to value the message and respond to it. Everyone with a direct marketing impulse appreciates that. Sending the right message to fewer people is good strategy. “Big data” lets us do that.
2. Use a CRM System
  • Yes, a CRM system is expensive. And yes, a CRM system isn’t easy to use right out of the box. But my secret shopping projects continue to tell me that colleges and universities are not doing a very good job of tailoring conversion communications to the special interests of new inquiries. That’s especially evident in the almost complete lack of attention to the desired academic major collected on an inquiry form. 
  • When I ask people why that’s absent the most common answer is “We don’t have the software to personalize response.” A CRM system will remove that handicap and increase conversion rates.
3. Be Wary of Responsive Design as “the” Mobile Solution
  • When responsive design first burst upon the scene just a few short years ago it was a web developer’s Holy Grail. Imagine being able to “publish everywhere” once on a variety of platforms without having to create separate content and separate programming from large to small screen devices. 
  • Yes, responsive design can be great. But only if you start with a “mobile first” mentality that recognizes the need to remove most of the original content on your large screen website. Say 50 percent to start. More in reality. If you don’t do that hard work first, your big, bloated, difficult to navigate website will be just the same on mobile. Maybe worse.
4. Be Smart about Content Marketing
  • Somewhere there is a great cartoon I’ve lost that has one person telling another early in the day: “I can’t wait to get up and find some brand content to read today.” 
  • Creating a more frequent flow of old-style marketing content or traditional press releases does not a content strategy make, on social media or elsewhere. First and foremost, content has to be driven by what is important to the people you wish to enroll. And that doesn’t mean finding 8 new ways to tell someone about how dedicated you are to their success.
  • Content strategists know this. Many colleges and universities haven’t yet made the transition. When I see more up front content about “affordability’ and how to realistically pay for education, I’ll know that content marketing is advancing. 
5. Focus on Top Tasks
  • If you know the top tasks potential students (and ditto for donors) want to do when they come to your website, you’re on the way to knowing how to implement content strategy.
  • Identify tasks first, then follow with the content needed for task implementation. Successful marketing no longer depends on preaching. What’s needed now is attention to successful experiences in giving people what they need to know (from their perspective) to make a decision. 
  • Again, greater attention to affordability questions and more priority for the importance of academic program information will tell me that strategy is moving in the right direction.
6. Respond Rapidly
  • Some schools get this, some do not. When you get an online inquiry, for instance, don’t test people’s level of interest by waiting weeks to send a first response. Responding in 24 hours is best. By phone if you asked for and received that information. By email, otherwise.
7. Make Sure Landing Page Links Work
  • To keep the ROI on your advertising low, create a landing page with links that people will follow. Then don’t check to make sure the links are working when your ad launches. 
  • Sound obvious? Two weeks ago this Sunday that was the case for a series of NY Times print ads from UCLA. Just today it happened again with a well-placed online display ad from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism for the online Integrated Marketing Communications Program. Both had a link to videos. Neither link worked.
  • The best strategy in the world is handicapped when attention to basic tactics is missing.
That’s all for now.

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Digital Marketing Strategy Tutorial at AMA Marketing Symposium

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