October 20

Marketing Principles That Translate Across All Industries

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Because marketing principles are ideas that work across industries, it’s important for higher ed marketers to keep their eyes on marketing strategies and successes in other fields.

The most common marketing principles you’ll hear about have to do with strategies, tactics, and tools to get the job done well. 

Of course, we cover all of those here on the Caylor Solutions blog weekly to keep you up to date on the latest best practices in higher ed marketing!

But there are other marketing principles that have more to do with how marketing is perceived in your organization and its place on the team.

This is especially important when you begin to talk with other department heads about the internal decision-making and quality-control processes you’ll use as a team.

In many colleges and universities, marketing teams tend to become like short-order cooks just serving up dishes, rather than chefs who figure out what the consumer wants and create a gourmet meal customized to the tastes of their diners.

If you want to make the transition from being a short order cook to a strategic, results-oriented team, I highly recommend this podcast conversation my co-host, Troy Singer, and I had with Kymm Bartlett Martinez.  

Kymm Bartlett Martinez, Chief Marketing Officer at the American Cancer Society, shares the marketing principles that she's used to great success in higher education marketing.Kymm Bartlett Martinez is the Chief Marketing Officer at the American Cancer Society. Before she took over this role, Kymm spent 20 years with General Mills before she took the Chief Marketing Officer position at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Kymm brings an exciting perspective to higher ed marketing with her unique industry experience.  

Get the Right People on the “Marketing Bus”

One of the first marketing principles we discussed with Kymm was how to change the unfortunate way higher ed institutions tend to view marketing compared to commercial sectors.

In the consumer-packaged-goods world, marketing is the center of the wheel. It is the decision maker. It is where general management and marketing are merged together. [In marketing in commercial sectors] you do have a lot of positional power, in terms of being able to lead change. 

Going from that environment where nobody questioned the value of marketing into the higher ed environment [took some adjustment]. 

For me, these outlooks on marketing and its role in institutional decisions make a big difference in terms of enrollment success.

Kymm also encountered a suspicious view of marketing in general when she moved to higher ed.

Of course, this kind of thinking will limit the results of your marketing efforts.

It wasn’t that people didn’t see the value of marketing, but they had a couple of questions about it. 

For example, on my initial team, I had several trained journalists who were all about being objective and putting the facts out there so people can draw their own conclusions. There was some skepticism with a marketer coming in. Once I even heard the word “unethical” used [in a conversation]! I thought that was so strange, because never in my career had I ever felt like I’ve either asked or done anything unethical. 

There was this belief that marketers are spinners, that they’re not going to tell you the full truth. Because of that, there were some folks that felt that [what we were doing in marketing] was unethical.

But here’s the way I look at it. Marketers have spotlights to shine, and we get to decide where we shine those spotlights. Obviously, we’re going to shine those [spotlights] in the place that tells the best story for the institution. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be dishonest about other aspects of us. 

So that was one hurdle [to marketing success that I encountered]: just having to make sure that folks felt comfortable with marketers. 

When a person doesn’t feel like the work they do is ethical, they tend to do a poor job at it. 

We all want to be proud of what we do. 

So if you’re ashamed of your profession, you won’t come in with the energy and motivation you need to inspire prospective students to come to your school. 

To turn back the tide of suspicion that was sabotaging their marketing results, Kymm used a principle that she learned from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. 

In his book, Jim argues that great companies make sure that they hire the right people to get on the bus, which is a metaphor for their company, and they look for ways to off ramp the wrong people on the bus. 

In other words, get people on your team who believe in the mission. 

What I had to do there was just be really, really clear with the team that this was a “marketing bus.”

I said to my team, “This is where our bus is going. It’s a marketing bus. You can get on it or not, that’s fine. But this is a marketing bus. If you don’t feel that [our marketing bus] aligns with your values [then please do] not get on it.”

Having these honest conversations about the role of marketing helped them to unite behind the mission and values of the marketing team.

You’ve got to have the right people on the bus. People who’re on the bus because they believe in where it’s going.

Become a Strategic Partner

Very often, departments from across the campus will come to you as the marketing team with various requests for a cool graphic, video, or website.

The natural response is to simply take those orders and make it happen, much like a short order cook. 

But since these other departments are not marketers, they may be missing key strategic insight to make their campaigns successful. 

Doing marketing this way will keep your team busy with various projects, but it is most likely not going to move the needle forward in terms of enrollment. 

There is a difference between checking boxes off a task list and true marketing.

Not everybody understands the strategic value that a marketer can bring. 

One thing that we worked hard to do when we were forming our team at St. Thomas was to make sure we set the expectation that we are strategic partners. 

We deliberately did not call the schools and the colleges we worked with “clients.” That would have implied I had to do whatever they asked me to do, because [they were the customer] and they were paying the bills. 

We specifically said, “We were partners. That means that when you come to me with an issue, please don’t say ‘I need a video that does this,’ or ‘I need [or] want a flyer that has this picture.’ 

[Let me ask you strategic questions like,] “What are you trying to do? What audience are you trying to reach? What do you already know about this audience in terms of messages?”

Let me take this back to my team, [and we’ll] come back to you with what we think would be the way to solve that problem you’re having. 

Under Kymm’s leadership, the marketing team began to think of themselves as strategic partners rather than simply creative project order-takers.

This is a profound paradigm shift but is one of the most important marketing principles that we learned from Kymm in our conversation. 

As a strategic partner, you have more of an active role in how projects are shaped and campaigns get launched. 

When you posture yourself this way, you might even have to push back on some ideas that need some more time to mature.

[We began] learning to be in that strategic partnership. We had to [communicate to the] university that this was how we were going to be acting moving forward. It required some open mindedness on the part of our partners. 

In the beginning, we had to give the folks in our internal team permission to be able to be strategic. [We had to give them] permission to say “no” to what was essentially coming in as tactical requests. 

[Also, we gave them] permission to ask [questions] in order to have that more strategic conversation with the partners. 

And then for our partners, we had to make sure they understood [our intentions in this change]. [We said to them,] “Hey, we’re going to come at you perhaps with some different ideas and some different thoughts than what you came to us with. And what we need you to do is to be open minded about that.”

Empowering the Marketing Team

Most often, this takes the form of having a marketing executive in the C-suite along with the provosts and VP’s so that good marketing principles can be heard among leadership discussions at that level. 

Also, in order to bring the best marketing principles to every creative communication project, the marketing team needs permission to offer helpful pushback at the least, or at best, veto power.

While all ideas are welcome, not all ideas are helpful when it comes to enrollment marketing. 

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Kymm Bartlett Martinez to get even more insights into:

  • Kymm’s culture shock of moving from consumer goods marketing to higher education. 
  • Marketing principles that translate across all industries and ones that don’t. 
  • How higher ed requires multiple points of differentiation to stand out amongst universities.

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