Making the switch from tactical to strategic marketing means stepping back long enough to ask yourself “Why are we doing this?”
Starting with the why is important as it will keep your efforts and messaging focused, leading to better results down the road.
I see so many times how marketing teams – and agencies like us that support higher education are guilty of this as well! – get so focused on miscellaneous metrics (like clicks or impressions) that they lose sight of how those metrics connect to their organization’s goals.
At the end of the day, we owe it to ourselves as higher ed marketers to go to the strategic level of thinking and ask…“How did I move the needle today?”
In other words, we should be able to measure our impact on the organizations that we serve and not just stay busy “doing marketing.”
Strategic marketing brings so much more satisfaction because you’ll be able to measure impact and then tie that directly back to the tactics you did.
To help us understand how to move from tactical to strategic marketing, we spoke to Chris Bender, the Assistant Dean for Communications at the University of Maryland on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast.
Chris brought a wealth of experience and knowledge in higher ed marketing to us, showing how strategic marketing can move the “business” of our organizations forward.
Strategic Marketing Begins with Why
The first place to begin for strategic marketing that advances your school towards its goals is to start asking yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Every tactic, or marketing activity, should have a clear explanation of how it leads the organization towards the broader institution’s goals.
I see communications as a business function, not necessarily a service function.
I don’t mean business like “We’re here to make the money!” I mean that we’re here to help drive an organization forward.
We will always have a service capacity in that if something immediate comes up – which it always does in our field – we jump on that thing, whether it’s an opportunity or a challenge.
But a lot of times what happens for communicators is that we think about ourselves in this tactical sense.
For example, a [marketer] might say, “I want to get us in the New York Times.” And leadership might say, “That sounds great! Why?” Some [marketers] like I used to be would say, “Well, because it’s the New York Times!”
And that is a true statement. But it is a totally tactical way of working at it.
People outside [marketing] don’t think tactically, and they don’t understand things the way we understand them.
What Chris said is so important.
Higher ed marketing is a “business function” of your college or university.
That is, strategic marketing in higher ed thinks first about how to achieve the broader, long-term goals of the organization rather than focusing solely on the next marketing campaign.
To do strategic marketing means that you’ll have to start thinking like an executive leader in your institution.
What do they want to achieve in the long run?
What do they think is important to the overall health and reputation of your institution?
How can this marketing tactic or campaign move your organization towards those goals?
Beginning with these questions can help change the aim of your campaigns from tactical wins to strategic moves as they help you think through why you’re doing each tactic.
Higher ed marketing isn’t so much about executing amazing marketing campaigns.
It is about moving the needle forward for your institution.
Learning to Communicate Impact, not just Metrics
Another frustrating area for higher ed marketers is reporting on the results of their efforts to university leadership.
It’s frustrating because so often, leadership just doesn’t understand how good – or bad – something is that you’re telling them.
Many times, this occurs because we’re talking to our leaders at a tactical level, when they need to hear us talk in terms of impact.
It’s the same thing as if I said to somebody in leadership, “We got 5,000 impressions on this particular ad.”
Inside a communications meeting, that [information] has value. But if I’m going to talk to someone in leadership or someone in another part of the organization, they want to know how our work relates to the strategic goals or the strategic plan for the organization.
They [also] want to know the impact that it had – not the reach. The impact.
Impressions is reach. People taking action is impact.
In marketing, it’s important that we present ourselves in a way that is strategic and linked to the overall goals of the organization.
People taking actions that further your organization’s goals, that is impact.
This is what higher ed marketers have to communicate to their leaders and colleagues in other departments.
It just makes sense.
Outside of marketing, they’re not going to understand, or appreciate, the tactics that you’re doing every week.
But they do understand the vision and strategic plan that they’re all pulling toward!
Strategic marketing helps realize your organization’s vision by implementing a series of marketing tactics and then communicating the results to your colleagues in the context of the strategic plan.
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 Chris Bender to get even more insights into:
- How marketers can better differentiate themselves from other schools
- Why it is essential to present yourself in a way that is strategically linked to the university’s goals
- Why you should let the audience dictate strategy, not tactics
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Featured image via umd.edu