Even at a small college, the risk of becoming siloed is high. It’s crucial to emphasize clarity of vision so that all the teams can produce successful strategies to retain students.
Keeping everyone on message is a big challenge for higher ed marketing teams.
It may surprise you, but it’s just as difficult for the small college or university as it is for large organizations.
There might be differences in levels of complexity or number of personnel, but for some reason work groups tend toward tribalism and decentralization.
No matter the size of your organization, you’ll have to think through the challenges of unifying your teams so you can create strategies to retain students.
To help us with that, we spoke with Eleanor Berman, Chief Marketing Officer at Indiana University, about her experience with decentralized marketing organizations, removing siloes, and helping IU thrive by putting students first.
IU Strategies to Retain Students
Indiana University is a large organization.
They have two main campuses. Most well-known is the oldest campus at Bloomington, Indiana.
The other campus is the IU Purdue University campus at Indianapolis (IUPUI).
Five regional campuses fill out the number of learning centers for IU, and that’s not counting the “five global gateways around the world.”
Currently, they have approximately 725,000, living alumni, 21,000 faculty and staff, and nearly 100,000 students enrolled.
Yet despite the complexity, Eleanor shared with us a simple description of what she does.
It’s all about creating strategies to retain students.
My role is really to develop and lead the execution of the university’s brand strategy. And very broadly define what that brand strategy is to positively affect and enhance the university’s reputation in order to enhance enrollment.
When I say enrollment, I’m talking about recruitment and retention. I mean really thinking about the lifetime engagement – how do we keep our constituents engaged from the very first time they encounter you.
So our job is done when we’ve progressed people along the pathway to loving IU for life.
This is so important no matter what size your organization is.
Too many marketers get so stuck on attracting new students that they forget to implement strategies to retain students.
Way too often, we neglect the important work of cultivating student ambassadors, building up an engaged alumni base, and excited donors.
Clarify the Vision
With such a complex organization, how does IU prevent teams from creating silos? How do they keep teams from “going rogue?”
Eleanor starts with clarifying and communicating the mission.
My responsibility – our unit’s responsibility – is to ensure that we have clearly articulated what it is we’re trying to do, why we’re trying to do it, and where it came from. The understanding of the background and the research is important for people to understand that we didn’t just pick this [vision or strategy] out of a hat.
With an organization as large and decentralized as IU, we do a great many things. And we have a great many stories to tell. But if we all are shouting at the top of our lungs, we’re just going to create noise.
My approach has been (and what has worked well) having clarity of vision that is well-articulated and well-crafted so folks can really understand the big picture.
For many people, the visioneering phase is the most difficult, but that may be the reason why it’s the most critical.
Take time to think through your vision and craft language around it so that others can catch the vision easily.
Solve the Tactical Problems
Focusing first on vision doesn’t mean we neglect the tactical concerns our marketing teams have.
Solving tactical problems keeps the whole organization running full steam towards the larger vision.
Going from the very top, [where we] set a brand strategy, all the way down to the tactical execution of a social post, everyone’s trying to solve a problem.
We’re all trying to meet our business needs and solve those problems. [We must] help folks see themselves and connect back to [the overall] vision by providing them with the tools, the resources, and the materials they need to do their jobs.
So, it’s less about “Don’t do X!” or “Don’t do Y!” It’s more of, “Hey, you have this really robust story to tell because we do a great many things. How do we connect that back to this larger story that we’re trying to articulate for the university as a whole?”
[Most of the time], when I come across something that is way off-strategy, it’s not because folks are trying to go rogue. They’re just trying to solve a marketing problem that’s right before them.
Thinking about it from that point of view [leads us to consider] how do we put as much information, tools, and resources into folks’ hands so they can do their best work? [And so they can] do what they know best and manage their localized environment while still connecting back to the larger brand strategy.
As you’re casting vision with strategies to retain students, it’s helpful to realize that people aren’t going rogue in an effort to make your work harder.
They’re not trying to break things. In fact, they’re trying to do the opposite!
Yet while fixing a problem at their localized level, they could be creating problems for the big picture.
By helping these siloed teams solve their problems, you can onboard them to the overall vision, creating strategies to retain students from the beginning to the end of the constituent lifecycle.
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 Eleanor Berman to get even more insights into:
- Managing a decentralized marketing organization and avoiding silos
- Handling internal marketing
- The impact of a new college president on Eleanor’s position
- Telling the stories of the benefits of human-centered leadership
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