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Every Intro to Marketing class covers the 4 P's of marketing: Price, Place, Product, and Promotion.  Though higher ed may cringe at those terms, Chief Marketing Officers who limit their scope to Promotion will miss opportunities for distinction in the booming digital communications marketplace, unless they are involved in product development conversations, as well. 

These conversations aren’t necessarily about The Big Product -- that’s the Provost’s turf. But product development is happening on campus all the time, in programs and services that distinguish us from one another. 

Think of student life, where new programs and services abound. Products. Not long ago, ours was a traditional model: they developed a product, then came to communications to “market” it: give them a logo, maybe a brochure or a web page and a press release. To serve our institutions well today, we need to think, plan, and act more strategically with our time and resources. 

Marketing plans don’t come first. Instead, ask questions like:

  • What impact on the demand curve will this program make, especially with targeted students and their parents? 
  • What will high school counselors or prospective employers think? 
  • How will the program influence the reputation and brand of the institution? 
  • Will donors find the new program attractive to support financially or with volunteer time? 

This means marketing officers become partners in product development. Sometimes that may mean bringing a marketing focus to bear on new programs, as happened when Gettysburg College launched its Garthwait Leadership Center. But it may also mean reinventing an existing program. 

Reinventing an existing program:  career development

Every day brings yet another report from someone in the media -- or parents, or legislators -- questioning the value of a college degree. Marketing our value, our outcomes, and therefore our career development services has been a top priority since the financial crash of 2008. Most, if not all of us, turned up the volume of our career messages, but at Gettysburg, our team felt that wasn’t enough. 

We had the opportunity through our 2014 brand image research to test some new career messages. Messages involving leadership, networking, experience, and similar themes were off the charts. We also learned that for high school counselors, career development-related topics accounted for three of the top six attributes that determine their favorable impression of an institution. The research was clear: it was important to elevate our career development program and messages. Quickly.

Because of the trust and collaboration between our student life and marketing teams, we were able to move discussions forward rapidly. Our working group (associate dean of college life, executive director of career development, executive director of communications and marketing, and director of communications and media relations) determined a strategy, key messages, and creative direction. Various alumni advisory boards and councils helped affirm the direction and strengthen the messages. With support from our internal design and multimedia specialists, we implemented the new message platform this spring—just in time for the admissions yield season.

In Short

How many times have you said it yourself, “Why didn’t they ask us first?” That’s where the silo and hand-off model leads. Don’t wait to be asked. None of us can afford missed opportunities for distinction and impact.

“Your” messages are only as solid as “their” programs, so value the work -- existing and new. Bring your student life colleagues research that shows what your target market looks for. Involve your colleagues in your yearly planning and ask to help with theirs. Find out what they are developing and how you can play a role. Prove your value to the Product piece of marketing.

Paul Redfern leads the communications and marketing team at Gettysburg College and is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences.

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