Ideas, insights and inspirations.

ChatGPT, the latest AI tool, has taken the world by stormShould under-staffed and under-resourced marketing teams use it? And can it make marketing teams more productive? Before I answer that, let’s just review how this artificial intelligence (AI) tool works.

How ChatGPT Works

ChatGPT does not have a mind of its own, nor does it have its own thoughts. Instead, its responses are based on the collective memory of humanity, embedded in billions of web documents – imbued with the entire spectrum of humanity’s truthful, partially true, baseless, misinformed, racist and sexist points of views. Based on existing written sentence and document structure patterns, it completes or predicts word and sentence combinations weaving them together into authoritative-sounding, smooth, somewhat verbose and human-like answers.  Next, an army of human reviewers — with their unique personal biases — manually fine-tune the responses by ranking for quality.

Using ChatGPT For Marketing

Let’s examine how chatGPT fares in various components of marketing:

S T R A T E G Y   F O R M U L A T I O N – POOR

ChatGPT performs poorly in this dimension. Its responses are generic and non-specific. While ChatGPT appears to be somewhat informed about general knowledge, when I asked people to test its grasp of their expertise, everyone pointed to its severe lack of proficiency. Being an expert in marketing myself, I decided to put it to the test and it failed miserably for me too.

Without a sound strategy, brands simply don’t win.

B R A N D   D E V E L O P M E N T – POOR

Picking several clients, I asked ChatGPT to describe the client, perform a SWOT analysis, define their brand position, unique selling position, generate brand line options, identify methods for achieving prosperity, list keywords that best describe their brand value, and conceptualize new products they should create. The answers were spotty, generic, uninspired and misleading at best.

In marketing, the beginning of greatness is to be different, and the beginning of failure is to be the same.

A D V E R T I S I N G   C O P Y W R I T I N G – POOR

Picking several clients, I asked ChatGPT to propose copy for various programs, products and services. It fared pretty poorly. It felt robotic, generic, soulless, dry, flat and unimaginative.

Great copy that sells artfully combines facts, stories and brand magic.

C O P Y W R I T I N G – FAIR

Picking several clients, I asked ChatGPT to write copy for various competitive programs, products and services. The copy was pretty generic. The copy was neither customized nor was it sensitive to brand tone.

You can’t bore people into buying something.

B L O G   W R I T I N G – GOOD FOR WRITING ASSISTANCE ONLY

Picking several client products/services, I asked ChatGPT to suggest an editorial calendar for their blog. My initial queries generated suggestions that were pretty elementary and basic. None of the proposed topics were time sensitive or touched on the cutting edge topics in the field. However when I refined my query to generate “cutting edge” ideas, the proposed ideas became far more interesting.

Next I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post on each of its proposed topics. It presented blog posts that were elementary, pedantic, moralistic, and uninspiring. I changed my prompts a dozen different ways to make the content more compelling, but I still couldn’t create a blog post I was happy with. I concluded that ChatGPT is a better research and writing assistant than a blog writer. It’s good for gathering stats (though you have to ensure they are accurate), creating bullets from paragraphs (if that’s how you prefer to communicate), suggesting headlines and subheadlines (which all must be processed through your own judgement-filter to determine their appropriateness), summarizing articles, creating FAQ’s, etc.

Great brands resist humanity’s march towards mediocrity with imaginative advice, educational and thought leadership blogs.

S E A R C H   E N G I N E   O P T I M I Z A T I O N (SEO) – GOOD FOR IDEATION ONLY

ChatGPT understands the basic list of best practices for SEO, but is spotty when it comes to the details.

For several clients, I asked ChatGPT to generate a Keyword Lexicon for SEO optimization. It returned a list of pretty generic, fiercely competitive keywords. No matter how I refined my query, it couldn’t come up with an intelligent set of keywords that our clients had a fighting chance to rank in the near future.

Next I asked it to generate SEO meta-titles for client products/services. It generated a decent list of suggestions. Only 1 in 10 adhered to SEO best practices, but the plethora of ideas gave me the raw material to create a compelling title rather quickly. They all sounded pretty good, but only 2 in 10 came close to hitting the bull’s eye in terms of brand positioning and brand tone.

Finally, using multiple types of prompts, I asked ChatGPT to generate SEO meta-descriptions for client products/services. These were mediocre at best.

Remember, if your brand can’t be found on Google page one, customers will neither buy it nor buy-into its raison d’être.

P A I D   A D V E R T I S I N G – GOOD FOR IDEATION ONLY

For several clients, I asked ChatGPT to generate a list of recommended advertising channels. The answers were the usual suspects (Google, LinkedIn, Bing, Facebook). When I refined my query to include non-traditional advertising channels, it came up with a generic list of possibilities with no specifics. It never recommended popular social channels like Tik Tok, or Snap, nor non-traditional channels like Reddit or Quora.

When I asked ChatGPT to generate a list of headlines and descriptions for Google paid responsive ads, it didn’t know the character limits and generated decent sounding copy that could be used for ideation. But to massage this copy to fit within ad constraints, it would be as time consuming as coming up with new copy from scratch. As for negative keywords for a Google paid campaign, ChatGPT was able to generate a decent initial list of negative keywords.

If paid advertising doesn’t act like a booster rocket, don’t bother investing in it.

P U B L I C   R E L A T I O N S – DECENT TO POOR

I found ChatGPT to be decent at creating the bones of a PR plan, a reputation management plan or a crisis management plan, but it failed to propose decisive strategies and precise details.

When I asked ChatGPT to generate a press release announcing the launch of new products and services, it parroted the common pattern of press releases and produced a surprisingly decent initial draft. However, every press release it generated was bland and lacked personality. It would take a human writer to elevate the press release, make it engaging and to infuse it with brand voice.

For competitive products, ChatGPT generated talking points that were generic and undifferentiated. Some of the talking points were factually incorrect.

When I probed ChatGPT for its understanding of PR2.0 (the science of influence by going directly to consumers and end-customers, by-passing traditional media influencers), I found it lacked personality and sophistication.

Ultimately public relations is about relationship building. ChatGPT and other AI-assisted technologies can’t do that. However, on occasion, they can make good conversation lubricants.

In the sea of sameness, brands with strong reputation win.

Conclusion

While ChatGPT appears to be somewhat informed about general knowledge, when I tested it for its grasp of marketing expertise, it lacked proficiency.

The quality of user questions and prompts determine the quality of responses ChatGPT generates. To truly take advantage of ChatGPT as a marketer, you have to master “prompt engineering”, investing a ton of time to extract the most meaningful insights in the most desirable forms. ChatGPT is a good assistant, but not a replacement for marketers. Fellow marketers, rest easy; your jobs are still secure.

When I hear naive claims like ChatGPT being a Google killer, Mark Twain’s words come to mind: “The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Google has a bag of tricks of its own to combat this AI onslaught. Stay tuned for their response. The game of AI-assisted technologies is about to become very interesting.

If you are seeking an agency marketing partner who combines people smarts with AI know-how to your marketing communications, please contact us.

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Second in a three-part blog series on a concept that author R. Todd Erkel calls “the battle for meaning.” We will look at the evolution of cause marketing and its relationship to code, content, Google’s algorithm, and page one organic search results. Organizations and companies once believed that possessing knowledge was enough to win hearts and minds. Later, they believed that communicating knowledge – through traditional media and conventional cause marketing methods – would suffice. More recently, causes and companies have acknowledged the need for deep and sustained digital content campaigns – blogs, microsites, video – to engage customers and advance a cause. The next frontier requires even more intentionality so that all content efforts converge to produce a renewable source of organic traffic and an ever-expanding, loyal and engaged audience.

winning the battles for meaning

Three cause campaigns expanding into wider “battles” for meaning.

Air BNB: “We Accept”

A few years back, Airbnb faced backlash when customers raised concerns about hosts discriminating when accepting guest reservations. Airbnb introduced a nondiscrimination policy on its website. The accompanying ‘We Accept’ campaign championed Airbnb’s long-held values of community-led and culturally diverse travel. The immediate PR crisis led the company to pledge short-term housing for 100,000 refugees, disaster survivors, and other displaced people over the next five years. Those early steps spun off into the Open Homes initiative and the creation of Airbnb.org, the new site for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Airbnb spent big on a 30-second video during the Super Bowl and followed up on social media with #WeAccept. The effort sparked 33k Tweets during the first half of the Super Bowl alone.

With time, the company and the issue of refugee housing have deepened. In recent times, Airbnb org funded short term housing for up to 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine. A company statement said: “we’re now more committed than ever to helping shift (the refugee) narrative. That shift requires a full consideration of keyword priorities. For example, a current search for “housing assistance displaced residents” returns nearly 30 million Google results, with page one dominated by .gov, .org and .edu sites. A company like Airbnb has a limited pool of content and assets to leverage — choosing priorities becomes essential.

Ben & Jerry’s: Democracy Is In Your Hands

In 2016, ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s introduced its limited-time Empower Mint flavor to a new flavor to raise consumer awareness of voting rights. Along with the flavor came a campaign called “Democracy Is In Your Hands,” which educated ice cream lovers about barriers (distance, voting jours, ID laws) designed to dampen turnout in low-income communities.

While the ice cream flavor was a limited edition, Ben & Jerry’s tries to sustain the conversation each election cycle with a web page complete with background information, links, and information about how, and where, to vote. One possible “battle for meaning” keyword phrase would be “voting rights act preclearance.” With just 200,000 Google results, this long-tail phrase would give Ben & Jerry’s a foundation for future keyword efforts.

Billie: Project Body Hair

Billie, a New York-based personal care start-up, calls itself the New Body Brand. In 2019, it launched the “Project Body Hair” campaign to confront the taboo of talking openly about women’s body hair. The campaign wanted to spark a conversation about female beauty standards. A viral video and the #projectbodyhair hashtag got the conversation started.

A campaign about celebrating women and bringing awareness to unrealistic beauty standards shows Billie’s audience that their mission goes beyond selling razors. Billie expanded the campaign to address the issue of the longstanding pink tax which burdens women with higher prices for basic needs — like razors. A Google search returns some 128 million results for the phrase “pink tax examples.” Securing a page-one Google presence for this or similar long-tail keyword phrase would ensure recurring traffic and give Billie influence — and future revenue — beyond its immediate, known customer base.

Contact us if you are interested in winning your brand’s battle for meaning.

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First in a three-part blog series on a concept that author R. Todd Erkel calls “the battle for meaning.” We will look at the evolution of cause marketing and its relationship to code, content, Google’s algorithm, and page one organic search results. Organizations and companies once believed that possessing knowledge was enough to win hearts and minds. Later, they believed that communicating knowledge – through traditional media and conventional cause marketing methods – would suffice. More recently, causes and companies have acknowledged the need for deep and sustained digital content campaigns – blogs, microsites, video – to engage customers and advance a cause. The next frontier requires even more intentionality so that all content efforts converge to produce a renewable source of organic traffic and an ever-expanding, loyal and engaged audience.

The battle for meaning around a pandemic virus and the human response traces back more than two centuries, long before we associated a phrase like “vaccine confidence” to a fast-spreading virus named SARS-CoV-2.

Scientist and surgeon Edward Jenner spent three difficult months in London in 1798, trying to introduce a new concept called “vaccination” to residents living with the very real threat — and fear — of the deadly smallpox virus. Although the virus had already claimed nearly half a billion lives, Jenner found no takers. His success in the medical lab did not guarantee a win in the public battle for meaning.

Jenner’s breakthrough idea of inoculation would gain widespread support within a couple of years. Still, it would be 151 years before the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States occurred in 1949, and 31 years more before the World Health Assembly declared smallpox eradicated (1980).

Initial resistance to vaccination spread much like the virus itself, one community at a time and among people with close contact. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mutter Museum tell the story on their History of Vaccines website, an in-depth exploration of vaccine history. Jenner’s work was vigorously attacked by organizations such as the Anti-Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League, and numerous anti-vaccination journals sprang up.

The Battle for Meaning and Measles

In more recent times, misinformation about a possible link between vaccines and autism flooded Google results and social media. In February, 1998, an infamous article by former British doctor Andrew Wakefield was published in The Lancet, falsely linking the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine to autism. The paper eventually was retracted by the co-authors and the journal. Wakefield was de-licensed by medical authorities. It took nearly two decades for the UK immunization rates to recover. By the end, UK families had experienced more than 12,000 cases of measles, hundreds of hospitalizations — many with serious complications — and at least three deaths.

This particular battle for meaning remains unsettled. Recent estimates find that 21.7% of all children in the United States aged 0–17 years would be susceptible to measles. At the end of 2022, a measles outbreak in central Ohio led to 32 children being hospitalized. At least 28 of those infected were at least partially unvaccinated, having had no doses or just one dose of the two-shot measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR).

In recent years, science-based organizations have become far more intentional and thorough in their efforts to debunk rumors and myths as they relate to vaccines. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia does a magnificent job translating research for a broad audience of concerned parents. Kudos also to Autism Speaks for its candid account of the known and unknown causes of Autism disorders.

The interplay between public health and public information has grown more interdependent. Certain battle-for-meaning scenarios carry life-or-death consequences. Anyone involved in cause marketing, science communication, and health education needs to bring a great deal of keyword savvy to the work.

Percentage of Google Traffic by Results Page

Digital marketers and search engine optimization (SEO) experts have been studying the click-through rate (CTR) of search engine result pages since as early as 2006. Multiple studies show that more than 90% of people never click on the second page of Google search results — regardless of the subject matter being searched.

In the next post in this “battle for meaning” series, Elliance will explore how cause marketing more broadly can learn from the long learning curve of public health.

Contact us if you are interested in winning your brand’s battle for meaning.

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Marketing, like ecology, is a complex ecosystem of reciprocal relationships thriving in a network of mutuality. Parts grow, interdependence begins and symbiotic relationships form. It adapts to each new season.

Mutual Reinforcement in a Marketing Ecosystem

On the organizational or micro-level, marketing is a highly interconnected, mutually reinforcing and complex ecosystem of paid, owned and earned media tactics – part digital and part traditional. Examples include:

  • Brand strategy and strategic plans build strength upon strength.
  • Magazine stories lift program/service offerings; in turn, program/service offerings imbue the stories with context and relevance.
  • Tightly aligned page content and SEO meta-coding persuades humans and influences the Google bot alike.
  • Content marketing creates a rising tide of website visitors, and paid advertising lifts the site visitor volume disproportionally.  
  • The presence of the brand in both Google organic and Google paid results creates a four-fold increase in click-throughs.
  • Billboards and the website tango to enhance brand reputation.
  • Lean print pieces and advertising complement smart websites.
  • Landing pages and digital ads join hands to elevate the brand.
  • Website pages dance gleefully alongside hermetically-sealed landing pages. 
  • Musical social media posts sing together to create a harmony of hope.
  • Analytics across marketing channels tell an emerging story. For example, on an elementary level, billboards create a lift in overall traffic and paid advertising raises organic Google searches. On a liminal level, branding lifts all KPIs.
  • The brand informs every touch point, and everything builds the brand.
  • All roads lead back to the website, the digital soul of the organization.

Just as the single greatest predictor of ecological health is the diversity of flora and fauna, the single greatest predictor of marketing success is the diversity of mutually reinforcing tactics — where each part amplifies the other and the whole is larger than the sum of its parts.

On the macro-level your organization exists in a web of relationships with partners, influencers and suppliers. Your long-term success as a brand depends on building trust with these players turning them into recommenders and feeders. Examples include:

  • Partners and suppliers generating a steady stream of referrals for you and you reciprocating.
  • Influencers in digital channels becoming your brand ambassadors and you promoting them.
  • You conducting joint marketing events, giving joint presentations and writing co-branded case studies.

Care and feeding of partners, suppliers and influencers is an integral part of all successful brands.

Disease in a Marketing Ecosystem

Just as in ecosystems, when one part is sick, the sickness permeates and affects the whole.

On the micro-level, a transactional marketing message in paid advertising weakens relational brand reputation; a misconfigured domain or web server leads to erroneous conclusions in website analytics; a broken inquiry follow-up process reflects poorly on the effectiveness of the entire brand; leaning on one-half of the brand pillars will build a less holistic brand.

On the macro-level, falling out of favor with partners, influencers and suppliers will prevent your long-term growth.

Achieving Prosperity in a Marketing Ecosystem

In marketing, as in ecology, pilot-and-scale strategy works turning one success into two and two successes into four. First, experiment, assemble and grow each part – creating a groundswell, unleashing reciprocity and mutual reinforcement along the way. Next, facilitate bridge-building between disparate parts. Finally, create initiatives in both the organization’s micro marketing ecosystem and the larger macro business ecosystem. Let collaborative victories snowball into unstoppable momentum. This is how brands begin to grow trust and thrive.

If you are seeking a agency marketing partner who brings ecosystems-based thinking to your marketing, please contact us.

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Ranked as one of the best B2B marketing agencies, we are frequently asked to share our thoughts about emerging marketing trends. We see three main forces impacting the B2B environment:

  • First, Gen-Zers are entering the job market. In the past few years, there has been a generational shift from Boomers to Gen-Xers and Millennials. By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be largely comprised of Millennials and Gen-Zers.
  • Second, social justice movements with themes of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are growing and increasingly fused together.
  • Third, the release of Forrester Research’s 2023 Planning Guide for B2B Marketing Executives lays out new market trends.

To grow their brand’s share of mind, voice and market, successful marketers are focused on the following initiatives for 2023:

1. Purpose First

Since Millennials and Gen-Zers care deeply about corporate values, they are gravitating towards companies that embrace environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards and embody corporate social responsibility (CSR). Young buyers are attracted to B2B brands which live in accordance with their core values. B2B marketers are using their brand communications to respond to this new social consciousness.

2. Customer Retention First

B2B marketers have always focused on securing new clients, but are now shifting some of their effort to cross-sell, up-sell and deep-sell their products/services to existing customers. Because current customers generate higher margins and better ROI, 34% of smart marketers are wisely planning to increase current customer engagement budgets by over 10%.  

3. Strategic Buyers First

Smart B2B marketers realize that not all customers are born equal; they are focusing their energies on attracting and converting high-margin strategic buyers.

4. Employees First

In the era of talent shortages, talent retention is of strategic importance for B2B companies. Gen-Zers, Millennials and Gen-Xers are eager for professional development. Boomers, reckoning with their imminent retirement, are stepping forward to train them. They recognize that engaged employees are happy employees. Fulfilled employees tend to stay and not switch jobs.

5. Digital First

B2B marketers are accelerating their digital investments. Customer-driven B2B marketers are investing 3.4 times more in digital experiences that are mobile-first, personalized and integrated. Digital experiences are diversifying to include video marketing, high-fidelity microsites, thought leadership content, search engine optimization and social media marketing in recently emerged channels like TikTok and Snapchat.

6. Keyword Lexicons First

As part of their brand journey, B2B marketers are crafting SEO Keyword Lexicons that guide creation of all new content. The Lexicon is comprised of keywords and key phrases that they should secure rankings on page one of Google. Keyword categories in the Lexicon include: products/services, brand positioning, reputation, decisioning and location.

7. Reputation First

High-fidelity content is the lifeblood of reputable brands. B2B marketers are producing high-octane stories, thought-leadership white papers and informative blog posts — and infusing them with keywords to secure Google page one rankings.

8. Talent First

Instead of relying on Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn and other popular job promotion sites, smart B2B marketers are expanding the career sections of their corporate websites to celebrate and express its core values. Their sites now feature sections on corporate giving, employee volunteering, board participation and the initiatives their foundations support. They are optimizing their job listings for Google rankings and activating social media promotions to attract hard-to-find talent.

9. Localization First

Instead of localizing content for all regions, successful B2B marketers are localizing and optimizing content for regions where they have the best chance of earning the highest ROI. For example, in India, a company will run paid and organic campaigns on Google India, but in China, it will run them on Baidu (Google-equivalent) and Renren (Facebook equivalent). Prospects are directed to the landing pages or websites featuring their native languages.

10. Unified Data First

B2B marketing and sales dashboards are increasingly gathering comprehensive customer data. Value dashboards include annualized customer value, profitability, wallet share and renewal/retention rates. Interaction dashboards include content engagement, customer service interactions and community engagement. Armed with insights from this data, B2B marketers can predict renewal rates, cross-sell additional products/services and develop new products.

B2B marketers who adapt to the massive change will thrive in 2023 and beyond.

Contact us if you are seeking a smart B2B marketing agency which can help you join the elite group of marketers growing their corporation’s share of mind, voice and market.

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As one of the top higher education marketing agencies, we are frequently asked to share our thoughts on emerging trends in this space. Here is what we are seeing.

The past two years have seen a historic decline of more than one million students in US colleges and universities. Racially and ethnically diverse student populations continue to grow. The number of International students shrank during the pandemic but are growing again. College endowments surprisingly grew at first and then took an inflationary hit. The race to win the marketing and enrollment game is on. Colleges are battling to win an outsized share of a shrinking pool of domestic students, and facing stiffer competition for international students.

Here are the top twelve higher education marketing trends for 2023 that we are sharing with our clients and partners:

1. Merchandising of Hope and Support Services

The Covid pandemic has precipitated a crisis of mental health and a need for support among young people and their families. To combat it, colleges are telling stories of hope, resilience and fortitude. More importantly, they are reassuring students and families with a renewed emphasis on counseling services, peer support groups, and activities focused on their well being.

2. Humorous and Authentic Content

Born in the digital age, Gen-Z live on Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix and Google. The internet is an extension of their brain. They have an app for everything they do, or have an interest in. Memes are a part of their daily lives. They expect authentic, show-don’t-tell marketing. They have a deeper appreciation and need for humor because they feel overwhelmed by the existential crisis that they are facing in weaker families, divided politics, rising costs of education, climate change, and a shrinking world. Marketers are responding.

3. Keyword Lexicons

Before marketers embark on the content journey, they are now beginning to craft SEO Keyword Lexicons that guide creation of all new content. The Lexicon is comprised of keywords and key phrases the college should rank for and claim. Keyword categories in the Lexicon include: program, brand positioning, reputation, decisioning, and location.

4. Content/Blog Marketing

Great content is the lifeblood of successful brands. “Juiced” with keywords, informative blog posts are one of the most effective means of securing Google page one rankings for long tail keywords. Depending on the type of college and university, they are increasingly either creating thought-leadership blogs or advice-oriented blogs with practical content.

5. Democratization of Research

A trend we are seeing emerge is what I call the TED-effect: faculty and thought leaders sharing their expertise in a democratized style via blogs, videos, and podcasts.

6. Celebration of Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity

Given that diverse student populations are growing and the white student population is shrinking, higher education marketers are increasingly targeting diverse Gen-Z populations. Since Gen-Z values a broad definition of diversity, equity, inclusivity, and climate justice, they are seeking out colleges whose values are aligned with theirs. Marketers are amplifying their values.

7. Authenticity in Advancement Communications

Jim Langley of Langley Innovations captures the mood amongst donors as he works with clients to test cases for support as well as specific initiatives. “What has become so apparent is that donors are evaluating these documents on the basis of their authenticity – which they measure by straight talk, a willingness to acknowledge weaknesses as well as tout strengths, avoiding overstatement and hyperbole and using humor.   It’s as if donors are saying, ‘Get off your high horse and talk to me like a colleague.'” It’s time for advancement communications to be candid, authentic and meaningful.

8. Responsive Ads

Machine learning has arrived. Google algorithms are creating responsive Google search ads and Google display ads. For search ads, marketers generate multiple headlines and descriptions, and Google tests different combinations, serves the performing ads, and starves the non-performers. Ditto for display ads: marketers upload several images, sizes, headlines, descriptions, and Google adapts fast and gravitates automatically towards the winning combinations.

9. Look-Alike Audiences

Look-alike audiences are groups of prospects who share similar characteristics with the current students at a college. They tend to become applicants at a faster rate than prospects in the open market. Marketers are leveraging look-alike audience features on the advertising platforms.

10. Personalization

This smart software treats prospects differently depending on where they are coming from and where they are in their decision cycle. Treating warm prospects, hot prospects and hottest prospects uniquely reflects not only good manners but is also good for business. Personalization is increasingly being deployed in websites, emails, event marketing and advertising.

11. Influencer Marketing

Gen-Z tend to follow many influencers and generally trust what likable influencers are promoting. Social media account takeovers by students are now an effective means of bringing authentic voices to college marketing.

12. Emerging Website Norms

Colleges are using photographs of diverse students, faculty, and staff. Investigative reporting and high-octane storytelling are becoming the cornerstone of great websites. Signature program pages are being constructed with higher content fidelity. “Hamburger menus” are now routinely appearing for site navigation. Sticky admission funnel intakes, like call-to-action buttons, are becoming common.

Contact us if you are seeking a smart higher education marketing agency which can help you join the elite group of colleges we have helped prosper.

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Great marketers are a rare breed. They are shapeshifters who play ten crucial roles and gracefully switch between them:

S T R A T E G I S T

As strategic thinkers, they imagine new possibilities, combinations and offerings that don’t yet exist. They don’t confuse strategy with planning or tactics. They play to win.

D I R E C T O R

The daily work of a marketing leader is to orchestrate in-house and out-sourced talent in service of larger goals. They recognize, motivate and unleash talent…wherever they can find it.

I N T E G R A T I V E   T H I N K E R

They understand that marketing is a highly interconnected, mutually reinforcing and complex ecosystem of paid, owned and earned media tactics – part digital and part traditional. They have the capacity and the desire to work through its complexities.

E V A N G E L I S T

They help define the brand and then insist on speaking with its distinctive brand voice. As brand ambassadors, they manage first impressions and monitor the brand reputation. They continuously find new proofs of their brand claims. Not only are they merchants of hope, they know that a brand ultimately becomes the story it chooses to tell.

S T O R Y T E L L E R

Marketing leaders understand that the customer, not the organization is the hero of the story. They tell stories about their heroes and their unique journeys.

D I S C E R N E R

Successful marketing leaders don’t deploy a shotgun approach to marketing. They don’t try to be all things to all people. They only target and pursue right-fit prospects.

H U S T L E R

As marketing leaders, they act with a sense of urgency. They persevere in the face of challenges. Unafraid to fail, they are resilient.

D A T A   S C I E N T I S T

Great marketers measure what matters, metrics like ROI and KPI’s. They listen to the market and periodically monitor the institutional brand strength. They also periodically benchmark themselves against competitors.

D E C I S I O N   M A K E R

Their approach to decision making is consultative and collaborative. They are customer-focused, empathetic and observant. They are instinct-powered yet data-informed decision makers.

T R U T H   S E E K E R

They are honest and surround themselves with truth tellers. They know the unsaid is sometimes more powerful than what’s said.

Above all, they are selflessly devoted to the success of their enterprise.

Contact us if you are seeking a smart marketing agency which can partner with you and help you join the elite group of successful organizations we’ve re-launched.

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The stakes are high when higher education institutions launch new academic programs. According to Burning Glass, a market research firm, the estimated cost of sustaining a new program over a four-year period is around $2M and only a third of them succeed. When launching new programs, college leaders are looking for recipes to ensure success and avoid failure.

Here at Elliance, we advise our clients to consider the 7 P’s: program, price, place, prospects, professors & program chairs, promotion, and process. Here is what we recommend:

P R O G R A M

New program launches follow the law of supply and demand. The higher the demand for program graduates and lower the supply of colleges offering the program, the higher the chance of success.

Analyze data from the Department of Education and the Department of Labor to assess the competitors and the demand for your new program’s graduates.

On rare occasions, if you have an insider’s view of a field, feel free to rely on your intuition rather than market research.

P R I C E

Charge higher tuition if you are offering a distinctive program. This is hard to implement for undergraduate programs,  but is easily doable for graduate and certificate programs.

P L A C E

Academic programs can be offered in various settings and formats: on-campus, on-line, hybrid or at corporate offices. Offer the format in the location that best meets the needs of your ideal students.

P R O S P E C T S

Know the profile of your right-fit prospects. Remember, the student, not the institution, is the real hero of your story. Resist the temptation to talk too much about yourself; instead shine a light on prospects’ needs, desires and ambitions.

Recognize that you are serving an increasingly diverse group of students. Recruit, enroll and support students from diversity of faiths, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Identify influencers for your new academic program. This group includes influential alumni, corporate recruiters, community leaders, educational journalists and high school teachers, principals and college counselors.

P R O F E S S O R S   &   P R O G R A M   C H A I R S

Tap the most talented professors from your top-ranked schools to teach the new program. Augment with practitioner adjunct faculty if necessary. Reflect the racial, ethnic and gender composition of your students in your faculty choices. In the age of social media and “Rate My Professor”, the word gets around quickly about the quality of faculty choices you make.

Choose your program chairs wisely and smartly. Mediocre programs, in the hands of effective program chairs, succeed — and great programs, in the hands of weak program chairs, fail.

P R O M O T I O N

If students can’t find your new program, they simply can’t buy it. How do you cut through the clutter of 4,000 to 10,000 ads an average person is seeing every day? By outsmarting, not outspending. Here are fourteen steps for marketing success:

1. Allocate a Sufficient Marketing Budget

If you build an in-demand program, new students will not just show up and enroll. Even the elite colleges learned this lesson the hard way.

2. Position the Program

Avoid creating a me-too program. If you are entering a crowded space, focus on a unique perspective where you have special competency. For example, instead of offering yet another data analytics program, create a health care analytics or financial analytics program.

3. Name the Program Strategically

Ensure there is Google search volume for the program name and that it flows smoothly off your tongue.

4. Know Your Brand

In the sea of sameness, brand wins. Begin your marketing by first knowing and then infusing the spirit of your brand in every touch point you create.

5. Build a High-Fidelity Microsite

New programs are more successful when launched with a high-fidelity program page and a microsite. Experiment and A/B test messaging on microsites; they’ll teach you important lessons you can port back to the program page.

6. Create a Story Landing Page

Landing pages should start a romance between the prospect and your college. Resist the temptation to create transactional, skinny landing page with an intrusive inquiry form. Build a story landing page that distills your argument and tells a compelling story.

7. Create a Program Brochure

Print is not dead. Program sheets and brochures are a calling card in meetings with students, families, and partners.

8. Create a Program PowerPoint

Distill your argument into a small presentation that’s right, tight and bright. You’ll use it in program open houses and webinars.

9. Start a Blog

Know the mission of your blog. Depending on the type of college and university you are, create a thought-leadership blog or an advice-oriented blog with practical content.

Create blog posts with stories, infographics, downloadable pdf’s, thought leader interviews, professional recognition awards and videos. Optimize each blog post so it ranks on the first page of Google for a premeditated keyword.

10. Launch a Paid Advertising Campaign

Launch a smart, micro-targeted and machine-learning-based paid advertising campaign using the right mix of paid channels. Show up and serve a prospect at every step of their journey to becoming a student.

11. Promote on Social Media

Weave the launch announcement and ongoing program activities into your social media calendar.

12. Conduct Open Houses, Information Sessions and Webinars

Roll out the red carpet. People who show up are most likely to enroll.

13. Energize Influencers, Referral Networks and Reliable Feeders

Wholesale student streams provide a solid foundation upon which you build your retail student recruitment.

For undergraduate programs, build relationships with school principals, teachers, college counselors, alumni, and educational journalists so they can create a steady source of new students.

For graduate programs, build relationships with employers, industry partners, trade groups and educational journalists.

14. Activate Boots-on-the-ground Activities

It’s hard to achieve success with marketing alone without a good ground game. Speak in public forums, visit schools and colleges, meet corporate leaders and recruiters, and partner with people who influence prospects.

P R O C E S S

Staff Appropriately

Hire diverse staff. Increasingly diverse students expect to be served by diverse staff.

Follow-up with Inquiries and Applications on a Timely Basis

Keep it human. Respond quickly. Pay as much attention to admissions yield and follow-up systems as you do to generating and nurturing leads.

Recruit friends and colleagues to become secret shoppers for your new program. Ask them about their experience.

Deploy a unique game plan for every stage of the admissions funnel.

Know what prospects and influencers need at every stage of the admissions funnel, and meet their needs. Pay as much attention to admission yield communications and follow-up processes as you do to lead-generation and lead-nurturing communications.

The key lessons we learned from our experience was that colleges should break away from convention; that if you are offering a distinctive program, marketing should be proportionately elevated; that success is a byproduct of a good partnership between the agency and your team; that the agency and clients teams must learn fast, adapt fast and move fast to get an unfair share of the market. The leadership belongs to the bold.

Contact us if you are seeking a smart higher education marketing agency which can help you join the elite group of successful programs we’ve launched.

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I recently came across an article from Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, discussing the success and failure rates for new products. He shared that about 30,000 new products are introduced every year, and a whopping 95% fail.  This made me wonder about the success and failure rate of new academic programs at colleges and universities. After some digging, I found a study by Burning Glass, a market research firm, titled “Bad Bets: The High Cost of Failing Programs in Higher Education.” They analyzed graduation data for the 10,536 new undergraduate and graduate degree programs that were launched in 2010-2011. In 2018, they took a snapshot of graduates to assess the success and failure of these programs.

Sobering Data

This is what they discovered: about a third of the programs weren’t graduating any students; roughly half were graduating fewer than five students; and two thirds of the programs produced fewer than ten graduates. That’s pretty sobering considering the estimated cost of sustaining a program over a four-year period was around $2M.

Public institutions fared a little better than private non-profit colleges and universities: 24% of publics failed to graduate any students as compared to 34% of privates; 37% of publics graduated less than 5 students, as compared to 55% of privates; and 51% of publics graduated less than 10 students, as compared to 67% of privates. This is dismal performance given the confidence and fanfare involved at the time of launch.

How Can Colleges and Universities Improve Their Success Ratio?

Having launched numerous new programs, we have learned that these eight factors determine success:

  1. Tuition: Higher tuition rates can be charged for more distinctive and unique programs. For more competitive programs, you have to articulate a distinctive value proposition and adjust tuition accordingly.
  2. Competitive Landscape: It is important to evaluate same or similar degrees in the geography you plan to serve. Study Department of Education data to analyze competitive offerings.
  3. Demand For Graduates: Assess the demand for graduates. Evaluate job boards and Department of Labor statistics.
  4. Pre-Existing Pipeline of Prospective Students: Evaluate if a pipeline of students exists. If you have an established pool of interested prospects, it will give your program the headwinds it needs to get off the ground.
  5. Nurture Leads: Establish a thoughtful system for timely and intelligent follow-up of inquiries. Humanize your response and calibrate timeliness.
  6. Faculty: Bootstrap new programs with energetic faculty and program directors. Students are attracted to inspiring high-achievers.
  7. Marketing Investment: Prospective students can’t enroll in programs they can’t find. Half the programs fail to take off because the institution didn’t invest in a commensurate marketing budget.
  8. Marketing Imagination: A creative marketing approach is the x-factor behind successful program launches. Hire an agency that thinks outside-the-box, tries innovative approaches, and looks at data creatively.

A smart higher education marketing agency can propel your program into orbit faster and create success. If you are interested in joining the ranks of legendary program launches, please contact us.

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The pace of spinning out new academic programs at colleges and universities is increasing. Over the years, we’ve helped clients launch and market several new degrees. Some have been wildly successful, some mildly so and others just sputter along. What’s the difference between success and failure? In my view, God is in the details.

Everyone knows that the overall process is pretty straightforward: you assess the opportunity, plan the rollout, and execute the launch.

I’ll share a story of a program that applied this logic and almost didn’t take off. And how we turned it around to become a runaway success. This is the story of Carnegie Mellon’s MS in Product Management.

Assess the Opportunity

Most colleges hire a market research firm to analyze data from the Department of Education and the Department of Labor to assess the competitive landscape and the demand for graduates. Carnegie Mellon approached it differently.

Carnegie Mellon’s former Dean of the School of Computer Science had recently left Google. One of the challenges he faced there was the difficulty in finding seasoned product managers. The few product managers he was able to hire had risen through the ranks from marketing and software development. They had acquired the necessary customer experience and management skills on the job. He knew there was growing demand for product managers but no school was offering a masters degree in product management.

Armed with this insight, he designed the world’s first MS in Product Management program tapping talented professors from Carnegie Mellon’s top-ranked computer science and business schools.

Plan & Execute the Launch

Carnegie Mellon hired an agency to promote the program on a nominal budget. The agency launched the program with a website comprised of 15 pages of copy and a single image. Instead of applying marketing imagination, they reasoned: “It’s Carnegie Mellon. If you build it, they’ll come.”

The agency ran a paid advertising campaign and directed prospects to the website. The campaign generated 3,000 leads, but only a handful of these turned into applicants. In the first year, CMU only accepted four applicants, two of whom barely met the admissions criteria but were admitted anyway to jumpstart the program.

Enter A New Program Director & Elliance

Greg Coticchia, a serial entrepreneur, had matured into a very successful product manager through his experiences with more than a dozen startups. He was ready to give back to society and train young talent. He was recruited to save and turnaround this fledgling program. His first step was to seek out an agency that understood both marketing and demand generation.

He asked us if we could take the program to the promised land of prosperity and growth. I said only if he would trust our instinct — honed over 25 years. This was our assessment:

Carnegie Mellon is selling a premium product and asking prospects to make a $160K-$180K decision: $68K for tuition, $25K for room & board, and the $70K-$90K salary they would forgo to enroll in this program. For someone to make this expensive decision, we’ll need to romance them with a “Ferrari-looking” microsite and a thought-leadership blog. We recommend that CMU invest more money to market the new program with smart, micro-targeted paid media. Our initial goal will be to generate 300 leads of which 20 or so will convert into an enviable class for the second year. This initial investment will generate a pipeline of prospects for subsequent years. We added one more condition: “These students will trust you because you are a product manager. You’ll personally follow up with the leads in the first year.”

Greg liked our assessment and we got started.

Step 1: Build a “Ferrari” Microsite

We persuaded Greg to allow us to build the microsite outside the rigid grid of Carnegie Mellon’s website template system. Greg fought the internal battles and gave us the permission to produce this masterpiece:

Step 2: Create a Story Landing Page

Since paid advertising prospects don’t have the patience to experience an expanded microsite, we built a story landing page that distilled our argument and told a compelling brand story. This was in sharp contrast to the industry best practices where prospects are served a skinny landing page with an intrusive inquiry form.

Step 3: Start a Thought Leadership Blog

Being one of the pioneering product management degrees, we recommended CMU claim their thought leadership position with a blog. Each blog post became a keyword hive to secure Google page one rankings for the program globally.

Over the next few years, we created several infographics, downloadable pdf’s, thought leader interviews, professional recognition awards and videos. Below is one of the videos we created to introduce the program:

Step 4: Launch a Paid Advertising Campaign

Elliance launched a smart, micro-targeted and machine-learning-based paid advertising campaign using various paid channels.

Step 5: Wait for the Inquiries and Applications

Right-fit prospects raised their hands. In the first year, close to 500 leads were generated from professionals working in blue-chip companies. Greg kept his promise. He called every one of them. He learned a ton from those conversations and shared his insights with us. In turn, we fine-tuned and optimized our marketing messages and blog posts. The leads and applications continued to grow.

Step 6: Enjoy the Success

At the end of our first year, the enrollment grew from 4 to 20 — as we had projected at the outset. In year two, the class grew to 30 students. In year three, enrollment grew to 40, and finally in year four to 50. We successfully grew enrollment 12-fold in just a few years! Everyone was ecstatic. Carnegie Mellon raised the program tuition from $68K to $70K.

Google page one rankings for the website and the blog grew steadily. Here is a sample screen shot of some of their rankings at the end of the fourth year.

Epilogue

After four great years, Greg regretfully left for greener pastures. My team and I wept at the news of his departure.

The key lessons we learned from this experience were that colleges should be prepared to break away from conventions. That if you are offering a premium degree, marketing should be proportionately elevated. That success is a byproduct of a productive partnership between the agency and client team. That the agency and clients teams must learn fast, adapt fast and move fast to claim a leadership position. That leadership belongs to the bold.

Contact us if you are seeking a smart higher education marketing agency which can help you join the legendary ranks of Greg and Carnegie Mellon’s MS in Product Management.

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