As part of my dissertation research, I wanted to understand what Chief Marketing Officers perceived as the role of their offices. So I did some homework…
Starting with the University Mission and Vision
Chances are, it officially sounds something like this:
- To protect and advance the reputation of UF, and to enrich the value and impact of the University by unifying its voice. — UF University Relations
- We build, manage and promote the S&T brand experience to further our university’s mission and strategic goals. — Missouri S&T Marketing and Communications
The Official Definition
When looking at the official definition of marketing — it is also more broad than what is typically represented in university marketing and communication teams’ mission and vision statements.
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. (Approved 2017)American Marketing Association
What the Research Showed
After visiting with 15 CMOs, it is clear. Marketing is evolving. It is no longer just brand management or reputation building. Marketing teams are doing much more: messaging, enrollment support, retention support, branding, creative development and much more.
These CMOs mentioned that marketing has begun to be viewed as a legitimate industry and part of higher education, and that has resulted in many more people wanting to capitalize on the work that marketing does for the organization and specific departments.
After visiting with CMOs at several institutions. Here are my key takeways about the role of the marketing office aside from the tactical work of things like creating campaigns, designing billboards, and buying digital ads. Here is the more nuanced role of the marketing team.
Change Agents for Campus – Marketing teams tend to work across the entire campus, which gives them an opportunity to see things outside of particular silos. As such, marketing teams have a unique perspective, allowing them to bring campus entities together in order to serve as change agents for campus. As higher education entities may need to change ahead of the enrollment cliff, marketing teams may serve as a critical change agent to help that happen.
Build the Authentic Brand – Brand-building work is some of the most important work that these teams do because brand work creates long-term emotional connections with students, alumni, donors, and community builders. Because brand work is sometimes difficult to track, it is easy to push it aside in favor of messages that are more quantifiable. However, this work creates the emotion that cause people to take action (attend, give, serve), so it simply can’t be forgotten. And it’s up to marketing teams to shepherd and advocate for this work.
Differentiate – Universities have a tendency to want to be all things to all people. This is not possible. Because marketing teams can see across campus silos, they are in a better place to see what the university does well and help garner support for telling that story. That means building relationships with the campus community to make sure people aware of these unique opportunities to tell a story others can’t. And it means leading the charge to make sure that marketing messages include these unique factors as part of the conversation.
Make it Easy – Most people want to do the right thing. Until it’s hard. Think recycling. Most people want to recycle. Until it’s hard. Sorting the paper from the glass, from the cardboard is time consuming and difficult. At some point, people just put it in the trash. The same with marketing. People want to be part until it’s hard. Our role is to make it easy. Provide a flyer template in a format that doesn’t require a special software. Provide an email template with words for a recruitment email. Provide training to help with messaging. We have campuses full of people who want to help, but sometimes the brand book is complicated to follow. Our job is to create excitement about the brand and make it easy for others to be part.
What it Means
Thinking about the role of the marketing office in either a nuanced way or a tactical way has the same outcome — marketing teams are busy. Very busy.
Recent data from Simpson Scarborough showed that marketing teams regularly have more on their plate than they feel they can achieve.
Part of the reason marketing teams are busy is the professionalization of the department. Marketing no longer sits in the corner of an office designing a billboard in isolation. Marketing is starting to have a seat at the table and beginning to be part of the conversation about the university and the opportunities it provides.
We as an industry are experiencing growing pains. And for me, it will be exciting to see where the growth takes the role of the marketing team over the next 15 years.