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Marketing Strategies to Keep Institutions in Lockstep with their Customers (Part 1)
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Marketing Strategies to Keep Institutions in Lockstep with their Customers (Part 1)

Higher education marketing requires institutions to become proactive in understanding and responding to customer needs.


Marketing has seen a tremendous transformation in the last few decades. We have come a long way from the days of grassroots marketing, limited to the street block a local shop was on, to building national and international brands to now influencing the entire customer lifecycle and experience. On this journey, we have become smarter and better.

Higher education is no different than any other in this regard.

If you ask education marketers today about the scope of their involvement, you will notice it encapsulates aspects of creating and delivering value, staying in continuous communication through multiple channels and guiding the rest of the organization about the changing needs of the customer.

The breadth of involvement is a rather tall order, but enter the world of technology and analytics and the job becomes less daunting. You have a student who jumps across channels; you have a solution called a correlation model, a lift model or an attribution model. You have a certificate or a degree-seeking student who becomes an alumnus and then may come back to you for furthering his or her education; you have a solution called a nurturing or drip campaign. You have a student who shares his or her experience; you have a solution called social analytics, and you know who’s saying what, who’s listening (or not) and how many generations each conversation carries.

This phenomenon is not just limited to higher education; it applies to any organization that interacts with its customers. Organizational functions can be grouped into two categories: “sensory” and “motor” functions.

1. “Sensory” functional units

These units pick up activities or trends displayed by the customer. For higher education institutions, a few examples of such units are recruitment and marketing, enrollment and advising. For non-educational businesses, some examples are sales, customer service and marketing.

2. “Motor” functional units

These are primarily responsible for implementing the signals the sensory units pick up. Some examples are information technology, finance, accounting, operations, product development, manufacturing and so on.

Each sensory function has its own set of tasks, as well as a set of inputs to the motor functions it depends on for implementation. Similarly, each motor function has its own set of responsibilities for operating efficiently, and also a set of responsibilities to relay information back to the sensory functions — this is called the feedback loop. Unless a functional unit recognizes both sets of responsibilities, it’s difficult to truly walk lockstep with the customer.

This is the first of a two-part series by Ramendra Singh exploring strategies higher education institutions can put into place to keep pace with their students-customers. In the second part, Singh expands on the specific features of sensory and motor marketing functions. To read the final installment, please click here.

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2 Responses to Marketing Strategies to Keep Institutions in Lockstep with their Customers (Part 1)

  1. g s c Reply

    2014/03/18 at 11:26 am

    I’ve observed a move within higher education in the past five years to more responsive marketing. For the most part, institutions seem to have acknowledged that the “push” often does not achieve their objectives. As these institutions work on a new strategy to engage prospective or current students, it will be incredibly important for them to work with all units on board.

  2. Heather Reply

    2014/03/19 at 11:26 am

    Sing does a good job of distinguishing between the sensory and motor units of an institution. I would slightly tweak his definition and call them sensory and motor functions, as there are scenarios where both can be found within one unit (continuing education comes to mind).

    I think there needs to be better collaboration between those that perform these two functions, as that will help inform a streamlined marketing approach for the institution.

    Interesting food for thought.

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