Marketing Effectiveness – Now Is The Time
The challenge for HEIs
Investment in marketing and communications by HEIs is fast becoming a critical activity where the measurement of value and the effective deployment of resources are under the spotlight as never before. As a result of market changes, and potentially declining student numbers, we believe that many HEIs will invest more in marketing and communications to at least maintain their ‘market share’ and ensure economies of scale are not threatened.
Some recent benchmarking we conducted in the sector suggested that evaluation of marketing and communications activity is typically a little patchy and sporadic at present, with more emphasis placed on measurement of individual initiatives than on overall programmes.
Measuring marketing effectiveness and return on marketing investment is notoriously difficult. In a complex sector like HE, difficulties multiply, as there are many dimensions of performance which marketing strategies and activities will seek to influence. In attracting undergraduate applications, for instance, Universities will have targets regarding overall application numbers, applications by department / faculty, quality of applicants, and educational background of applicants (state or private school), among others.
To demonstrate effectiveness, marketing activity needs to demonstrate positive impacts on these targets in line with the University’s stated strategy. This poses challenges in gathering and analysing data from a range of sources, as well as in conducting research and identifying where the marketing contribution is most effective. Maximising value is dependent on continuous tracking, learning over time through trend analysis, and the development of ratios and indices that turn analysis into actionable indicators and tools.
The private sector has been wrestling with the measurement of effectiveness for some time. In a recent global study by IBM of Chief Marketing Officers, it was identified as one of four critical tasks to address. To quote from the study;
“Most Chief Marketing Officers are struggling in one vital respect – return on investment (ROI). Our research shows the measures used to evaluate marketing are changing. Nearly two-thirds of CMOs think return on marketing investment will be the primary measure of their effectiveness by 2015. But proving that value is difficult. Even among the most successful enterprises, half of all CMOs feel insufficiently prepared to provide hard numbers.”
Public sector and marketing effectiveness
The public sector has also been wrestling with the challenge of marketing effectiveness. In November 2009 the COI published a heavyweight document entitled ‘Payback and Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) in the public sector’.
The COI recommended a number of principles to guide marketers through an effectiveness measurement process for marketing campaigns. Among them are:
1. Start with an understanding of what your campaign is trying to do and how it will work
2. Isolate the impact of your campaign from the effects of other factors
3. Make conservative but realistic estimates of the value of the impact
4. Be transparent; show all your workings and list all your assumptions
There are some very strong examples of ROMI in the influencing of public behaviour, typically evidenced in the IPA Effectiveness Awards, for instance:
- The Training & Development Agency for Schools (TDA) changed their teacher recruitment communications from ‘selling’ teaching to helping people become teachers, using a series of behavioural triggers. The campaign achieved a minimum payback of £101 for every £1 spent; increasing teacher enquiries and applications to record-breaking levels on a smaller spend.
- The Department of Health’s Stroke Awareness campaign used a multi-channel strategy to communicate to the public how to spot the symptoms of a stroke and what to do as a result, using a memorable acronym – FAST. This resulted in estimates of nearly 10,000 more people getting to hospital faster; more than 600 of whom were saved from death or serious disability. The campaign achieved a payback of £3.20 for every £1 spent.
Where next for HE Marketing?
For those HE marketers who are looking to improve the effectiveness of their marketing and communications, we suggest setting a base line with these practical steps:
1. Begin your marketing effectiveness upgrade one step at a time; don’t try to do too much too quickly
2. Work hard on alignment with the corporate strategy; start with your marketing objectiveness and strategy, and the overall marketing programme
3. Don’t focus solely on communications measures; they are the most obvious and visible to others but rarely tell the whole story
4. Raise the profile of marketing effectiveness yourself. Tell key stakeholders in the university that this subject is being addressed and how.
5. Make effectiveness measurement one of the first questions in a marketing plan, not the last. If you don’t know how to measure the effect, should you be doing it?
These may seem obvious but, from experience, they make a difference.