The Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table is based on a wide range of marketing principles, theory and models. It incorporates these elements into its approach, structure, and marketing mix map applications.
Here is a summary of each of these elements and a short description of how each contributes to the Periodic Table:
1. The 7Ps of the Marketing Mix
The 4Ps model of the Marketing Mix, (Product, Promotion, Price, Packaging) was first developed by Professor Jerome McCarthy in 1960, as a tool to organize and plan marketing activities. It was then expanded upon by Coombs & Smith in 1981, to the seven Ps, (adding Process, People, Physical Evidence), to better incorporate the realities of services marketing. Many more recent authors have argued that the 7Ps is no longer a relevant model in the new world of digital marketing. I don’t agree and would argue it is a particularly effective model with which to examine higher education marketing. The 7Ps form the most important organizing principle of the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table.
There’s a lot of great reference material out there that describes the workings of the 7 Ps so I won’t go into them in detail here. I will say that I generally follow the model and have worked back into it some elements of the 4 C’s models to modernize their scope a bit. A notable change is “Physical Evidence” which I have loosely redefined as simply “Evidence”, in recognition of the importance of digital or virtual evidence.
2. The Whole Product Concept
Levitt and then Mckenna’s work on the Whole Product Concept provides a really useful way to look at higher education “product”. First, let’s dispense with the “product “vs “service” argument. “Traditional” higher ed offerings are best described as a service, rather than a product. More recently though, higher ed has been on a mission to break its offerings down into smaller and smaller units, like learning modules and micro-credentials. As new, tech-based market entrants and business models disrupt the traditional higher ed market, learning products have become quite common rather than services. The whole product concept breaks down “product” into three dimensions including core product, actual product, and augmented product. Here is an example, applied to higher ed.
Most importantly as a marketer, you must understand your own product’s/service’s main value propositions and the dimension of the model into which they best fit. For example, a short technical training certificate can be described as having predominantly “actual” product characteristics. Contrast that with the importance of augmented product characteristics of “the student experience” of an Ivy League university degree. This approach helps to identify a broad range of often, very different dimensions of your value proposition and to then prioritize and emphasize them across your marketing mix. Understanding these dimensions will help you discern and focus your value propositions and o better communicate them to your target audience.
3. The PESO Model
The PESO Model, of promotional mix elements, (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned), organizes the Promotion section of the Periodic Table quite nicely. I’ve also rounded out this section with a “Traditional” mix section and included “Event” marketing. Social media is organized a bit differently in the periodic table from what you will normally see elsewhere. I have used this approach to prioritize social channels that are most common and relevant in higher ed marketing. This approach may be contentious but is useful when setting mix priorities.
So now we are starting to get into the “influenced by” section, rather than “based on”. Kotler’s Marketing 4.0 Model really does capture the challenge we face in higher ed, navigating the marketing landscape from traditional-oriented strategy and tactics to more digitally, connected, social marketing. I think this is highly relevant because of the complex and expansive nature of the higher ed landscape, in which we are often caught between the traditional and the digital worlds.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of hardcore digital marketing going on out there. Much “traditional” marketing, (and rightly so, as it still works well), is firmly entrenched in the strategy and tactics of colleges and universities. I feel the “connected “marketing mix approach he offers describes many of the newer, more “disruptive” oriented institution’s approaches. Engagement and advocacy are well-recognized metrics of success in today’s competitive digital marketplace, regardless of where your institution fits on this spectrum.
Although more of a framework than a model, I would also add April Dunford’s approach to positioning as a strong influence on how I have imagined the Positioning section in Promotion (# 77-82 in the Periodic Table). In her recent book on positioning, “Obviously Awesome”, she presents an approach to position yourself, that I really like and have used to organize this section. If you are currently working on rebranding or positioning for your college or university, it would be well worth the read to help you focus and enhance your process.
6. Marketing Mix Maps
My concept for visual mix mapping is a work in progress, but I feel it becomes clearer and more refined in each update I release. Three components, including, a) the passive mix b) the active mix, and c) strategy anchors create a mix map in the higher education marketing periodic table.
Passive and active mix are not new marketing concepts themselves, but mapping them together visually, (with a strategy anchor), is and provides a new approach to building or analyzing your own marketing mix ( or to examine a competitor’s). I added the concept of strategy anchors as an extension of the active/passive mix to help focus a mix map user’s strategy and tactics. I see strategy anchors as central cinch pins in the broader marketing strategy and highlight them as such. Go here for a fuller description of Marketing Mix Maps.
So that’s my review of the marketing principles, theory, and models behind the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table and Marketing Mix Maps. By describing these underpinning elements, I hope that the reader gains a fuller understanding of the design and approach of the periodic table model. This should also help you when constructing or analyzing your higher ed marketing mix.
Your feedback on the periodic table and mix maps is greatly appreciated. Most particularly, I would appreciate hearing your challenges and/or criticisms of these ideas to help me pressure test the approach and to further develop the model.
I look forward to hearing from you.
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So why and how would you want to visualize your higher ed marketing mix with mix maps?
Your higher ed marketing mix is a collection of optimized decisions, tools, and tactics that you organize around a marketing strategy to effectively promote your product or service. Most people think of creating their marketing mix as something that’s pretty tactical, a step that you get to in your planning; a to-do list that you spin out of your marketing plan and strategy.
But marketing mix is more than just a bunch of tactics that you string together. It’s also a dynamic, “Complex” or maybe even“Emergent” system where the overall effect of the mix is greater than the sum of the parts. When you really get it right, it’s where the magic happens. If you’ve been a marketing practitioner for a while, and have had a major success or two, you know what I mean.
The problem is that it’s really hard to optimize your mix if you’re just thinking about it as a list of tactics. You need to be able to see your whole marketing “footprint”, visualizing the relationships between its elements. Only then can you understand its structure, its scope, its potential, and how to leverage all of its parts to maximum effect.
That’s where marketing “Mix Maps” on the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table can help.
Here’s how to visualize your higher ed marketing mix with mix maps.
So let’s start our explanation of Mix Maps by defining its parts, building a mix map from the ground up.
At the foundation of a Mix Map is the Higher Ed Marketing Periodic Table. It provides a visualization of the general landscape of the higher ed marketing ecosystem and includes most of the different elements you might want to include in your marketing mix. Click this link for a full descriptionof the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table and to download a pdf of it.
There are three different types of marketing mix indicators on a mix map. They are the Positioning Elements, Active Mix Elements, and Strategy Anchor Elements.
I define these elements as the following:
Positioning Elements are the background, foundational marketing mix elements that serve an important role but have a lower profile in the mix. They are not always clear or visible from the outside looking in.
Active Mix Elements are the dynamic, or activated mix elements that are clear and visible from the outside, that are driving your marketing strategy forward.
Strategy Anchors Elements become evident after mapping the positioning elements and the active mix elements. They are the most important of all of the mix elements. Once identified, they suggest the primary marketing strategy in play across your total mix.
Next, let’s create a mix map on the Higher Education Marketing Periodic table.
If the higher ed marketing periodic table is the landscape of higher ed marketing, the mix map plots your path on the landscape that gets you to your marketing goals.
Let’s dig into the example shown above. Note that I have built this example from recent news headlines and am identifying the mix elements while looking in from the outside. I don’t work with either EdX or SNHU. The analysis is mine, not informed by anyone from these institutions. It is an example of looking at a marketing case from the outside, as many of you regularly do, when you are examining a competitive program or an innovative offering, like this one, and considering how to compete. Here is thelink to the press releasethat announced the launch of this program back in April.
Now, lets review the steps you go through to build a mix map.
Step 1) Gather background information and establish the main mix elements
Gather the main elements of the case into a brief profile of the example you want to map.
A quick summary of the highlights of the edX/SNHU Microbachelor program might go like this:
Includes 2 courses, Data Management and Business Analytics, get 6 credits,
Cost is $US 1250,
Have 8 months to complete,
SNHU profs teach the courses
SNHU and edX cross promote
these edX courses articulate into SNHU associate or bachelor’s degree program
Step 2) Add the Positioning Elements to the Periodic Table
This is the part of the process that is very subjective. It is based on your experience, your knowledge of, and your perspective on the situation you’re examining.
Here’s my take on what the Foundation Elements should be :
Step 3) Then add the Active Mix elements.
I define the active mix as those elements that are dynamic parts of the mix. Many of the active mix elements in this example are inferred from my general background knowledge and experience, but I confident they are pretty close. They are the things that are most visible, dynamic, timely, the ones that hit the gas on your campaign or plan.
(PRO TIP:Have a colleague create own their version of the map for an example you are working on and compare. The differences between the two maps will prove to be very interesting, revealing a wealth of information, and reveal clues about your different experiences and perspective.)
Step 4) Add the Strategy Anchor Elements
Based on your positioning and active mix elements, now work out the strategy anchors. These are those critical pieces of the mix that reveal the real foundation of your marketing strategy, the main elements that are shaped by “the how” of your marketing mix.
Step 5) Add your Strategy Anchor Titles to the Periodic Table
Once you determine what you believe to be the strategy anchors, drop them onto the mix and summarize what you discern to be the strategy of the mix you are studying. If I am going to be presenting a mix map to others, to help them understand my analysis, I will usually add these keywords to the mix map to help reveal the insights that I have concluded.
So there you go. That’s the quick intro into how you develop a Mix Map on the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table.
(PRO TIP:To capture these elements in a simple way I use PowerPoint. Basically, I drop the PT into PowerPoint slide and then draw the mix elements on to the map. Usually, I’ll do that one layer at a time, adding a new slide for each to keep them separate. When you are finished with a layer hit escape and ppt will ask if you want to save your drawing. Say yes, and it adds your elements to the slide as a layer that you can move around, copy or simply save. )
I will review these steps of how to use Powerpoint to do this in more detail in an upcoming blog and provide an example of it there.
So that’s how you can visualize your higher ed marketing mix with mix maps. I hope you find it useful.
Assuming they’re not proprietary or top secret, feel free to send along examples of your mix map examples to me to comment on. I’d really love to see how you choose to apply this tech, to learn from you and continue to improve the Periodic Table and this Mix Map approach in the future.
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The Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table emerged from my personal efforts to stay abreast of the changing higher ed marketing landscape and to put it into some kind of order that would help me be a better marketer. Digital marketing for higher ed is a complex and rapidly changing landscape to work in and stay on top of these days. The rules of the game are constantly changing with updates to your go-to tools and ever-changing channels while you try to keep up with the latest and greatest marketing strategy and tactics. Factoring in “for higher education marketing and recruitment”, with the covid-driven business reality, the explosion of remote learning, and the impending enrolment cliff, and it is doubly challenging.
My work on the “Table” began, some time ago, quite simply by keeping what I then called my “Know About List”: an inventory of SEMM and digital marketing topics that I felt any respectable higher ed marketer should have mastery over. Over time, by sorting with McCarthy’s 7 Ps, and layering in more marketing theory, (i.e., the Three Product Levels Model, the PESO Media Model, etc.), more structure evolved. Many marketing academics today argue that the 4Ps and the 7Ps models are too dated to apply to today’s digital marketing environment but I believe they still work well enough to be helpful and I choose to apply them in this model. Then, after reading a Seth Godin blog about how innovative Mendeleev’s 1869 invention of the periodic table of elements truly was, another penny dropped and its current structure was developed.
Most importantly, it has matured to a point where I feel it really does put higher ed marketing and recruitment into a well-organized and useful landscape. Assuming I’m correct, it also makes it time to share it with others, who might benefit from it. I am quite sure it is by no means perfect, or for that matter complete. I humbly propose this version of the Periodic Table, knowing it still has gaps, and is at least incomplete on a few elements. But that too was the real beauty of Mendeleev’s invention of the periodic table; he left empty spaces for things he knew were yet to come. Let’s all just agree, it is a work in progress that will continue to improve. I look forward to getting alot of your feedback to help me accomplish that.
But enough of the backstory, let’s look at the Table.
The Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table
So, let’s start with the table’s main organizing principle, the 7 Ps of Marketing. So why are we talking the 7 Ps and not just the original 4 Ps ? When first developed in 1981 by McCarthy, the original 4 Ps, Product, Promotion, Price, and Place, were proposed to explain the four main elements of the marketing mix for what was then the priority, product marketing. Shortly thereafter, Bose and Bitner extended the 4 Ps model into 7ps, adding People, Processes, and Physical evidence, making it more relevant and applicable to the expanding world of services marketing.
The 7 Ps of Marketing
This discussion may lead you to ask, which category does the business of higher education fall into, product or service? We’ll leave the serious debating about this to the academics and settle, for the purposes of this Periodic Table, that in its present form, it is a bit of both. I’d argue that as higher ed’s newer offerings become more and more niche, compartmentalized and self-contained, (i.e. computer-based, self-paced, micro-credentials), that they look much more like products than ever. But let’s leave that subject and debate for another day.
The 7 Ps is a model used for marketing decision-making. Each of the 7 P categories includes various marketing elements, that you may, or may not incorporate into your marketing mix for whatever you are marketing, be it a new community initiative, a new cybersecurity program, or rebranding your school You determine which elements you will use in your mix, based on your marketing objectives, marketing strategy, your strengths and weaknesses, your competition, your budget, and timeline, etc.
A school’s high-level marketing objectives are typically derived from your academic plan, or your SEMM plan, or your divisional/departmental marketing plan. Depending on your level in your school’s management structure, you may or may not have input into these plans. As a VP, Marketing, you likely work with your school’s president to create your academic or SEMM plan. As say, a social media community manager, you are more likely involved at a lower, more hands-on level in the overall marketing planning effort. The good news is that the Periodic Table works quite well at all levels of your higher ed organizations. We will look at specific examples of both, in a soon to be published blog.
A Quick Comment on the Place of Strategy
The Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table presents the main elements of the higher ed marketing mix. It captures the broad landscape of marketing-related activities but it does not tell you directly what to “build” on the landscape. Your academic plan, SEMM plan, or departmental marketing objectives and marketing strategy ultimately determine how you shape your marketing mix.
A clear diagnosis or definition of the challenge you are facing.
A description of how you will solve the problem, based on leveraging your strengths, your competition, your budget, and your schedule.
The key steps and resources needed to implement the approach
The Periodic Table can help you complete each of these steps by:
Generating a clearer diagnosis of the challenge, opportunity, or threat
Designing an effective marketing strategy to tackle the challenge or problem
Build an optimal marketing mix, (steps, tools, and tactics), with which to implement your strategy.
Let’s move on from the marketing strategy side and look at each of the 7 Ps and the elements within each.
As mentioned earlier we will regard this category as including both Products and Services. In the Periodic Table, I have broken out Product/Service into three categories which are described in more detail with Kotler’s Three Product Levels Model.
This model includes,
1. Core Product/Service – (What’s at the very core of what higher ed offers?) – At its core, higher education offers three things including, learning experience (learn how to learn, personal development), academics, (specific knowledge), and vocational relevance (getting a job). For example, you might enroll in a training program to get a related, specific job within 6 months.
2. Actual Product/Service –(What are the actual product/services that higher ed offers?) – the actual product/service in higher ed includes courses, programs, diplomas, degrees, and credentials, teaching, academic quality, brand. For example, You might study accounting, graduate, and fast track to getting a CA designation.
3. Augmented Product/Service– (What are the important things beyond the actual product/service itself that higher ed offers?) – the extended campus environment, student services, the student experience, the reputation, brand extensions. For example, you might study business at Harvard, graduate, and get an almost guaranteed job interview with a top 10 consulting firm.
Different institutions deliberately offer products/services with very different value propositions, for different target audiences. Understanding the nature of your product/service’s positioning on the Three Product Levels spectrum is important to enabling their marketers to develop the appropriate and optimal value propositions and marketing mix for their target audience.
Price is a critically important element of your marketing mix. At its heart, is the complicated element of your institution’s pricing models and strategies. Pricing does not usually get too much discussion in the marketing department because institutional pricing/policy often gets handed down from a higher authority. That’s changing in today’s competitive marketplace, (i.e. Covid-driven changes to value proposition), and is very much coming into the purview of the marketing department. Innovative pricing strategy has become a required element to compete in today’s fast-changing higher ed marketplace. Even if you don’t ultimately control the element of pricing at your institution, you need to understand its complexities, so you can recommend/apply new pricing levers for your school’s best advantage. For example,
increases of tuition to cover online learning costs
decreases of tuition due to a less robust student experience
canceling of ancillary costs not incurred because of remote learning
expanded categories of financial aid, (lowering student net costs)
temporarily dropped “margins” intended to bridge tough economic times
dropped net tuition by institution due to the adoption of open-source textbooks
programs with free tuition leveraged by government or community-based funding
Place is defined as “where your products and services are seen and where you engage with your audience”. The dimension of Place in the higher ed marketing mix has been dramatically impacted in the last year due to Covid-19, with shuttered campuses and the mass migration of higher ed to online delivery. It looks like campus life should return to some semblance of “normal” by 2022, but Place in higher ed marketing has been forever changed. Also recognize, that to be complete, you must generalize your thinking about Place beyond the three dominant elements of online, campus, and high schools, to also include locations where your product/services are active across your larger community, including alumni, business partners, government and with international agents in other countries.
The People category of the 7Ps is defined as that group of people who engage with your audience on your behalf. Similar to the Place category this dimension seems on the surface, rather straightforward but don’t fall into lazy thinking about this. Particularly important in the context of a service-based industry, your people do not only participate in the delivery of the service of higher education, they actually are the service, creating its culture, shaping your brand in the marketplace, and acting as its voice. Students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and employers all become significant inside players in the delivery of the higher ed marketing mix. Outside of the inner circle, business partners, suppliers, agents, consultants, and governments operate on many levels, in many complex ways, to assist the higher ed institution pursues its objectives through engagement with its many constituencies. Your larger community, partners, services providers, and agencies of government all play a critical role in solving your marketing challenges and should be seen as a potential marketing mix resource to do so.
Processes are defined as series of actions or steps that an institution takes to deliver its products/services to its audiences. Looking at the customer journey is a helpful way to imagine and capture these processes from recruitment to student services to alumni fundraising. “Customer or audience” should be defined in its’ broadest terms to capture all of your higher ed constituencies. The quality and convenience of your processes and related supporting systems are key drivers of your relationships with your audience, their resulting perceptions of you, and ultimately the shaping and reinforcement of your brand. In higher education, your People managing your Process ultimately defines your Product/Service.
6. Physical Evidence
Tangible evidence, like your campus facilities, printed branded marketing collateral, or a big blue bus driving cross-country delivering diplomas, all fit the traditional definition of physical evidence within the marketing mix. To maintain relevancy in today’s evolving online world, I would argue we need to bend the definition of “physical evidence of brand and mix” to also include some non-tangible elements. Some examples I’d add would include things like online blockchain credentials, accreditation statements, and trust icons, as well documented testimonials and reviews.
Given its importance in the customer journey, I also include websites as physical evidence. The irony of both on- and off-line consumer behaviour today is that generally, consumers don’t trust most of the evidence that brands provide of their quality. What they generally do trust is the advice of family, trusted friends, and online reviews. With this in mind, I have added testimonials and reviews to the physical evidence section of the table. Third-party advocacy for your brand, and evidence of it on your site and social channels is critical today. And given the high level of interaction, I have included user experience as the ultimate evidence of brand and culture in the marketing mix. You will also see it as an element in Promotion, as an important means of delivering a message and strategy.
The Promotions section of the Table captures the main tools and tactics that you employ every day in your marketing department through traditional offline and digitally online. The top half of the Promotion section is all about the tactics and the bottom half collects a mix of marketing management, strategy, and specializations. The top row (3, 13-20) includes traditional offline marketing activities. 21 PR (Earned Media) is included there as well, not because it is traditional in its practices, but because there was an available spot for it.
The three rows of media below Traditional are organized by the PESO ( Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned) media model. Content and Events topics are listed within Owned media. Although not a perfect fit, these categories work reasonably well. Shared incorporates the organic aspect of social channels, and Paid includes all online advertising activities. Any Paid social advertising elements fall under 66 Pay-per-Click.
The bottom half of the Promotions sections (76 -101) is a summary of Strategy, Planning, and Management topics. Note that my number system goes vertical at this point, with each of its elements being included under a main Strategy, Planning, and Management topic. These elements form the main foundation of a strong digital marketing program. It’s also in this section where rapid change is most dramatically altering the strategy and execution of higher ed marketing and recruitment today.
You may have noticed that the Periodic Table is also loosely organized on a vertical scale of complexity, with top-of-the-table elements being more basic and as you drop deeper into the table the elements generally become more complex. This is certainly the case in the bottom half of the Promotions section which contains the Strategy Planning and Management topics that are broken down in more detail on the vertical groupings.
You won’t see a cell for every strategy, tactic, or channel that you believe should appear in the Periodic Table. I clearly had to prioritize and place many items under other elements, that do appear. For example 50 Other Social incorporates many less prominent channels and platforms. These details are currently unavailable and not seen in the PDF, but they will be made available in the Table in a future version, where the cells will be interactive. I am still working on the technical details of the best way to do that.
So that is my overview of the rationale and structure of the Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table. It provides a canvas upon which you can audit, analyze, document, and plan the marketing mix for your higher ed marketing plans, campaigns, or promotions. Having said all that, I think statistician George Boxwas on to something when he said “ All models are wrong, but some are useful.”
My hope is that this model falls into the “useful” subset
In the end, the Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table provides a one-page summary of the important elements of the higher education marketing mix, roughly organized by category of elements and levels of complexity. It is very subjective and definitely a work in progress. Every time I sit down and work on it, I am inspired by something new and the Table changes a bit. I’m sure that receiving your feedback will cause the same result. I can guarantee that I will continue to add to, subtract from, and reorganize its content, as we learn more together about how it can be applied and as the dynamic business of higher ed marketing, recruitment, and digital marketing evolves.
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In an upcoming blog here, I’ll discuss more specific examples of how I apply the Table.