The SDA Blog brings you our take on the latest marketing trends, opportunities, strategy, tools and tactics for higher ed recruitment, marketing, and technology products. Stay tuned as we bring you our commentary on the world of digital, (and other) marketing, emerging technology, and their impact on the world of higher education, learning technology, and higher ed institutional marketing.

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Marketing Principles Behind the Higher Ed Marketing Periodic Table and Marketing Mix Maps

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.

Source: SpinSucks

4. Kotler’s Marketing 4.0 model.

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.

Source: The Marketing Journal

5. Positioning Framework

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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8 Great Marketing Books for Higher Ed Marketers … for Your Summer Reading Pleasure

8 great marketing booksOver the last 6 months, I have done a lot of study and reading for a couple of major projects I have worked on. Out of that effort, I present you with a shortlist of some of the best of those resources in this list of great marketing books for higher education marketers with brief descriptions below. If you are a marketing wonk like myself, you will find great satisfaction in all of them. If you are not quite so far gone down the marketing rabbit hole, but are looking for a business-related summer beach read to balance out all those great fiction novels you’ve picked out, read on. They will all provide that tremendous lift you get from a great business book – confirmation of some of what you already knew, exciting new information and insight, and a renewed enthusiasm to build upon both.

Check them out!

Higher Ed Focused, Marketing Books:

Flannery, T. (2021). How to Market a University. Johns Hopkins University Press

Written as a short primer on higher ed marketing for higher ed leaders/executives, this book provides a solid overview of the current state of traditional and digital marketing for higher education. It is a short, 237-page intro, that provides firm marketing foundations, deep insight from an experienced VP of marketing and lots of useful examples. Highly recommended.

Kotler, P. (1995). Strategic Marketing for Educational Institutions (2nd ed.). Prentice Hall

This is a golden oldie, in its second edition, that still provides a useful foundation for new higher ed marketers with a particular emphasis on the “strategic” approach. It is definitely dated, but if you really want to capture the theoretical foundations of marketing as applied to the higher ed marketplace, it is a great place to start and build up from. You just can’t go wrong with Kotler.

Hossler, D. and Bontrager, B. (2015). Handbook of Strategic Enrolment Management. Jossey-Bass, Wiley

Hassler/Bontrager really is the bible of Strategic Enrollment Management. 624 pages, containing everything you ever wanted to know about Strategic Enrolment Management but were afraid to ask. It is 6 years old now, so it’s light on the current digital side of things but if you are looking for a solid reference on SEM this is the one to have. SEM is a broad, multidisciplinary and complicated field and this very comprehensive tome definitely captures that landscape.

160over90. (2012). Three in a Tree: How to Take Down Bad University Marketing, One Cliché at a Time. OneSixtyOverNinety, Inc.

Ok, so if you’ve read all the serious stuff above and really need a break from the technical, (and maybe a bit stuffy), details, this is the one for you. Cheeky, irreverent, and humorously self-deprecating, this is a fun, easy read that can help all of you much too serious, higher ed marketers loosen up a bet and get a chuckle about how silly we can sometimes get. A fun, quick beach read for sure.

General Marketing Books:

Kotler, P. (2017). Marketing 4.0, Moving from Traditional to Digital. Wiley

Kotler, Marketing 4.0 is one of the best descriptions/explanations of the evolving nature of marketing that I have read. Kotler is a marketing guru, (some say, even a god), who has lived through and thought deeply about, the evolution of marketing to today’s digitally-focused version of itself. The book is now 4 years old but I think it still reads like it was published yesterday. It is importantly, very relevant to our business. I believe Kotler was definitely including the higher education marketplace as part of his intended audience as he was penning this book. Even if you don’t read the whole book, be sure to check out his representation of “The Interchanging Roles of Traditional and Digital Marketing” on page 52. It is a very useful model for higher education marketers to understand and to plot themselves against.

Rumelt, R. (2011). Good Strategy, Bad Strategy. Currency, Crown Publishing

Ok, I admit, I am also a strategy enthusiast, but trust me, this book really needs to be on your reading list. It is about strategy in general, covering the theory of, and examples from marketing, business, politics, and even the military. The beauty of this book is how clearly Rumelt develops and defines what good vs bad strategy, really are. And then he documents them with countless insightful examples. This is a must-read if you spend any time at all focused on marketing strategy for your higher ed business or institution.

Dunford, A. (2019). Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It. Ambient Press

In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, if you don’t get your market positioning right, you’re sunk before you even begin. April Dunford consults for mid-stage venture capital-funded tech start-ups, so you have to do a bit of work transposing her ideas into the rather different higher ed marketplace, but don’t let that slow you down, this author’s approach and model on how to develop your positioning is really very workable for higher ed marketers.  Positioning your programs and/or your institution well makes everything downstream of it, and I do mean everything, much easier to do and generally much more successful. If you are beginning a rebranding project, your timing to read this book is perfect. Start here and it will pay tremendous dividends.

Godin, S. (2018). This is Marketing. Portfolio/Penguin

So, what can I say about Seth Godin’s, This is Marketing. It is a seminal work in marketing literature and I think should be required reading for all marketers. He reframes all marketing, but particularly digital, in a way that will change the way you think about doing marketing in the future. For those younger marketer’s just coming up, I highly recommend you really carefully study this book alongside Kotler’s, Marketing 4.0 and you will be well-positioned to understand the challenging marketing landscape you face in the coming years.  And I will bet you money that once you have read This is Marketing you will also tackle the rest of Godin’s marketing books. (See the reading list at the end of this book.) It is great, thought-provoking stuff. Enjoy!

So, that’s it for my 2021 great marketing books for higher education marketers’ summer beach reading list.

Here’s my challenge to you, good readers. I’ve given you my recommendations, now it’s your turn to share your thoughts. Please pass along your recent favourites.  I really do need a few new good ones for my summer review!



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How to Visualize Your Marketing Mix with “Mix Maps” on the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table

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.

To get a fuller description of the Marketing Principles Behind the Higher Education Marketing Periodic Table click this link.

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 description of 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 the link to the press release that 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,
  • All online
  • 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, Explained

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.

The Higher Education Marketing and Recruitment Periodic Table emerged from my personal efforts to stay abreast of this changing landscape and to put it into some kind of order that would help me be a better higher ed marketer. It 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 the 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 TableA tool for marketing planning and analysis

(Click to download a pdf of the 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.

Good marketing strategy includes:

    1. A clear diagnosis or definition of the challenge you are facing.
    2. A description of how you will solve the problem, based on leveraging your strengths, your competition, your budget, and your schedule.
    3. The key steps and resources needed to implement the approach

The Periodic Table can help you complete each of these steps by:

    1. Generating a clearer diagnosis of the challenge, opportunity, or threat
    2. Designing an effective marketing strategy to tackle the challenge or problem
    3. 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.

1. Products/Services

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.

three product levels concept

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.

2. Price

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

3. Place

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.

4. People

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.

5. Processes

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.

7. Promotion

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 Box was 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

.All models are wrong







In the end, this Table is very subjective and 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.

Stay tuned!


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In an upcoming blog here, I’ll discuss more specific examples of how I apply the Table.

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How to Build a Chatbot for Higher Education Recruitment

Back in November 2019, I did a presentation at the Strategic Enrolment Marketing & Management Forum 2019 Conference (SEMM 2019) in Toronto, entitled “How to Build a Chatbot for Higher Education Recruitment”.

It has been up on Slideshare for a while but I’ve had a couple of requests for it recently. I thought I would put it here as well, to make it a bit easier for people to find.

This presentation is based on my experience building (and maintaining) a chatbot for George Brown College on the PLC Technician Certificate Program website.

The outline of the presentation is:

  1.  Marketing Context
  2.  Chatbot Basics
  3.  How to Build a Chatbot
  4.  Patterns of Use
  5.  Marketing & Recruitment Outcomes

The presentation tells the story of how the chatbot was developed, implemented, maintained, used, and ultimately evaluated against its original objectives. Marketing Context describes the context in which the chatbot was developed, including information about the original site, traffic levels, and what the overall marketing mix was for the program in which it was introduced. Chatbot Basics provides a very simple primer on chatbots. It introduces the basics of how they operate and the range of possible chatbots that were considered. How to Build a Chatbot describes the process that we went through to create the structure and the content for it. We used the Instabot chatbot platform, including DialogFlow, Google’s Chatbot AI system. Patterns of Use breaks down visitor usage of the chatbot over about a 9 month period, including Instabot analytics, DialogFlow analytics, and Google Analytics. Marketing and Recruitment Outcomes provide a summary of the specific goals we had and related outcomes for the project over this period.

Event Tracking

The presentation is now over 8 months old but I think the narrative of the experience, insights, and advice on how to do it yourself, are still quite relevant.

I do hope you find this useful.


Scott Duncan



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Seven Things to Consider When Spending Your Surprise Year-End Budget Surplus on Google Ads

Many college and university higher ed marketers work with a December 31st year-end and are now looking at wrapping up their 2018 budgets. If you are lucky enough to have a bit of unspent money, (or maybe you’ve been given someone else’s leftover money) and you have to spend it in 2018, you are likely scrambling to figure out where to place it to most positively impact your marketing, leads generation and revenues.


One good candidate for last minute budget spend is Google Ads, (formerly know as Adwords), pay-per-click advertising.

It would seem pretty straight forward, at least in principle, to just bump up the budgets on your existing campaigns. But as usual, to do it well, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that.

If considering spending your surplus on PPC, here are seven important things to consider:

  1. This will sound way too simple to even mention but it is important. It is really important. Make sure you understand the performance of your existing campaigns. Don’t assume, don’t rely on others to do the work on this for you. If you don’t know definitively where your best performance is coming from, (ie by keywords, which ads, by cost metrics, by geography, by type ie remarketing, etc) you must spend some quality time reviewing the numbers to get caught up. Then proceed. The ROI of your surprise budget investment depends on it!
  2. Next, determine if the high ROI campaigns have any headroom to take on increased budget. A lot of people believe they can just add money in and your campaigns with scale up accordingly. That may or may not work. Google is very good at nudging you along to spend more money in a campaign if there is sufficient traffic and click thru. You may already be “maxed” out in terms of headroom to expand efficiently. If this is the case you will need to develop alternative tactics on where and how to direct the spend.
  3. To simplify and/or optimize your campaigns, your agency or a staffer may have things set up with your campaigns so that your bidding is run by Google Ads AI and machine learning algorithms.  The growing consensus from the Adwords pros is that the Google Ads AI now performs at least as well or better than the average human PPC specialist. (Check out this video if you are interested in more on Google AI bidding.) If that is the case be aware that the Google Ads algorithm may simply not cooperate with you to spend this extras budget in the short term. The AI operates “in your best interests” and if it decides it can’t optimize your increased budget, according to its rules, it simply won’t spend it until it it figures out how to do it cost effectively.
  4. Or, assuming you are controlling your campaigns manually, you will be trying to optimize the spend to get the max ROI. That probably means you’ll have a target CPC (Cost per Click ), a target CPA, ( Cost per Action ) and a target CTS  (Conversion To Student ) rate in mind for your typical search campaigns that if you can hit, will work for you. If you can put your new budget into new retargeting campaigns that’s probably a great investment, retargeting typically produces strong results, often better than search campaigns. Alternatively, you may be limited to expanding into display, (aka content network), campaigns. Be very careful with display campaigns. They have their place, typically running at lower CPCs, lower CPAs, but CTS rate can be very low. I personally have had very little success turning display generated leads into students. I would stay away from display if at all possible.
  5. Don’t forget about the effect of seasonality in PPC advertising. December typically has lower search volumes so the traffic pool is smaller that the average month. This is another reason why there may not be a lot of headroom to add budget to your campaigns. But the good news is that December is also generally less competitive because many, if not most, higher ed institutions believe that it is a less optimal time to advertise. My experience with using Google Ads PPC in December has been the opposite. Yes, activity levels and lead production overall can drop but the good news is that the lead quality (or likelihood to convert to student) are higher. I am not sure exactly why this is but my read on it is that people who are looking in December are generally more serious about getting started at something, soon.
  6. Check to see if your campaigns include Google Search Partners, (for more info on Search Partners check out this post). They offer a way to increase your search volume, and potential lead volume but recognize that they also typically convert at a lower rate than Google search generated leads.
  7. So, lets assume your additional spend has been a great success and generated a whole bunch of new leads and hopefully even a few registrations. Now you have to followup the leads and convert them. Your lead followup system must be able to scale up accordingly to handle this increased volume of opportunity. Make sure you plan for this “good-to-have” problem, and maintain your highest standard of followup (ie response time) or your normal conversion to student rates may be in jeopardy.

Please don’t get me wrong from all the hedging above. I am actually a really big fan of Google Ads based PPC lead generation. It works well, if based on well thought out campaign strategy, tactics and execution. The risk is that the channels and tactics that often end up being used in this add-on budget kind of scenario typically produce leads of lower quality. Just be careful to proceed with caution, not to over-promise results, and you’ll likely be happy with the outcome.

From your experience, would you add any other considerations to this list? Or would you default to a completely different marketing channel or tactic?

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Six Great Podcasts for Higher Ed Marketers

Podcasts are an excellent tool to help keep you current in today’s rapidly changing world of higher education marketing. This post will share some basic background on podcasts for beginners and provide my top six podcasts for higher ed marketers recommendations for you to check out and get started.

I discovered podcasts a few years ago. Since then, they have become a critical piece of my personal approach on how to manage the internet “information fire hose” and keep up-to-date on how to build the best marketing solutions for the fields of marketing, higher education and technology. Even though podcasts are certainly not new, I am always amazed at how many of my time stressed colleagues have not considered using them as an information and learning resource. Recent stats report, that only about 44% of people currently listen to podcasts. If you are already into podcasts, skip down a couple of paragraphs to get to my specific podcast recommendations. If you need a bit more help getting started, read on.

The value proposition of podcasts is pretty simple. Podcasts allow you to capture, time shift and then consume really thoughtful and detailed content. It ranges from research, discussion and analysis of pretty much any and every topic you are interested in. ….And trust me, there are podcasts about everything!

Pocket Casts Podcast Reader

Once you start listening to podcasts, your personal commute, your workout, walking the dog or even cleaning the house will never be the same again. Personally, they’ve had their biggest impact in my life over my 1 ½ hour commutes in and out of the very busy city of Toronto. Over the course of any given week, I will typically listen to up to 12 hours of precisely curated podcast content. Most of it is for professional development but I do slip in a few shows purely for entertainment as well. On some days that feels like a lot of listening but mostly I am left with the feeling that I have been given keys to kingdom and want more.

But back to the details at hand for those of you who are not using them yet. It is very simple to get started with podcasts. First step is to download a podcast reader to your smart phone. If you are looking for a recommendation on a podcast reader, I personally like Pocket Casts or Podbean. Pick one and go for it. Once it’s installed, start searching for podcasts about your interests and start downloading them.


If you need more help on how to do this, here’s a primer on setting up a reader and listening to podcasts .

The following are my six favourite go-to podcasts.

Three cover the general world of marketing for higher ed (marketing, recruitment, and admissions) and three are from the more specialized and technical side of digital marketing. I recommend you give them all a listen and that at least one will resonate with you. I think they’re all really quite good.

Higher Education Marketing Podcasts

1) Highered Live 
Produced by mstoner in Chicago, Highered Live is a particularly impressive enterprise of podcast content production. It has “sub-channels” for admissions, student affairs and marketing, and is nearing its’ 500th episode. It includes great interviews, panels and discussions of practicing higher ed professionals with lots of useful business and marketing strategy, tactics and insight.

2) Enrolment Growth University
From Helix Education in Denver, this podcast covers a wide range of topics from web, branding, marketing, recruitment to admissions with a focus on enrollment growth. I like the organic feel to this one, with lots of grassroots examples on which to model your strategy and tactics.

3) Hashtag Higher Ed
From ecityinteractive in Philadelphia, this podcast covers a wide berth of higher ed marketing topics similar to the above but with a bit more emphasis on admissions and alumni marketing. Not quite as well established as the others but producing some good stuff.

Digital Marketing Podcasts

4) Digital Marketing Podcast
From Target Internet in the UK, this is one of my favourite digital marketing podcasts. I genuinely look forward to it every week. They produce a wide range of excellent materials, including blog, podcast, and public and corporate training courses in digital marketing.

5) Social Media Marketing with Michael Stelzner
From Social Media Examiner, Poway, California, this powerhouse shop is the go to place for all things social media. Their conference, blog, podcasts and live video shows are all excellent and will keep you coming back. Micheal Stelzner’s podcast is usually a deeper dive into one main topic with a guest. The Social Media Marketing Talk Show provides late breaking news from across all social media. I follow both and recommend you do to.

6) Perpetual Traffic was very early in the digital marketing game, around since 2003. They run an excellent podcast covering the gamit of topics in search engine marketing, social, PR and content marketing. I particularly like their audits of sites and campaigns, where they provide a useful analysis of strategy and tactics used and identify strengths and weaknesses of the creative.

So that’s my top six list.

If you are still skeptical about the value of listening to podcasts, check out a couple of these for a week or two and I guarantee you will be hooked. Of course this list only scratches the surface of the many great resources out there, so start digging and you are sure to find a lot more gold.

Please let me know what your favourite podcasts are, in the comments section below. I will give them a listen and assuming I agree, get them on to my list of best podcast resources. Thanks.

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It’s Time to Get Back in the Saddle Again and Blog

After a sabbatical of about two years, its time for me to get back in the saddle and start to blog again.

It is not important why I stopped, only to say that I had some personal circumstances that I needed to focus on and really needed a break from the Sisyphusian grind of a regular blog deadline. I had been blogging for my friend Phil Taza, at Higher Education Marketing in Montreal. We posted on a weekly basis for about 3 years, all about digital recruitment marketing in higher ed. I had the chance to polish my skills in blogging and we produced some pretty good content. Most of those posts are still up on their blog and remain relevant, though a bit dated. Working with Phil was a great experience for me. He is a true ninja master of google analytics and I learned a lot from him. I recommend him highly to anyone looking for an agency to market their school.

Blogging is hard work. If you stop regularly writing and publishing it can be very challenging to get back into the saddle. But I’ve had my break and it is time to get back to work. My plan is to post twice a month and work myself up a more frequent schedule. We’ll start slow and see where things lead.

What is the goal of this blog?

The goal of this blog is to help marketers make sense of the relentlessly changing world of digital marketing in the higher education marketplace.  We’ll cover lots of topics for recruitment marketing, where I focus much of my current consulting work. We’ll also examine new ed tech products and services and discuss the evolving digital marketing technologies we use to market and sell them. In short, we’ll cover the intersection of digital marketing, higher education, and technology.

My guiding principle for marketing in this complex and rapidly evolving environment is that the fundamental rules of the effective marketing do not change. It’s finding the right formula for the application of these rules, in the context of today’s complex digital marketing ecosystem, that’s the real challenge.

In these times, we have all had to become students in a fickle vocation, always chasing currency and competency, let alone mastery. But I am happy with that; I love learning the new technology and exploring its untested potential. And then there are the moments when I hate it, but those feelings only lasts a little while. Mostly, I am motivated by the challenge of it.

First understanding, then determining its potential through the lens of the higher ed environment and then applying it to produce the best possible business outcomes. I don’t claim to know or understand all its nuances but then who can? These days it takes a channel specialist to keep up with the all the specific changes in things like Adwords and Facebook.  I do know I am reasonably skilled at figuring out what I need to know and then explaining it in a way that can be useful to other marketers.

What specific topics will we blog about?

Primarily, this blog will cover a range of digital marketing and higher ed topics like,

  • Digital marketing strategy, tools and tactics
  • Branding and web development
  • SEO, PPC and content marketing
  • Recruitment marketing
  • Social media marketing

But I also plan to get back to my roots a bit and explore more emerging tech that I’m interested in. Over the years I have worked with a lot of people and companies on the leading edge of higher ed tech. I really love that space.  So, I plan to explore more of these, including,

  • Online and distance learning products and services
  • Augmented and virtual reality for teaching and training
  • Artificial intelligence (AI), voice, and blockchain in higher ed
  • Higher ed start-ups

So that’s the plan. I hope it sounds interesting and that you will return and join me to explore these topics with me. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Scott Duncan