What Matters in Digital Marketing


Guest blogger Roy Bayfield is Director of (deep breath) Corporate Communications and Student Recruitment at Edge Hill University, a department that enjoys a unique, symbiotic relationship with Web Services.

Last month I spoke at the annual Effective Marketing in Higher Education conference in London. I’ve been going to things like this for 20 years now, and it’s interesting how they have changed. When I first ventured beyond the campus to see what others were doing and to discover what professionalism might mean in the world I had fallen into, HE marketing conferences were often sponsored by printing companies. The obligatory exhibition in the foyer would often have printers displaying their wares, and there might even be a tongue-tied printing MD on the bill, or an optional field-trip to admire a new 10-colour Heidelberg.

It’s different these days – the exhibitors tend to be webby consultants, and products and services such as CRM and online branding get the most visibility. (This is a loss in a way – the opportunities offered by ink-on-paper media for direct communication have never been more exciting, and the role that printed artefacts have as physical manifestations of relatively intangible organisations such as universities remains highly important. But that’s another discussion.)


Conversation amongst delegates has changed too. Prospectus deadline crises and calls from journalists seem to have faded into the distance, whilst the sudden appearance of an inappropriate tweet on a marketing director’s Blackberry can create a moment of high drama.

I expect in another 20 years things will have evolved further, and the fact that ‘people’ ‘travelled’ to ‘London’ to ‘talk’ about ‘online’ ‘marketing’ (any or all of which might be outmoded concepts by then) will seem quaint. The sf reader in me predicts advances biotechnology, reverse-engineering back to feudal times, or of course the long overdue Martian invasion as potential opportunities/threats to the HE marketing scene as I enter my twilight years.

Anyway, I said I would summarise my talk here. The title I was given was ‘Digital Marketing – keeping it ahead of the rest’ so I tried to come up with some points about what really matters; what marketing folks should be thinking about when it comes to the digital aspects of their marketing. These were the just notes on the handout – you need to imagine each point expanded upon with enlightening verbal eloquence, any deficiencies in content finessed out of existence by my personal presence, and a host of witty asides.


I’m happy to expand on any of this in the comments.

We’re already beyond digital. Computers have almost disappeared into other devices, the technology itself is becoming taken for granted. Just as ‘digital’ communications and experiences aren’t a separate part of people’s lives, ‘digital marketing’ isn’t a separate silo of marketing activity. So ‘keeping ahead’ involves focussing on the digital dimension of all of our marketing work.

Some thoughts about what’s important – some ‘people stuff’, some ‘brand stuff’ and some ‘marketing stuff’.

People stuff

Having quality conversations
between you and your markets, using the market members’ channels of choice

Helping your potential students communicate with each other
creating opportunities for additional student-to-student communication, over and above the Facebook (etc) stuff they can do themselves

Inspiring and influencing other people’s communication– all our staff, students and alumni are empowered to share their views online; what do we want them to be sharing?

Reaching all of our audiences
how does your online presence work for international, part-time, mature etc

Playing– someone needs to be playing, experimenting, networking to develop cool new stuff. Is this happening and is it happening in/with/for marketing?

Training, developing, leading and managing staff
to deliver effective marketing communications to Generation Y audiences. May involve…

…getting your hands dirty
so you know what social networking feels like and how it works.

Brand stuff

Reflecting your brand personality online
HEIs are diverse, multi-facetted organisations – our online presences reflect this – but what really important messages need to be most highly visible? eg research, student experience, business focus – what share of voice do the key messages have?

Managing your image
there is likely to be a blend of authentic, instant, user-created content and high-quality professional image-building – need to avoid dissonance

Creating constant streams of content
small inputs, big results

Making your key messages shareable– I like your course page, news story or photo – how easy is it for me to put on Facebook, share on Twitter, embed in my blog etc.

Marketing stuff

Integrating online and offline marketing communications

Communicating through the recruitment lifecycle
giving the right messages at the right time, building trust and engagement, harvesting data (CRM)

Being efficient
using new ways of communicating, less print, less post, less reliance on phone… but
…not throwing the baby out with the bathwater
quality print, phone calls when needed, all still have a place

Monitoring and maximising online impact
seeing and taking opportunities to get your message across, being everywhere

New ways to do old-school marketing communications:

Creating awareness
online search, advertising,
presence on the web, + in the mobile environment (?), in the gaming environment (??)
online PR, online ambassadors

Fulfilling information needs
still need a really good ‘classic’ website but also consider providing bespoke web pages for individuals, opportunities to ask questions through chat, forums etc.

Building interest
encourage people to stay connected and interact through Facebook, Twitter, your own website
provide compelling media rich content, student-created content, interesting apps

Harvesting marketing information
research, surveys, real-time metrics, ‘quality conversations’ online with markets

Delivering real benefits
making things easier, quicker and more fun – in the recruitment process (eg booking for Open Days, asking questions) and also as part of the student experience (eg enrolling, accessing services, mobile applications)