looking back at AMA’s 2019 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Ed
- We make it a point to attend the American Marketing Association’s higher ed symposium every year, and our team just got back from the 2019 installment.
- While the published theme for the event was A Time for Change, the 2025 enrollment cliff loomed large in conversation and content—starting with the opening keynote delivered by Kaplan University Partners’ Brandon Busteed.
- Brittany Trafis, our EVP of client partnership, and Jim Kohl, our EVP of sales and marketing, recorded daily recaps from the event, highlighting key takeaways and surprises; you can read or listen to those below.
There are few things better than a conference that delivers on its promise. The sort of conference that, without trying too hard, leaves you feeling re-invigorated about the possibilities of the year ahead, excited to apply fresh ideas and build relationships with new contacts. The American Marketing Association’s Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education—in addition to having the wordiest name—is one of the best, and that’s why we make it a point to attend every year.
The 2019 installment was held in mid-November in Las Vegas, and once again we found the content and conversations to be insightful, evocative, and completely worth our time. In addition to having a presence among the exhibitors, we sat in on the keynotes and a number of sessions.
The first thing we noticed: a more senior audience. While there’s always a mix of practitioners and leadership at this particular conference, this year’s group seemed to skew more heavily towards the latter than in years past. To us, this is a sign that higher ed leaders are trying to make sense of what appears to be a challenging path ahead while actively seeking answers.
And if those higher ed marketing and admissions leaders needed any more motivation to adapt, they didn’t have to wait long. The opening keynote—delivered by Brandon Busteed, former head of Gallup’s education practice and current president of Kaplan’s university partnership team—focused attendees on the impending 2025 enrollment crisis with some staggering figures. The 2025 Cliff, as it was often called, was the central theme at this year’s event, but it wasn’t the only topic of conversation and debate.
If you couldn’t make it to AMA Higher Ed 2019 or want a refresher on what mattered most from the keynotes and sessions, our Brittany Trafis, executive vice president of client partnership, and Jim Kohl, executive vice president of sales and marketing, recorded 15-minute daily recaps covering the biggest surprises and disappointments while making sense of the key themes. You can read or listen to those recaps below.
AMA Higher Ed Day 1 Recap
- Why higher ed must change
- Shifts in prospective student expectations
- University presidents and the marketing mandate
- Adult Learners
- Surprises and disappointments from day 1
Jim Kohl: We’re live from AMA Higher Ed in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m with Brittany Trafis. Brittany is Executive Vice President of Client Partnership at Fathom. We’re a digital marketing firm based out of Cleveland, Ohio.
Jim Kohl: We have quite a bit of partnerships in higher ed and so we’re pleased to be here. What’s interesting about AMA Higher Ed, is it’s a terrible name. Because the true name of this event is American Marketing Association Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education.
Brittany Trafis: It’s the longest name, longest name.
Jim Kohl: You would think any marketer worth his or her weight would come in here and say, “Why are we doing this to ourselves? This is a terrible event name.”
Brittany Trafis: I heard a joke today: If you put a bunch of higher ed marketers in a room and asked them to come up with the worst branding in the world for a program, you know what they’d call it? Liberal arts. That’s a higher ed joke for you.
Jim Kohl: Wow.
Brittany Trafis: That was in the keynote this morning.
Jim Kohl: We love AMA. We love AMA Higher Ed. This has been a great event for us. And we want to bring you a day one recap, very brief segments of some interesting material we’ve heard from speakers in conversations with marketing leaders. So without further ado, the day one recap coming at you.
Jim Kohl: So Brittany, you and I started off in the same room. The keynote for today was from the President of Kaplan Partners, Brandon Busteed. Okay. And so he laid out this case for change for all higher ed marketers. And I was able to attend this part, but missed the latter half. So I want you to fill me in.
Jim Kohl: Here’s the case for change, this sort of mounting evidence that Brandon brought forward. It’s this. In higher ed, tuition is up 400% since the 90s. Tuition outpaces consumer price index by more than two times in that same period. 13% of Americans believe college grads are work ready. Confidence in higher ed is down more than any other confidence index. Enrollment has been down for eight consecutive years.
Jim Kohl: Overall, state level fundings of higher education is down nine billion dollars below 2008 levels. And the college-going population in the U.S. will now fall off a cliff in 2025. And he actually started this time, visually, without saying a word.
Brittany Trafis: Yeah, powerful.
Jim Kohl: It was an interesting moment. It was powerful. And so he posed a question to the room, and it was this, “How can marketing leaders respond to this level of change?” And then I had to leave.
Jim Kohl: So I’m curious, did he answer that question? Did he provide any solutions? Do you feel better as a marketing leader, and as one who partners with marketing leaders in higher ed, that we can respond to that mounting change, most of which is not very positive, and can we drive it in a different direction?
Brittany Trafis: Yeah. I mean, it was definitely a really powerful keynote, as he did start it off silent, as you mentioned. And all he did was take public information and string it together to tell the story. And the room was silent. He posed the question and said, “This is the case for change.” So he highlighted a lot of key areas.
Brittany Trafis: One being cost, so you need to run the university like it’s a business. You need to cut costs, cut those expenses and start looking for new revenue sources. Seems simple, right?
Brittany Trafis: He also talked about generating new products. So he went through, he highlighted a bunch of different products. But at the end of the conversation, it felt like everyone was left in the room saying, “I’m just marketing, though. I’m just enrollment. That’s above me. That’s the president. That’s the Board of Trustees.” And I even heard some conversation around after that.
Brittany Trafis: So it was a really powerful presentation, but “What do I do if I’m just marketing or I’m just enrollment?” And so it really brought like a few key thoughts to me, the biggest being you need to start flipping your thought process of, “It’s not just a student. It’s a customer.”
Brittany Trafis: They are our customers. We have to be thinking about what’s the best experience that we’re creating for them, from the time that they engage with us, through maybe an ad, to the time that they show up on campus.
Brittany Trafis: He even made a comment that he predicts that Enrollment Managers will become Experience Managers, which is really interesting when you think about within outside of higher ed, you have a Chief Customer Officer, a Chief Customer Experience Officer. So the fact that higher education’s starting to talk about that, so as a marketer, I can start to change my mindset as the student’s a customer.
Brittany Trafis: Besides experience, change your language. So if you looked at the Gallup poll, and the language that we use to describe within higher ed, can sometimes bring negative emotions. Higher ed actually brings a positive emotion and association. College, university has a very bipartisan view on it, depending on if you’re Democrat or Republican. So he talked through a lot of that.
Brittany Trafis: Community college is neutral. So using language like higher ed instead of a college or a university, when you’re talking with students, parents or employers.
Brittany Trafis: The other is, he talked a lot about creating new products. So he talked about online certificates, non-degree, the need for work experience. So taking my learnings from within the classroom, and applying it within the workplace, what can I do as a marketer to do that? A lot of that lives with the faculty, again with the president, but I can advocate for that.
Brittany Trafis: So as a marketer, I’d recommend, take those learnings, talk to students, talk to the parents, the employers. Take those learnings and apply it. Share that within your institution to get that buy-in, and start creating that case for change for those products.
Brittany Trafis: And I would say at the end, he really said that, “Today people think the higher cost of tuition is associated with value.” It’s not. There is no data out there that shows that a higher cost of tuition is associated with a higher value.
Brittany Trafis: So as marketers, the biggest thing that we can do walking away, is start to take those surveys with our alumni and with our current students and almost create like an NPS score. And so, you can start to measure a baseline of, like, what is the score of our alumni and students, and see how they associate value with their experience and their degree. And then continue to measure any increases, decreases. But then also you can use it in your marketing materials too, so talking about how the value can be associated with attending the institution.
Jim Kohl: Interesting. What’s your perspective on the selection of Brandon, as the sort of kickoff keynote? Because a lot of what you’re describing is very familiar in other sectors. “Think in terms of product. Think in terms of experience and own the experience from A to Z. Think in terms of value exchange.”
Jim Kohl: Did you read the room at all? Like, what was the perception of the President of Kaplan Partners, who has sort of a, right, Kaplan has sort of a varied history and position in the higher ed industry. How did you read the room in terms of reception? Was he viewed as an outsider, as an insider? Was this welcomed news, or was it sort of with an eye of skepticism that the room was receiving this keynote?
Brittany Trafis: I think he was really perceived as being an expert. So he’s been around for so long. He’s done a lot of these reports. He’s known as an industry expert. So I don’t think they saw it as like, “Oh he’s with Kaplan Partners.” More so, as he’s bringing us the data, and he’s the one that’s doing a lot of the research. So I guess you could say as a third party as bringing that outside perspective.
Jim Kohl: Interesting. Okay. We are going to shift to our lightning round, so to speak. We went to a number of different sessions. We all split off and went different ways. What was, sort of, the highlight of the additional sessions you went to? Let’s turn there first.
Brittany Trafis: Jim. It’s my favorite session. I go to it every year. E-Expectations Report.
Jim Kohl: Okay. Who puts that out?
Brittany Trafis: RNL, formerly known as Ruffalo Noel Levitz.
Jim Kohl: RNL. Okay. So what did you learn in that session, and what was most interesting?
Brittany Trafis: So every year, they do a report where they look at trends and what students want. They are seeing consistent trends, across website being the top driver for information. They also continue on cost, scholarships, programs information.
Brittany Trafis: What was most interesting though is the change in terms of text. So for years, we’ve been talking about how text is important. Text’s showing sophomores, juniors and seniors want to be engaged. Seniors expect you to text them from the moment you apply.
Jim Kohl: Okay. Is that different from last year? Is that a shift, or is that sort of a continuation of what you heard last year
Brittany Trafis: It is a shift. So they’re seeing an increase in terms of 79% wanting to have SMS or text engagement.
Jim Kohl: Okay, got to get with the text.
Brittany Trafis: It’s all about the text. And they said that multiple times throughout the presentation, “As we’ve been telling you guys for years to get onto texting, it’s time to do texting.”
Jim Kohl: Interesting. Okay. Next segment. I went to a breakout session, titled, Presidential Perspectives, Marketing Matters. And so it was a panel discussion. Three presidents, actually two presidents, so the president of William Peace University, the president of Cal Poly, and then the chief of staff at DePaul University, which is my alma mater, and brought those perspectives on, sort of, highest perspective and university leadership, around, “Why does marketing matter?”
Jim Kohl: What was most interesting is, I believe, this was from the president at William Peace, Brian Ralph. He said this, “We’re selling an unknown experience and we have to have a brand, and a marketing presence that unifies our voices on campus. So as a president, it’s my job to personify the brand. And I’m less effective as a leader without the right brand.”
Jim Kohl: Really interesting, from a university president. I’ve not heard that in, terms of, that. So I found that really interesting. That was a really insightful panel discussion.
Brittany Trafis: How did the room respond to that?
Jim Kohl: They were eating it up. So the room was packed. I came in maybe a minute late, and had to go to the front row because it was packed out. And yeah, the room had a ton of questions for these guys, and was just soaking up every word that they had to say. So, very interesting.
Jim Kohl: All right, next segment. What’s another session you went to today?
Brittany Trafis: It’s all about Adult Students. So there’s two themes. Adult students and Gen Z. Let’s talk about adult students. So there was a breakout session and it was the lunch keynote. So there was a panel. Key observation, not much has changed in, terms of, adult students. We’re still hearing a lot of the same trends and information that we’ve been hearing for the last few years.
Brittany Trafis: We need to treat them differently. We need to be engaging with them. I think the biggest insight for me that was actually new information came from the breakout that I went to, and it’s how you associate costs. So when they surveyed adult students, adult students would rather spend more for their total investment in their tuition, if they can have a lower annual cost, and take longer to complete their degree.
Brittany Trafis: So a lot of times, we think, “Here’s the cost for your degree.” And that actually turns off adult students. They want to see, “What is my lower annual rate that I would be paying for my tuition, even if it’s going to take me four years compared to two years, if I’m paying less?”
Jim Kohl: All right, last segment, most surprising, most disappointing. So what was the most surprising conversation or idea or question you heard today? And in the same vein, what was the most disappointing idea, conversation or question you heard today? Anything come to mind?
Brittany Trafis: Gen Z. Gen Z is everywhere, and everybody thinks we need to treat Gen Z differently. They talk about how they’re mobile first. Everyone uses mobile. So because I’m mobile first, versus mobile only, like does that make a difference in how I’m going to adjust my marketing strategy? I don’t think so.
Brittany Trafis: I think we’re all consumers. I think that at the end of the day, we’ve all been trained that I expect that personalized information, through all different social media channels, retargeting me via display, and having a personalized experience. And they’re really preaching of having that personalized experience and really creating that fan of Gen Z. But do you see that as any different from millennials or even Gen X ?
Jim Kohl: Probably not. It’s easy to say, right? So without being too sort of cynical about it, is it just the lazy way out to, sort of, be interested and hyped about the new thing? And in this case, let’s talk now about Gen Z because we’re getting sick of millennials. Is it as easy as that?
Brittany Trafis: I think it’s the newest hot topic. And, I mean, both sessions, people were sitting on the floors in the aisles, and all the way around the walls, because they’re just looking for information on Gen Z. And I think people are just looking for a reason to be able to associate the decline in enrollment, and what they need to change in terms of their strategy.
Brittany Trafis: But again, take it back to the keynote session, is it really about Gen Z? I think if you correlate the two, it’s not.
Jim Kohl: And you might have an article that sort of brings a perspective forward about how you think about generational marketing and what really matters in higher ed.
Brittany Trafis: Perhaps the Generation Fallacy.
Jim Kohl: Sounds like a good read. Okay. Most, sort of, interesting, for me, actually came from that panel with the presidents, so presidential perspectives at the university level. And at the end, a marketer actually raised her hand and asked a question that was in one sense very tactical, but I felt like encapsulated a lot of the higher ed experience for marketers.
Jim Kohl: And she asked this, “When your president approaches you and indicates that he or she has seen a billboard advertisement for a competitor, what is the best response to engage that question?”
Brittany Trafis: That is a great question. We hear that from our clients all the time.
Jim Kohl: All the time. That comes up all the time. And, so the Chief of Staff from DePaul had a really great response. And it was in one sense, very simple, but I think it sort of invites a deeper conversation with university leadership, which is, when they’re asking, “I saw a billboard, and what are we doing to combat that sort of competitive presence?”
Jim Kohl: As a marketer, you need to show them the plan, remind them that we agreed to the plan, and then demonstrate how you’re measuring the plan. And so, it’s as simple as number one, it invites you to, sort of, invite them into the roadmap of your marketing strategy, if you will. “This is what we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to measure it. This is how we’re going to accomplish it.”
Jim Kohl: And then when they question that, you just bring that back out, and demonstrate, “This is something we’ve agreed to and we’re making progress against it.” So very simple, but I think something, maybe, that higher ed marketers aren’t doing enough of. And that’s generally an easy conversation to have.
Brittany Trafis: That’s great. I think that’s really simplified. Because often they struggle with, “How do I respond to that?”
Jim Kohl: So that’s day one at AMA Higher Ed. Meet you here tomorrow?
Brittany Trafis: Day two, let’s do it.
Jim Kohl: See you for day two.
AMA Higher Ed Day 2 Recap
- New Rules for Higher Ed Marketing
- Digital Trends: AI + Audience Targeting
- The Ohio State University’s Alumni Insights Community
- What we didn’t hear at AMA
Jim Kohl: We’re here day two at AMA Higher Ed. I’m Jim Kohl and we’re here again with Brittany Trafis. Brittany is the executive vice president of client partnerships at Fathom, and we are bringing you the recap in case you didn’t make it to AMA in Vegas this year. So we’re going to start much in the same way we did yesterday with a perspective on the keynote. And so this morning, Brittany, we heard from Terry Flannery. Terry has been in marketing leadership at institutions, American University as well as University of Maryland for 25-
Brittany Trafis: Over 30 years.
Jim Kohl: Seemed like the room knew her and she knew the room.
Brittany Trafis: Yeah.
Jim Kohl: Okay. So Terry sort of brought what she termed, the new rules of higher ed marketing. And so a couple of those new rules that we heard from Terry were this. Number one, marketing strategy is institutional strategy. New rule number two, the 2025, 26 cliff, demographically speaking, is not our biggest challenge as an industry. Instead, it’s our biggest opportunity. Rule number three, you can’t have it good and fast, nevermind cheap. So this idea that marketing strategy and results, that good work takes time and professionals, which ties in with new rule number four. This is no time for amateurs. And lastly, new rule number five. As a marketer, I’m here to make decisions, not just to communicate them.
Jim Kohl: So those are the five new rules of marketing and higher ed. What’s your reaction to those new rules?
Brittany Trafis: The cliff, the cliff continues to be a conversation. So we’ve heard it referenced a few different ways. So yesterday we talked about the keynote and how we called it the crash. So the 2025 crash, today we’re talking about it as a cliff. And when you look at the data, it’s a massive drop-off. And the key that really stood out is, as Terry said, point blank in front of a room of 1400 higher education marketers, enrollment, whatever area of institution you come from, that the institutions that get ahead of this cliff and differentiate are the ones that’ll make it through it. So as we look at such a decline in the population, how are you differentiating yourself and finding those new populations to go after, the way you communicate. So a lot of the rules that she was sharing, help you prepare to make it through the cliff.
Jim Kohl: The now established pattern or battle cry if you will, is this cliff that’s looming, demographically. We’ve heard it now in a number of sessions. Thinking about her message overall, do you think she and Brandon, yesterday’s keynote speaker, connected on what they were talking about? How do you see the two keynotes related or or tied together?
Brittany Trafis: I’m sure there was some guidance given there on some of the theme. So the theme for the symposium this week is A Time for Change. And that’s something that we’re hearing at other conferences within higher ed, is it’s a time for change and how do we go about the change. So I do think they probably gave her that theme, but everyone’s talking about the cliff and I think it’s a reality and it’s a big fear that everyone’s facing. And so they’re looking for those recommendations on how to make it through it.
Jim Kohl: Okay, so last question about the keynote is this. We yesterday talked about the reception in the room of both the speaker and his ideas, and so I asked you the same question about this morning’s keynote with Terry Flannery. In your view, how did the room receive her message? How did the room receive her?
Brittany Trafis: As you mentioned, I think the room was really comfortable, knew who she was, she knew who the room was. She had a good break where she had us practice, how would you engage somebody within your institution about one of these key rules? What’s that starting line that she would start with. So I think that was helpful to help people start practicing. I do think that people still walked away similar to yesterday saying, “I’m just marketing. I’m just enrollment. What can I actually do?” So they’re still looking for some of those tangible recommendations on how to make it through it.
Brittany Trafis: A lot of the questions at the end too kind of were around that similar tone. And a lot of the advice she gave was have the conversations, find out what matters to that person, so wherever they are in the institution, find out what matters to them. Create a plan so it’s a win for them, but also then moves the institution forward. And marketing really has to be part of all those conversations. So a lot of it is that change management within your institution and getting in front of those conversations.
Jim Kohl: Yeah, and one of the things she left us with a sort of on a personal note was her personal goal at this point is to move into a role at the president level. She wants to be a university president. It’s so far a bit unheard of to have a marketing leader move into that role institutionally. And so I thought that was an interesting punctuation on the keynote for her to sort of bring those ideas together and then to say, “And I’m actually personally trying to forge into a position of real transformational authority.”
Brittany Trafis: Absolutely. And it’s so interesting though, because you look at outside of higher education, a majority of CEOs are now starting to come from marketing, their former CMOs.
Jim Kohl: Right.
Brittany Trafis: And higher education has always been like what, five, 10 years depending on what area behind everyone else. And so for her to say this is the next big step, I think was a really powerful way to end it, because she’s showing we have move higher ed forward and, “My next step of moving it forward is to move from being a marketer into president.”
Jim Kohl: Okay, let’s pivot. Let’s move into our track session segments if you will. We each again, like yesterday, attended a number of different breakout sessions that covered all sorts of topics. Tell us what was interesting that you sat through?
Brittany Trafis: So I was in an extended session, so I spent two hours front row. But it was good, it went by fast. It was The Change in Digital Landscape. So it was a full panel with Google, Kenshoo, Microsoft Advertising or Brand Studio was the division that he was, from LinkedIn and Pandora. So all the big technology players, and the people that were representing the panel were from their higher ed vertical. So they were able to speak to the room about what matters most to them. A lot of great conversation. To theme up for you though, here’s what you need to know.
Brittany Trafis: The first big theme was AI or machine learning. It’s a topic that everyone likes to talk about regardless of what industry you’re in. And it was really fun watching the big technology players discuss it as a lot of them like to tout having AI or machine learning as part of their platforms. But what it comes down to, it’s still in its infancy, so it’s still too early to tell what it actually is. But a really powerful point was brought up, that this isn’t about AI and what it can do. It’s actually about the data that you’re going to harvest through it.
Brittany Trafis: So we know that there’s data, is always on the news. As you think about, everyone’s becoming more informed about how their data is actually being used, how it’s being collected. So especially within higher ed, we need to make a decision of how we legally want to be responsible for that data. Where are we storing it? How are we storing it? And even starting to figure out how students want us to use their data. So that was the first big topic.
Brittany Trafis: The other, I really enjoyed this one. My question kind of started it too a little bit, targeting. So we are swung on this pendulum where we’re so hyper-targeted right now, to the point where it’s actually just not working anymore.
Jim Kohl: In terms of finding really narrowly defined and specific audiences?
Brittany Trafis: Yes. So micro-segments. So the example was we are targeting just Jim. Well, humans aren’t individual thinkers. We like to talk to others, we like to share ideas, we like to see what others are doing. And by going so far hyper-targeted, we’re actually isolating our customers or our students. And we need to think a little bit more about how do we open it up into their decision circle. So, if we think about higher ed, students, friends, teachers, colleagues, family, siblings, everyone that’s part of that decision criteria should be part of that targeting and that decision-making.
Brittany Trafis: The other was brand awareness versus acquisition. So this is a topic that’s actually been going on the last two and a half days. Even institutions asking us questions about what is our stance in terms of what that right mix is for awareness versus acquisition. And the the guy from Microsoft was actually talking about how we’ve been so focused on acquisition, and we’ve completely moved away from our brands. Even shared a story where Microsoft figured out that they actually did the same exact thing. And so when you get so focused on acquisition, you’re only targeting people who already know about you. So that right mix should actually be 60% brand, 40% acquisition, where a majority is like 80, 90% acquisition, 10, 20% brand.
Jim Kohl: That’s interesting. We heard that just here in an individual conversation, and it’s not uncommon to hear this from other clients or prospects. And the comment is this, “We just aren’t seeing that something like display is working.”
Brittany Trafis: Yep.
Jim Kohl: And so in a scenario where they maybe are focusing 80 or 90% acquisition, 10% awareness, we’ll of course not. You can’t drive that sort of impact with one channel tactic in an overall strategy when you’ve got an undersized investment. So that’s an interesting idea,
Brittany Trafis: Right, and especially in the other theme that came up is the increased competition. So to that point, if we’re getting so targeted on acquisition in the same segment of people, we’re not really opening it up to people who don’t even know about us. So how are you creating this broader brand strategy, awareness strategy, to capture people who don’t even know about you? Again, the cliff is happening, so how are we finding more people who we can actually bring in to know about our school, to get them going through that journey with us before it’s too late and we’re only focused on, “Let me get that lead. Let me get that application.”
Jim Kohl: Interesting. Okay. Last question about this segment. You said there were panelists from Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Kenshoo. If you could have a drink with one of them before you left Vegas, who would you like to go have a cocktail with?
Brittany Trafis: Oh, Microsoft.
Jim Kohl: Okay. Tell us why.
Brittany Trafis: He shared a lot of strong points on how we need to understand data. A question came up about Gen Z, and is Gen Z immune to digital advertising? And really he even shared, “You’re asking the wrong question here. It should be really focused on what is their experience, what are we doing with that data? What is the ultimate outcome that we’re trying to get from them?” And that’s really close to my perspective too. So I think we could have some really good deep conversation and share some learnings that we’re seeing.
Jim Kohl: While you were there, I was in a session where we had two individuals from the Ohio State University presenting some of their work around alumni engagement, and leveraging an Alumni Insight community in order to drive more engagement among the alumni audience from OSU. So, the Chief Analytics Officer, interestingly enough, leading that charge, she presented.
Brittany Trafis: Interesting.
Jim Kohl: As did a Director of Market Research and Insights, who’s a little bit more of the day-to-day leader around this special project of Alumni Insight. As an aside, I think one of the most interesting things that I pulled away as I was sitting in there is, there seems to be even less focus here at this event on alumni advancement development efforts. Not a surprise, very student acquisition.focused and enrollment focused, and that’s okay, but there wasn’t a whole lot at this event this year about alumni.
Jim Kohl: So hats off to Ohio State for the efforts there, they had some really interesting things to say. They have got about 10 and a half thousand alumni in this digital community, and they leverage feedback from that group to gauge all sorts of things. They combine it with CRM data, with survey data, with secondary research, and drive a lot of more informed decisions around the university.
Brittany Trafis: So question for you. You do a lot of alumni work with the institutions. What’s one learning that you walked away from that session with?
Jim Kohl: A little broader context. Some of the current use cases, they’re leveraging this Alumni Insight community for, testing marketing materials, getting feedback on the alumni experience, doing some usability testing, primarily around engagement platforms for volunteerism and donation. But new concept testing is something they’re going out to this group for, which is interesting because they’re inviting alumni to have a voice in what’s going to be new at Ohio State University.
Brittany Trafis: Interesting.
Jim Kohl: And that’s something that I haven’t really heard or talked about much with other institutions in this area of focus, which is primarily we’re worried about, how do we engage this audience who has a connection to our university? And how do we engage them sort of in the vein of the relationship that’s already existing? But in this case they’re looking at, let’s get the alumni perspective on something that’s new. They won’t have a direct connection to it because it’s a new experience for a new era of students that we’re going to build together. But giving that voice as a new, I think, opportunity for an engagement that other institutions maybe have not tapped into yet. Really interesting concept, they called it The Buckeye Room. So if you are an alum, you can belong to The Buckeye Room and engage in all sorts of of activity there.
Brittany Trafis: Is this where we yell, O-H?
Jim Kohl: I-O? Was that not spirited enough?
Brittany Trafis: No, no.
Jim Kohl: Well, you didn’t really-
Brittany Trafis: Chicago boy.
Jim Kohl: You didn’t really lead off with a whole lot of enthusiasm.
Brittany Trafis: Well, I’m from Michigan.
Jim Kohl: Well, I’m from Illinois, so here we are in Big Ten country and you’re trying to lead the charge on our friends. Our friends from Ohio State are not going to be very pleased with us.
Jim Kohl: So day two is essentially a wrap for AMA. There’s a closing keynote tomorrow. There’s a couple other events and activities, but really the content of the event sun-setted with the close of today. As you look back, what has been missing for this industry and for these marketers?
Brittany Trafis: That’s a great question. So there was a lot of good sessions, a really good mix, especially depending on where you are in the institution. You hit on it a little bit earlier. Alumni, I was surprised that there was only … I think there’s only one one session on alumni, right? Yeah. So there was only one.
Brittany Trafis: What was missing for me is in all the sessions where they talk about whether, it’s recruitment or some of the retention efforts or even alumni or the adults, Gen Z, whichever segment you’re talking about or stage of the journey, there was not a single session that I saw where it brought it all together. But in those individual sessions, each person said it’s really important that we’re focused on the student journey and sharing those learnings. But there wasn’t a session that talked about how you share those learnings across the student journey. And that was something that even talking to some different schools here, they were looking to see how they could partner more across the institution, whether it’s, “I’m in marketing, I’m partnering with an enrollment or student success or alumni group.” So I was really surprised not to see that.
Jim Kohl: And as you mentioned that, what strikes me here and now is that we’re among many other professional services firms, technology providers and agency partners in this very room who are looking to drive business with these higher ed institutions. And that fragmentation of content and focus that you’re talking about is actually represented here in terms of exhibitors.
Brittany Trafis: You’re right.
Jim Kohl: And so just within my field of vision, we’ve got one who is specifically focused on AI, chatbot solutions, and one that is focused specifically on Gen Z-
Brittany Trafis: Branded materials, Gen Z.
Jim Kohl: Or branded materials. One very focused, narrow sliver. And there is certainly a time for specialists of course. But that didn’t really hit me until you mentioned there’s this serious fragmentation. All of these challenges, we’ve made the case for change. Both keynote speakers addressed this idea that all of these things are happening around us and the marketer is the one who must step up and drive change. And yet here we are looking at sort of the opportunities or the challenges in a one dimensional way. And that’s probably not our path. Certainly not our path through the cliff that awaits us in 2025, 26.
Brittany Trafis: Well, right, and think back to Brandon’s keynote yesterday, he said the number one way to start driving change is cutting costs and operating like a business. As a business, you need those departments streamlined, you need them to be sharing. And as you’re looking at cutting costs, pulling all of those people into the same room and talking about the student experience end-to-end and making it more seamless, I’m willing to bet that you might find some cost savings there in terms of how they’re spending their marketing dollars, and how they’re driving those results and what those results may be.
Jim Kohl: So that’s a wrap on day two.
If you’re interested in conversations with higher ed experts like this one, I encourage you to check out our Q+A with Brittany Trafis on her experience at Eduventures Summit 2019, a conference for 500 of the most influential leaders in higher ed recruitment marketing and admissions.