Evolution in the Marketing and Advancement Relationship
Evolution in the Marketing and Advancement Relationship


Evolution in the Marketing and Advancement Relationship

Nov 26, 2018By Michael Stoner

Twenty years ago, people who used the terms “marketing” and “branding” on a college campus were viewed with suspicion, if not hostility. Much has changed in a few decades. Today, the heads of marketing and communications at institutions are charged with the responsibility of nurturing the institution’s brand and developing an effective marketing program, whether they bear the title of chief marketing officer (CMO), vice president of communications, or something else.

Because that shift resulted in a realignment of responsibilities among senior administrators, we wanted to know how the roles and responsibilities of higher ed CMOs, chief advancement officers (CAOs), and their respective teams changed as marketing has become more important over the past decade.

That’s one of the topics we explored in a recent survey. This study, conducted with the Council on Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), focused on how higher ed is adopting various digital tools and integrating them into advancement more broadly. In addition to questions exploring how colleges and universities used social and digital media and other tools in their advancement activities, we asked questions about the reporting relationships of the CMO and CAO; how institutional brands and campaign brands related; and which teams were responsible for important activities such as meeting enrollment goals and engaging alumni and donors.

Three Key Research Findings

Advancement — the discipline responsible for raising money and engaging important institutional audiences, particularly alumni — has been significant in higher ed for decades.

1. Are CMOs and CAOs on equal ground?

We wondered whether contemporary marketing leaders are considered as important to their institutions as their CAO colleagues. Understanding to whom each leader reports is one of the best ways to answer this question.

Do they both report to the institution’s CEO, or is there a different reporting relationship?

We learned that at 60 percent of institutions, they do report to the CEO. At 21 percent of institutions, the person acting as chief marketing officer reports to the CAO, and at 17 percent of institutions, there’s another reporting structure in place. At 2 percent of institutions, the CAO reports to the CMO.

2. Have priorities around brand management changed?

As far as the overarching college or university brand is concerned, we learned that slightly less than half (49 percent) of institutions have a brand platform that is used for all communications. At 51 percent of colleges and universities, advancement uses a slightly different platform for its communications.

To us, this reveals how institutions have shifted their thinking about their brand. Historically, it had been common for an institution’s campaign brand to take its own direction.

We also learned that enhancing its brand is a major institutional priority. At 65 percent of institutions, “create, sustain, improve brand image” is one of the most important goals for social media. At institutions that produce video, 75 percent create video focused specifically on developing brand awareness.

When asked about priorities for their institution’s central marketing team, respondents to our survey ranked “institutional brand management” second out of seven goals and “overall institutional reputation goals” third. In case you’re wondering, “enrollment goals” was ranked first.

3. How are communications responsibilities managed?

We were curious to learn how central marketing and advancement teams manage key communications and engagement responsibilities. Here’s what we learned:

  • At a majority of institutions, marketing is responsible for market research.
  • At two‐thirds of institutions, marketing produces the website, is responsible for video production, and manages digital marketing.
  • Campaign identity and communications are shared: At about a third of institutions, advancement handles campaign identity and communications; a third shares them with marketing; and marketing leads them in the other third.
  • And, not surprisingly, at a majority of institutions, advancement leads on alumni and fundraising communications.

One of the reasons why this is so interesting is that marketing is responsible for several areas and initiatives that CAOs see as key challenges for their next campaign: developing a powerful university brand with stories that support it, personalizing outreach to many audiences, and taking advantage of digital marketing strategies and tactics.*

Learn More About Digital Advancement

As noted above, this research is part of a larger study on digital advancement. In developing this survey, we conducted a series of interviews with advancement professionals who are thinking about and implementing various digital initiatives on their campuses.

From their responses, we developed a set of characteristics of a digital advancement operation:

  • Attempts to reach people where they are.
  • Innovates in programming by using new approaches involving digital tools.
  • Attempts to understand and track the loyalty of stakeholders.
  • Relies on digital analytics in decision‐making.
  • Emphasizes digital communications internally and with stakeholders.
  • Operates as a single institution.
  • Empowers staff to experiment, innovate and communicate.
  • Focuses on mobile experience for staff and stakeholders.

We kept these characteristics in mind as we developed a survey designed to ascertain how colleges and universities fare in our modern social and digital media milieu. And we used some of these characteristics to measure the state of digital advancement across the profession.

What did we learn? For more details about that, sign up to receive a copy of the white paper we’ll release in mid‐December.

*For these insights, we relied on research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, especially “The Future of Higher Education Fundraising Campaigns,” which looks at the challenges CAOs face as institutions encounter new fundraising realities.

  • Michael Stoner

    Michael Stoner Co-Founder and Co-Owner Was I born a skeptic or did I become one as I watched the hypestorm gather during the dotcom years, recede, and congeal once more as we come to terms with our online, social, mobile world? Whatever. I'm not much interested in cutting edge but what actually works for real people in the real world. Does that make me a bad person?