Malleable Musings

December 4, 2011

HE Global

The Chancellor’s Autumn statements last Tuesday had a couple of impacts for Higher Education.  However it wasn’t the  £200 million boost to science funding that caught my eye.  It was paragraph A 80 of the Autumn Statement Document.

Education export opportunities – The Government will launch HE Global, an online portal providing information and advice to higher education (HE) institutions on expanding abroad. It will also develop a vehicle to bring together government, the HE sector and industry expertise to package and sell education offers overseas.

My initial reaction was, “Oh great – another website.”  Then I thought about the timing.  The Autumn Statement was delivered on the first day of the EducationUK Partnership meeting, probably the leading conference for those working in UK HE international student recruitment.  From talking to colleagues who attended I don’t think HE Global was mentioned to delegates in Edinburgh.

This therefore sounded like it would be a UKTI-led initiative whose usefulness would depend on who was actually doing the work.  When I was doing international office type work I never really found the UKTI to be all that helpful.  Most of their staff didn’t really seem to understand the issues that HE institutions face when working overseas, or what they are trying to achieve.  I’d used them in the past to arrange Ambassador’s receptions and I also read their briefing notes, like these ones for Singapore (2010 and 2011).  For me these Singapore notes are particularly interesting as I’d sat through intelligence gathering meetings between UKTI consultants and Singaporean HEIs, having been invited in to the meetings by the Singaporeans.

Therefore I was gladdened to see a note on the International Unit website on Friday saying that HE Global is an initiative that they are involved with.  From the site:

The HE Global is a web portal and will give users:

  • better knowledge of foreign market opportunities,
  • clearer and coordinated services of government and partners’ services,
  • better understanding of foreign quality assurance and accrediting systems,
  • access to finance and insurances to reduce risks and
  • access to key information to help HEIs assess risks and carry out due diligence before undertaking TNE activities.

Points 2-5 certainly look interesting therefore I’ve already emailed Alex and will be watching out for the launch on 25th Jan.

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May 28, 2010

Did I just describe a PLE?

I had an interesting phone call last week from someone in the COI. The COI, in case you don’t know, are the UK Government Central Office of Information (COI) – the Government’s centre of excellence for marketing and communications. They do some excellent work providing guidance on all aspects of marcomms.

Anyway, the person who rang me was carrying out a research study for The British Council. They were wanting to identify the media habits of professionals who work in the area of international education.  In particular they wanted to understand potential media which actively engage in issues related to higher education and how these were used.

So during the phone call I was read a list of media titles.  I’d heard of more or less all of the titles mentioned although there were a couple of more obscure titles (journals) where I wasn’t quite so sure.  In discussing the traditional media I explained that print-only media is more or less invisible for me.  The only thing that I receive in hard copy format that I even flick through is the COL newsletter.

So online media is really the only way I access this sort of specific news of information.  I also explained that I wasn’t that likely to visit a particular website to get my news, although I might use an online database, library or datastore if I knew what it contained.

I reflected back and thought about the professional networks that do exist.  They often provide meatspace opportunities but I recognised that very little news was ever highlighted to me offline.  Okay, I’d occasionally find out a little titbit of information in conversation with colleagues from other institutions especially at conferences but it was usually soft anecdotal stuff rather than news or hard information.

This lead to a bit of a discussion about what I thought NEWs was and an explanation from me that I was only really likely to look at NEWs if it was sent directly to me as an email newsletter or highlighted to me in another way, through an RSS feed or crowdsourced by a brand I trusted (either a corporate brand such as the chronicle or a personal brand) or if it hit a search filter of some type that I’d set up.

I also explained my reticence to paywalls and the problems I have with sites that have registration walls (e.g. the FT).

It was a quite an interesting conversation that had me reflecting quite a bit about my current media habits and how they have changed over the past few years.  Two or three years ago I would have given very different answers and even a year ago my thoughts were quite different and search seemed much more important to me.

I didn’t talk about the details of how I get my NEWs these days but whilst I was on the phone I kept thinking have I just described a Personal Learning Environment.

In terms of the details of my PLE, for the past six months or so I’ve relied on my6Sense to keep me updated.   My6Sense is an interesting iPhone app that pulls together your social and RSS feeds.   The idea is that the more that you use it the more it understands your interests and starts to surface the things that you’ll find relevant.  I usually check it a couple of times a day and so far I’ve found it to be pretty good.  Of course, I don’t really know what I’m missing however for some reason it feels better knowing I’ve flicked through a couple of pages of my6sense recommendations than seeing the thousands of items that I never got around to looking at in Google Reader.

I do also occasionally dip in to Twitter and Friendfeed.  Twitter lists, and friend lists on Friendfeed help me catch up on things that particular people have said that I might have missed and I also use Friendfeed to bookmark things to go back to read later when I have more time.

I certainly don’t feel that I’m really part of an international education network.  If an online network does exists for the people who are interested in these aspects of international education then either:

  1. I  haven’t really found it yet (although I have found lots of people who offer some really interesting points of view);  or
  2. I’m too much of a visitor and not resident enough – also read I’ve been too much of a lazy slacker and haven’t worked hard enough to become part of that network yet.

However, I do feel that I’ve got the beginnings of a personal learning environment.  It’s a learning environment that I know will definitely change over the coming years, months and days in ways that I can only dream of, but it’s still my very own PLE isn’t it?

January 6, 2010

Career women make bad mothers

Filed under: Social Media, Trad marketing methods — Tags: — Brendan @ 7:01 am

I saw the “Career women make bad mothers” outdoor ad on a bus shelter as I was driving around the Leicester Ring Road on my way home yesterday.

It made an impression.  I remember thinking, “What advertiser uses a message like that.  Are they looking for trouble. ”

As I was only able to read the headline I assumed it was for some trashy new TV show.  A few minutes later I’d forgotten all about it.  Then in the evening I saw a tweet by @pigironjoe and I was interested enough to read his posterous post http://post.ly/HIrO.

Unlike Tristram I’m not a careers person so I wasn’t particularly interested in the careers aspect of the headline.  Instead, I was interested in the campaign itself.

So I went off to the marketing comics to find out a bit more.  According to Media Week/Brand Republic, it’s part of a £1.25m campaign to promote the power of outdoor advertising and will use 11,500 billboards and poster sites nationwide.  To put this into perspective it’s the equivalent weight as a campaign that would be used for the launch of a new blockbuster film or of a campaign by a major telecoms company.

What interests me about this campaign is the supposed interaction between online and offline media and the use of such a provocative headline.  In terms of the provocative headline I think that “Max Harrington” sums my thoughts up well with his comment on the Media Week/Brand Republic article.

Max Harrington

Max Harrington – 05/01/2010
This approach is a bit old hat these days. Couldn’t they come up with something that’s clever or funny? When the outdoor industry did that campaign \(10 years ago) for a fake Aussie perfume that was brilliant. If the outdoor industry wants to seduce brands then use the style of creative ads that brands would run. The average marketing director will simply say “well of course you got a response, you insulted thousands of people, big deal, that ain’t selling”.

However what really has me scratching my head is the quote from Alan James, the chief executive of the Outdoor Advertising Agency, “The campaign hopes to demonstrate the power of outdoor advertising as a direct response medium with the ability to drive people online.”  (Now this may not be an exact quote, there’s a subtle difference between the word direct and the word immediate used in the Daily Dooh post linked above. )

But in any case, why:

  1. was the URL so small as to be unreadable on the poster?
  2. pick the domain britainthinks.com when there is already a whatbritainthinks.com domain which dates from March 2003 (it was for text-messaging about the Iraq War and I found the analysis of their campaign really interesting);
  3. build a site that’s so poor for SEO purposes?
  4. run neglible PPC? Bizarrely they are bidding on “Britain Thinks” – where’s the PPC for the phrases that they will use on their posters.  If I were still a PPC advertiser I’d seriously consider running a campaign on their phrases for some quick, cheap eyeballs.

You’d expect them to get all this right wouldn’t you.  After all this a serious £1.25m campaign – isn’t it?

Having seen the poster the only thing I had to go on was the phrase Career Women make Bad Mothers.  So I typed it directly in to Google and at the time of writing the number one result was a highly critical mumsnet post “Career women make bad mothers“.  Whilst on Bing it’s this great blog post on “Career women make bad mothers“.

The BritainThinks website doesn’t make the first page on either search engine.

Whilst there is definitely more to getting a message across than advertising on Google poor oohgle thinking is unforgivable in this day and age.  Separately I’m wondering what effect the snow is going to have on the campaign.

June 17, 2009

DM / Email / SM … the same rules apply

Filed under: Emails, Social Media, Trad marketing methods — Brendan @ 10:22 pm

I got a piece of direct mail yesterday that seemed to bring together a lot of different ideas.  My thinking was undoubtedly influenced by the #digitalleap twitterstream, which I dipped in to on Monday. Also, many of the arguments about social media being just another form of communication were fresh in my mind having listened to the excellent Six Pixels of Separation #159 podcast on the train home yesterday evening.

As an aside, personally I find JayJay’s notes about Digital Leap to be a far more detailed and coherent summary of the day than the twitter #hashtag.  To me it doesn’t matter that this is one person’s point of view and she’s espousing it away from where the main online conversation is likely to take place.  Why? Because I trust her point of view and think the permanence, readability and searchability of JayJay’s notes to be superior.  I think that there’s probably a whole blog post just on this topic – but for now that will probably have to wait.

Outside of CAFOD mailer

Outside of CAFOD mailer

Anyway the direct mail piece was from a charity that I’ve given to in the past.  What I loved about it was the language used, how on message it remained and the calls to action that were used.  It got me thinking about how similar this sort of communication is actually to the digital methods that many would say have superseded direct mail.

This is the mailing as I received it.  Immediately it had done all of the right things.

1) Their targeting data was good – and their delivery mechanism was sound. (The piece was delivered and had got in to my hands. I presume I was targeted through the Gift Aid scheme in which you provide your addresses.)

2) I recognised the sender (branding).

3) The subject line attracted me (alongside the crunch that told me there was something other than paper inside the envelope).

4) All of this led me to open the communication (envelope).  If steps 1-3 weren’t in place the mail either wouldn’t have got to me or I would have thrown it straight in to the recycling bin.

Compare this to the cardinal rules of email marketing.  The only significant factor missing is receiving the message at the right time.

This was what was inside of the envelope.

intInside of the envelope

What struck me first of all was the consistency of the message.  On the envelope I’d been warned that I would be asked to tell them what I think and the contents delivered.  This core call to action should sound familiar to the social media fundraising mantra of building influencers and friends and understanding them and their commitment to your cause as a first step.  It’s certainly no new idea, more like fundraising 101 – people give to causes they believe in that are articulated well and to their friends.

Anyway, the entire pack had been carefully designed.  I thought the addition of a Fairtrade teabag and the second line of the headline “Will you tell us over a cup of tea?” was a masterstroke.  Throughout the covering letter and the survey the language used was chatty and informal and the graphics complemented this.

Every opportunity was used to tell the little interesting stories that fit with the brand messages that the charity is waiting to push.  It informed and cross-sold, but at no point did I feel I was being pushed.

I was left in no doubt that the purpose of this mailing was predominantly a listening exercise. The paragraph requesting donations was actually the top paragraph of page 2, and it was a simple understated, “when you’ve completed our survey, would you consider making a donation” backed up by the following line which was underlined, “We really do want to hear your opinions, whether you choose to make a donation or not.”

In the UK, I think this approach fits the university sector well.  It’s actually the approach used by my alma matter, the VC wrote to me saying something about how she wanted the alumni to help keep the university honest.  A clear message that as alumni that we are the probably the most visible aspect of the brand that the university has.

In the institution in which I have worked for the past seven years, I’ve long argued that our alumni base is probably more important to us as influencers than as a cash cow to be milked.  And I also argued that setting up our alumni association from scratch one of the key things we needed to do was to locate and listen to our alumni before anything else.  What’s more we needed to listen harder to our alumni who were distance learning students who had never set foot on the university than might be necessary for more conventional students.

We built the numbers very quickly and did a lot of listening and surveying but we always had a problem with segmentation.  Our surveys were rudimentary and nothing like as elegant as the one I got in this mailing.  When I get a chance I’m going to scan and save it here as it really is an exceptionally well executed.  It will provide a tonne of information that the charity can use highly effectively to both reduce their costs in communicating with me, recruit me as a volunteer and improve their likely return by targeting me with the key messages that matter to me.

However it’s also written in language that encourages and reinforces all of the brand messages so I’d imagine quite a few people will get to the end of the survey and will feel compelled to add a donation.

Thinking about it after a while I realised that there was one extra thing that could have been done, but for me this was the only fault.  This minor thing was to separate the email address from the donation box.  Ideally they should have also used a quite statement about helping them reduce their communication costs / or communicating electronically to save paper.  The reason for this is that some people will take the charity at their word and just fill in the survey, but not realise the savings that the charity can make in dealing with the person electronically.

June 2, 2009

Elections & direct mail

Filed under: Life at home, Trad marketing methods — Brendan @ 9:30 pm

It’s been an interesting run up to the European elections which are happening on Thursday.  The only marketing messages I’ve actually seen are outdoor (posters – mainly Conservative on the drive over to Skegness at the weekend) and direct mail shots that I’ve received at home.  Some of these appear to have been direct mail pieces – others pamphlets shoved through the door.

So far I’ve had stuff through from the BNP, UKIP, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour.  Interestingly the Conservatives have written to my wife twice, and my wife got a much more detailed leaflet from Labour than I did.  What was interesting about the Labour leaflets was the bits that they’d omitted from the leaflet to me were the bits I would have been most interested in.

None of the leaflets have done anything to make me want to vote for the parties concerned.  If anything that Labour think I’m not interested in their green policies has made me even more skeptical as to whether they deserve my vote.

In fact, the only leaflet that made me want to take action was that from the BNP.

I wanted to return it to their adpost address pretending to be a Mr. Singh in living at either 33 Golden Square, London, W1F 9JT or 110 Gloucester Avenue, London, NW1 8HX. They are the head offices for Clearchannel and Cymba who I believe ran their outdoor and SMS text messaging campaigns respectively.

(As a side note I find it interesting to see the backlash that Clearchannel have faced and wonder how this sort of new transparency is going to affect who companies accept as customers in the future.  I use “believe” purposefully in the previous paragraph as I’m guessing Cymba are the BNP’s SMS provider based on the number used and I’ve only seen Clearchannel mentionned on blogs and in a piece in Marketing Week – althought this piece has now been removed – hence the link to Google cache.)

In the end I settled for throwing it (and all of the other leaflets) in the recycling bin.

What was interesting for me was that compared to some of the recent …. is dead memes that have been circulating with respect to various web-based tools / sites the direct mail as a dead medium meme is positively prehistoric.

For what it’s worth I’ve not given up on direct mail yet.  As a mass marketing medium it’s definitely an expensive channel.  However for high value personalized sales I think it still has some merits as long as it’s done well.

By that I mean that some thought has gone in to the mailing and the right actions are taken before, within and after the mailing. i.e. the correct person is identified and forewarned of (agrees to) a mailing, the mailing is memorable and the person is followed up after the mailing, if the mailing itself doesn’t generate measurable/monitorable action.

I guess in a world where pull communication is becoming more mainstream any push communication needs to be handled with extreme care to ensure that the “buyer” (for want of a better word) emerges positively from their moment of truth.

May 27, 2009

UoL Marketing Training Part 2

Filed under: Trad marketing methods, Uncategorized — Tags: — Brendan @ 10:41 pm

Phew – glad I don’t run courses every day. I really had forgotten how tricky it was. I think it went OK in the end and apparently from the feedback forms (which I haven’t seen) there’s pretty good evidence of learning and people getting a lot out of the course.

The slideshares are linked below and the YouTube videos we showed were:

Education 3.0

A dramatic shift in Marketing Reality

The role of customer service in a downturn

We also showed an advert for Magnet kitchens (and we should have showed one from Chicago Town in relation to the Pizza Game).

Thinking about if I were to run this course again, I think we’d need to think about the following:

  • It was too rushed – we should have it in 3 day course, but I understand that people struggle to turn up for even two days.
  • There were some specific issues related to the business game, in terms of timing and introduction (and I think there are a few places where the in game instructions aren’t all that clear).
  • We need to be more prepared – in terms of understanding the audience and knowing the material and knowing what everyone actually knew (I wonder if we covered some things that the audience already knew too slowly, especially on Day 1)

I think the amount of content would probably have been OK if we were delivering to one sectors, but the audience was drawn from fairly dissimilar university / public sector backgrounds. It took most of the first day for my co-host and I to get a bit of an understanding of our audience and the challenges that they faced and even by the end of the course I don’t think we had a full understanding. This meant we weren’t really sure what the most important points to get across were.  At the very least if this module is run again it’s worth getting the students to fill in a mini profile/questionnaire before the

On day 2, my co-host and I were still discussing what order to talk about different areas fifteen minutes before we were due to start – it really was a case of just in time delivery, especially when the printer does it’s usual trick of jamming because you’re in a hurry.  On the downside this meant that we didn’t know the slides as well as we should have, or who was going to say what.  There’s certainly a couple of mistakes in the slides/handouts because I was rushing, however I wonder how much they showed?

May 14, 2009

Competitor Market Research

Filed under: Market Research — Brendan @ 2:42 pm

I had an experience the other day that made me question the logic behind appointing external market research companies.

The background is that our information centre received an email that they forwarded to me from a Business Analyst within a market research firm. The firm had been commissioned by a client an online law degree provider based in the UK to explore the feasibility of launching its online law program in Canada.

Given that I currently work for the largest university provider of UK law degrees and I’m about to move to another large distance learning provider (who in the interview task asked me to deliver a presentation about marketing a law degree) my interest was naturally peaked. At the very least I wanted to know who the additional competition would be. So I duly emailed back saying I’d be very happy to talk to them.

The phone call itself was odd, as the market research company were based in India and there was a bit of a delay on the line. I found out who the client was, their current thinking about pricing and a little about what positioning and entry strategies they were thinking about.

But I can’t work out, what if anything from the interview, that the market research firm will be able to feed back to their client (that the client doesn’t know already).  Most of the questions that they asked weren’t relevant to me as a competitor, as they were questions that needed to be directed elsewhere.

I’m amazed at how inefficient this piece of research was.  It provided very little in the way of competitor information and certainly no market understanding.  I didn’t say too much that couldn’t have been gleaned from our website.  I was honest and didn’t lead them to any false assumptions, which as a competitor I could have been tempted to do.

A different and more fruitful conversation may well have taken place if the client had contacted me / or one of my colleagues directly.

May 6, 2009

UoL Marketing Training

Filed under: Trad marketing methods — Tags: — Brendan @ 9:01 pm

I’ve somehow got myself involved in delivering a two day Marketing planning training course to staff from across the university as part of a Chartered Management Institute Diploma in Management. The syllabus is as below:

1.1 Explain marketing as a management process

1.2 Describe the role of marketing in identifying and predicting the needs of current and potential stakeholders *

2.1 Discuss the current position of the organisation within its chosen sector or market

2.2 Determine a future market or sector position for the organisation in line with organisational objectives

2.3 Identify other parts of the organisation which are impacted and involved in a future market or sector plan

3.1 Construct a marketing plan that supports current market or sector and targets potential new markets or sectors

3.2 Evaluate the support necessary to implement the plan

3.3 Implement the marketing plan

3.4 Assess the progress of the plan, through monitoring, reviewing and end evaluation, in the achievement of organisational objectives

Most of the first day will be taken up with an specific game which looks interesting whilst the rest of the training is a combination of material that I and a colleague of mine will be delivering. At the moment I’m grappling with the content that we’re meant to deliver to see how we can make it more exciting than delivering a bland powerpoint driven lecture.

The game will actually cover the evaluation of most of the learning outcomes.

The exception is 1.2 (Describe the role of marketing in identifying and predicting the needs of current and potential stakeholders). This will be assessed by a brief report of 800-1000 words that should apply to the individual’s role.  If there’s no marketing element to their role, then they need to write about the University of London (or your own institution) as a whole. The hand-in deadline for the report is Friday 12 June.

For me it’s funny to be reminded how simple things can sound in theory.  It also reminded me how little I trust the traditional marketing models and how applying them in practice is frought with difficulty.  I was also glad to see this echoed in a piece on the CIM website.

Some useful links for the essay:

Openlearn material on this topic
Wikipedia on marketing management
CIM piece on the changing nature of marketing

February 9, 2009

The world’s local bank

Filed under: Branding, Trad marketing methods — Tags: — Brendan @ 8:07 pm

I’m one of those odd people who pay attention to advertising. I especially pay attention to HSBC because I think that their tagline could easily be adapted by my workplace to “the world’s local university”.

Anyway the photo below is a bit of an ad that they are running at Heathrow. Its for their premier account. It went the full length of the tunnel to Terminal 3 but I thought that this was the most apt panel to me.

The answers were:
Boston ~ $44,000
Oxford ~ $30,000
Beijing ~ $1,250

Startling isn’t it considering we live in a globalised world. I wonder how the value equation is shifting especially as an undergrad education through Fudan or Beijing Normal will carry similar weight to that from Oxbridge or the Ivy League.

February 3, 2009

Superbowl ads

Filed under: Trad marketing methods — Brendan @ 8:53 am

I’m always interested in what goes on in terms of the superbowl. I don’t mean the game (although I understand it was a good one this year) but instead the adverts that they run in the breaks.

I mean if you’re going to spend that amount of money on an advert you’re going to try to get it right.

What’s more you’ll want to maximise your advertising as far as possible.

Unfortunately being in the UK I wasn’t able to follow all of the ads but I spent a little time last night tracking down the ones that got a good buzz on twitter.

What I’ve found interesting is the number of adverts that have been taken down. These are adverts that haven’t been modified.

Why companies zealously enforce copyrights on advertising in a globalised world I really don’t know. Surely people talking about your brand and your advertising is a good thing!

What I’m really waiting to see is whether anyone is going to be brave enough to publish any metrics.

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