The landscape of higher education has experienced major changes, but it is set to undergo a sweeping transformation in the years ahead. A smaller Gen. Z cohort, combined with increased talent demands in the industry bring both threats and opportunities for academic instruction. Who will survive, and how will they thrive? In this week’s episode, we tackle two compelling opportunities: how marketing professionals should evaluate the role of higher education in their career ladder, and how schools should borrow from the B2B playbook to competitively market themselves for the future. Take a listen with our esteemed guest, Chad Mezera, Assistant Dean of Online Programs for the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University. Chad literally “wrote the playbook” on online education, and has turned WVU’s higher education programs into award-winning, innovative online degrees.
Ruth Stevens: What do you think marketing education is going to look like tomorrow?
Chad Mezera: I think the opportunity here is really understanding your audience and what they need. One of the things that has differentiated our approach is that we've been able to maintain high practitioner focus. With all of our programs, both at the graduate undergraduate level, but particularly at the graduate level, there's a dedication to keeping pace with what's happening in the industry. In the last 15 years, the industry has changed dramatically and education, at its core, needs to keep up with where the market is and with where employers are. Early on in in my higher education career, I had a disagreement with a mentor of mine about how education should be approached and what the value proposition is for the students. He was vehement that we don't do training in higher education and that we focus on global thinking and the critical thinking and let the employers do the training. And, maybe 20 years ago, that was a much more relevant approach, but I think now there's a shift and education has to serve a need that isn't just about how people think and their ability to do critical thinking, but also how they're able to do that work within a particular career. From the perspective of where marketing education is going, I see a lot of successful programs that are trying to find the right balance between the higher education philosophy and the needs of today's employers.
Cyndi Greenglass: How do you see balancing what we would call general educational needs with a practical, hard skills/soft skill balance?
Chad Mezera: I think there's a couple of different opportunities for institutions of higher education. One is to look at education outside of the confines of the traditional degree program. In traditional education, there’s a four-year sequence that culminates in your capstone. Ultimately, where I think education should go to remain relevant, at least in marketing education, is in more of a lifelong approach or a career spanning trajectory. We need to break out that degree-focus we’ve always maintained into things like alternative credentialling or certificates or even stackable credentials.
Ruth Stevens: How do marketers of educational products need to be thinking about the future?
Chad Mezera: This is a sophisticated audience. You’re really selling a high-involvement, transformational and intangible thing that comes with, in some cases, a substantial price tag. How you connect with them and ensure that they understand what exactly they're going to get for that tuition dollar –whether or not your program is purely theoretical versus purely practitioner or somewhere in between –is critical. It’s complicated because you’re dealing with a narrow audience when looking at graduate education in particular, and if you’re an online program or hybrid program, you’re looking potentially at a global or at least national audience. We focus a lot on the actual degree and the courses and the outcomes that we have in place in the curriculum over a lot of some of the intangibles, but then also that career focus is what our degree is designed to support. That's where you place a lot of the messaging, everything else is supportive of that concept at the graduate level. The undergraduate is less complicated in some ways because you're dealing with a homogenized group. The majority of your audience tends to be within a few hours of your campus and they tend to share consistencies that you don't necessarily see at the graduate level.
Cyndi Greenglass: Do you use personas or customer segmentation the way we do with other brands and products?
Chad Mezera: Absolutely. Our marketing approach is very persona-based and specific to each of the different programs. We've even looked at specialized areas within our existing programs as a means of segmenting and really refining audience. We know which types of students are attracted to which types of programs and our marketing approach is specific to those audiences. You're seeing programs being designed specifically to reach niche audiences instead of the other way around where you put out a program and then you'd look for the audience. Now, there's an audience that we know that we need to serve, so will develop a program specific to that audience.
Key Takeaways/Three Little Piggies
- Education marketing shares many similarities with B2B and hospitality marketing. It requires hyper-smart targeting and segmentation to finite niche audiences. This means a deep need for certain marketing strategies like yield management to optimize the return on fixed costs and overhead.
- While the US market for higher education is shrinking, the global accessibility of online education means a huge opportunity for the future of higher education marketing. Marketers in this vertical should be looking to identify untapped demand and develop specific needs-based offerings designed to serve them.
- For students and professionals looking to level up their skills in marketing, the future likely holds a much broader set of options, all intended to meet the evolving demands of the marketplace across the entire lifetime of their careers.
Marketing Communications Today presents Horizons, it’s forward-thinking, looking ahead, through the front windshield and beyond, into the marketing future. Join Cyndi and Ruth bi-weekly for new ideas, technologies, tools and strategies that are emerging to help marketers navigate over the marketing horizon.
Meet our guest
Chad Mezera is the Assistant Dean of Online Programs for the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University (WVU). In this role, he oversees all online courses offered by the college and leads the online programs support team. Before coming to WVU in 2005, Mezera led the internal corporate communications function of a major government IT solutions provider. Prior to that, he planned and executed national and regional marketing campaigns for a non-partisan think tank focused on developing and teaching best practices in federal, state and local government.
Meet the hosts
Cyndi W. Greenglass is a founding partner and president at Livingston Strategies, a data-informed, strategic consulting firm that helps clients develop, execute, and measure their customer communications with a close focus on results. Cyndi has razor-sharp strategic skills matched by impeccable on-the-ground savvy and tactical abilities. She is an Adjunct Instructor in the Data Marketing Communications online master's degree program from West Virginia University.
Greenglass has twice been named into the Top 100 Influential BTB Marketers by Crain’s BtoB Magazine and was the 2012 CADM Chicago Direct Marketer of the Year. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for BRAND United and has taught, trained and presented at over 50 conferences throughout the world.
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, for business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York.
Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City.
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