UMassOnline Speaker Series presenter Jim Fong, at our facility in Shrewsbury on Friday, July 15th, put into words a possibility that many in academic marketing dread even thinking about: a lack of understanding or trust in marketing decisions. A long-experienced and proven marketing researcher and consultant who is currently, among other things, the Founding Director for the University Professional and Continuing Education Association’s (UPCEA) Center for Research and Consulting, Jim’s presentation included his use of relatively sophisticated research models as well as low barrier and low cost methods that can be put to immediate use in any sized marketing unit within higher ed. But his message was simple… and impactful. To summarize his view and paraphrase his words, he believes academic marketing professionals risk a loss of trust among the university’s leadership team if marketers base their decisions on subjective feelings versus honest and objective metrics. He said that without hard data in support of a marketing decision, marketers can’t be held accountable which can lead to a lack of confidence in marketing and marketing decisions.
Indirectly, he also noted that any resistance to objective metrics can be hard on marketing professionals, too. He recounted, for example, his first few months several years ago in a new job when he spent sixty days observing things, to the point at which he said some of his new colleagues probably began to wonder and question what he was doing there. But what he was doing was seeing the marketing strategists, competitive and market research analysts, marketing account managers, creative staff and others that he managed struggling to cope in a culture that was decidedly not data driven. The chief symptoms of this disorder: meetings after meetings after meetings, decision deficits and delays, and the risk of bad decisions.
In contrast, Jim’s presentation included a variety of examples in which the use of objective marketing research metrics — many gleaned in quick and simple ways — helped provide the data to enable marketing to make educated decisions on marketing activities and budget while supporting these decisions with data. Through data driven decisions comes support for these decisions as well. The path becomes much clearer, priorities can be set and decisions can be made with good insight which comes from research and good data. Anyone in academic marketing, at whatever level of metrics advocacy, can be enlightened by Jim’s examples as well as his advice about how data should be delivered. “Sometimes information is very subjective and it gets delivered in an unstructured way… almost conversationally,” he said. “There should be no verbal reports but data dashboards and scorecards.” Today, he said, we need to treat marketing as a science.