Data Informed Marketing Decisions

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Eric Bloomquist and Ella Butler, University of Utah

January 31, 2018

Sure, data is important! We hear over and over that data drives decisions; data proves our worth; data informs the work we do every day. But how good are our data if it doesn’t get used? How valuable is a piece of information that is interesting but not particularly useful? At the University of Utah, the last couple years have been an intentional shift from data collection to data usage (thanks in part to our fearless Assessment Leader & your NASPA Assessment KC co-chair, Stacy Ackerlind!). In the Career & Professional Development Center at the University of Utah, we have recently taken a couple steps to help us collect more actionable data, particularly around our offices’ marketing efforts.

Location & timing of survey helps response rate.

Like many institutions, we rely heavily on survey data to collect information. As we know, this contributes to survey fatigue which can reduce response rates and increase the annoyance level students feel toward our office because we constantly ask them for survey responses! (Well, probably… we don’t have a stat on this hunch, but we feel confident this is true.) How can we improve data gathering without simply sending a survey to all students? One way we’ve done so is by integrating important survey questions into the fabric of our operational processes. For instance, this past summer we made a major structural change to our Career Coaching services. Previously, students were assigned a career coach in our office based on the student’s major. Now, students can make appointments with any of our coaching staff based on a number of factors. As we made this shift, we really wanted to know more about students’ motivation for selecting coaches. Rather than do a focus group, or send a survey in a mass email to all our students, we simply integrated a single survey question into our check-in procedures for students as they checked into their coaching appointment. This single data point is now helpful to us as we think about marketing to students based on what has motivated other students.

In addition to stripping down surveys to the core essential questions, another way we’ve been able to maximize the utility of our survey responses for marketing efforts is through consistency. In each program evaluation, student appointment survey, and other points of contact with students, we ask students how they heard about the program/resource/service, and are consistent in the way we ask this. Surprisingly, this data showed us that a majority of our students find out about our large-scale events through physical advertising across campus; therefore, we make sure to invest in print materials to continue getting the word out rather than rely solely on email blasts or social media. Additionally, the survey responses indicate that many coaching appointments are scheduled through direct referrals from academic advisors on campus. Knowing this, we decided to celebrate those champions and keep a connection with them by focusing efforts on advertising to our advising community. Our goal is to ensure they are aware of our programs & resources rather than solely relying on student-facing marketing. We now host an annual open-house for advising staff & campus partners to meet our team, hear what is coming down the pipeline for the semester, and understand how best to refer students to our resources & services.

“Students Tell All” and give qualitative insights.

In order to promote the highest quality of services and market our brand, sometimes we have to admit that while we are making great strides towards data-driven decisions, there are also gaps in our knowledge. Last year, we went through a re-branding process where we revamped how we were telling our story. In order to get an idea of who students thought we were, in addition to soliciting candid feedback from our student ambassador team, we asked students and stakeholders (faculty, staff, and advisors) to describe us in three words. I remember our team sitting on buses, walking-up to students in the Student Union, and asking students in the residence halls who they thought we were (not an easy feat for us introverts, but we did it!). University of Utah is a large Pac-12 university with many campus resources, so it’s not surprising to hear students were unsure who we were and what we did. What we did find out is there was a significant difference between what the campus stakeholders and students said about us. Most stakeholders mentioned how as an office, we were inspiring, encouraging, cheerleaders, and supporters; whereas students primarily described the resources we provided. They mentioned what we did, not who we were as an office. Doing this type of assessment really allowed our office to change our brand, and re-focus where our gaps were, which was telling our story to students.

As we were figuring out how to tell our story, we also realized we needed a new communication plan. With the help of our staff, we invited six students from a variety of backgrounds to sit on a panel during our staff meeting to tell us everything they liked and wanted from our office. At first it was challenging because every student wanted something different. They wanted us to connect with them via email, text, social media, and newsletters. Not one of them agreed on what they wanted, and they mentioned wanting resources or events that we already offered. At first we were frustrated because we felt the panel was unsuccessful, especially because the information was not consistent. Then we realized, if we are offering resources and events that students want and they do not know the services already exist, then there is something wrong with our communication plan. Since then, we have created more targeted outreach plans to appeal to multiple student preferences.

Moving Data to Action.

As we mentioned above, how good are our data if it doesn’t get used? Over the past few semesters, we have been even more intentional in utilizing the data we gather in our marketing & programmatic decisions. We can continue to improve in this area, and are proud of some of the strides we’ve taken so far. By improving the timing & methods of our survey questions, by relying heavily on anecdotal qualitative feedback, and by staying in tune to campus partner needs, we’ve been able to make good use of the data we collect around our marketing efforts.

If randomly talking to students or organizing a student panel isn’t your thing, think of other strategies that will work for you. Bottom line, find ways to make use of the data you have & allow it to help you improve in your day to day work!

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