My Selects for #AMAhighered 2015

With little more than a month until the start of 2015 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, it is time to decide how to best divide and conquer the packed agenda amongst your team and determine which sessions and tracks are can’t miss. This year will be the 26th annual event and my third year attending. While many higher ed conferences are designed specifically for digital/web or admissions/enrollment professionals, what I love about AMA is its relevance for all higher ed marketers across digital, social, brand, communication, and web−a mix that promises a wide array of speakers, and opportunities to network with higher ed professionals from all disciplines.

And it looks as though this year promises to live up to my high expectations. Taking a look at the full program agenda, here’s where I’ll be headed:

Sunday, November 15

5:00 – Opening reception: First day of exhibits = best chances at awesome swag (and t-shirts in your preferred size).

Monday, November 16

8:15 – Morning Keynote: Latino Narratives in 2015

  • Sergio Alcocer, President and Chief Creative, LatinWorks
  • Earlier this year, the University of California announced that for the first time UC received more freshman applications from Latino students than any other ethnic group in the state. I’m fascinated to learn more about the shifting demographics and what that means for higher ed marketers.

10:15 – Track 5: Flipping the Funnel: How One School Increased Yield with Website Optimization

  • Grant Geske, Manager of Digital Analytics, Johnson & Wales University; Jason Smith, Managing Director and Founder, OHO Interactive
  • Higher ed is in a truly unique position where our websites continue to be one of the top sources for prospects and their parents. There is a huge opportunity there, but we all know that university websites are often more treated as a tug-of-war for prime real estate among departments. I’m curious to see how Wales University tackled the issue with an admissions and marketing focus.

11:15 – Track 3: Mythbusting Admissions: Where Prospects and Professionals Agree, and Disagree, on Enrollment Marketing, Messages, and Channels

  • Michael Stoner, Co-Founder and President, mStoner, Inc.; Gil Rogers, Director of Enrollment Insights, Chegg
  • I’ll be here to learn more about Generation Z and how their ever-changing digital habits influence enrollment marketing.

12:00 – Keynote: Eavesdropping on America’s Conversation on Race

  • Michele Norris, NPR Host and Special Correspondent, Founder of the Race Card Project
  • If you aren’t familiar with it, check out NPR’s The Race Card project before heading to AMA.

2:00 – Track 3: The Benchmarking Boom: Tracking Your Marketing and Branding Over Time

  • Elizabeth Johnson, CEO, SimpsonScarborough; Sharon Higgins, Assistant Vice President, Marketing & Communications, Loyola University Maryland
  • I’m excited to learn about Loyola University Maryland’s approach to benchmarking and anticipate insight into the best approach to wrangle campus metrics in a simple-to-use dashboard.

3:00 – Track 3: The Value Equation, Measuring & Communicating the Return on Investment of a College Degree

  • Jeff Selingo, Contributing Editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education and author of College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students; Terry Flannery, Vice President for Communications, American University; Noah Leavitt, Associate Dean for Student Engagement, Whitman College
  • This is an absolute can’t miss. The question of “value” and “ROI” continue to be top of mind for consumers and for higher ed marketers as we look to integrate outcome data in our brand strategies.

5:00 – Networking!

Tuesday, November 17

8:15 – Morning keynote: Driving Affinity through Innovative Marketing

  • Dan Dillon, Jr., Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Office, Arizona State University
  • I’m so looking forward to hearing about the ASU story first-hand. I not only admire their innovative partnerships (Starbucks and EdX), but how the ASU brand is visible in every move the university makes.

10:15 – Track 3: Predicting the Unpredictable – Strategies for Today’s Student Behavior

  • Alexa Poulin, Vice President, Marketing and Student Search, Carnegie Communications; Gillian Chapline, Marketing Manager, Chestnut Hill College
  • Digital marketing + data + analytics; count me in!

11:15 – Track 4: A Whole New World: Thoughts and Reflections on Joining Higher Education from Industry

  • Matthew Mindrum, Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Butler University; Mary Baglivo, Vice President, Global Marketing, Northwestern University; Nicholas Scibetta, Chief Communications Officer/Vice President Marketing, Stony Brook University; Moderator: Jason Simon, Vice President/Partner, SimpsonScarborough/Conference Co-Chair
  • As the role of the CMO and marcom department continues to mature within highered, we are also seeing an uptick in the number of “outsiders” joining the industry. I’m looking forward to hearing their perspective and learning about the challenges they’ve encountered.

12:00 – The World of Higher Ed in 2025: Boom or Bust?

  • Dan Greenstein, Director of Education, Postsecondary Success, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • I don’t think there is anyone who can provide a better glimpse of higher ed in 2025 and provide valuable insight on how higher ed marketers can continue to respond to the national need of creating a more educated workforce.

2:15 – Track 6: Building a Social Campus Through Cross Campus Collaboration

  • Tyler Thomas, Social Media Specialist, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Social media management across campus at both centralized and de-centralized universities is a reoccurring topic at AMA and for good reason. Social media moves fast and often higher ed finds itself behind – collaboration across campus and a strong workgroup can help. I’m looking forward to hearing how University of Nebraska-Lincoln tackled this ongoing challenge.

3:15 – Track 1: NYU’s One Logo, One University Initiative

  • Mark Courtney, Visual Identity Director, University Relations and Public Affairs, New York University
  • I’ve had my eye on NYU’s brand guidelines site for a while, and in particular, their social media guidelines that are the best I’ve seen in terms of content and tone.

Wednesday, November 18

8:15 – Session 5: Using LinkedIn to Deepen Relationships Throughout the Entire Student Lifecycle

10:15 – Closing keynote: The Digital Presidency – Brand-Building in the Age of Twitter

  • Santa Ono, President, University of Cincinnati
  • If you aren’t following @PrezOno on Twitter yet, please do. His latest tweet? Wishing a University of Cincinnati student a happy birthday! Can’t wait to learn his secrets to authentic social media engagement and stardom.


I’d be remiss to leave out our booth – stop by to say hello and chat about what’s happening in higher ed marketing at booth #3!

If you can’t attend in person this year, I’d encourage you to follow along with the #AMAHigherEd hashtag. I suspect it will only build on last year’s trending feed full of commentary, doodles, and key takeaways from throughout the conference. I’ll be sure to chime in from both @SimpScar and @k_march.

Making Surveys Mobile-Friendly, Part 3

In parts one and two of our series, we talked about the rise of the unintended mobile participant and how your key audiences are using mobile devices to participate in online surveys. In part three of our series, we will look at a recent case study, an online survey of alumni, and the differences we saw (and did not see) between respondents using a mobile device and those using a computer to complete the survey.

Case Study: Online Survey of Alumni

Let’s look at a recent online survey of approximately 800 alumni respondents. As shown in the chart below, 36% of respondents used a mobile device to complete this particular survey.


This survey was a very straightforward 20 question survey made up of multiple choice and rating scale question types. Median survey length was 12 minutes for respondents using a computer and 13 minutes for those using a mobile device, so while there was not a huge difference in survey length, it did take mobile respondents 8% longer to complete the survey than those using a computer.

How did mobile respondents differ demographically from respondents using a computer?

We wanted to see if there were any differences in the demographic profile of respondents using a mobile device and those using a computer to complete the survey. The demographic differences were minimal, and in fact, only gender varied significantly—63% of mobile respondents were female, compared to 53% of respondents using a computer. But what is arguably more interesting is where we did not see any differences in respondents.

In addition to gender, we tested to see if there were any differences in employment, income, and age for mobile vs. computer respondents. There were no statistically significant for any of these variables. The chart below shows the age breakdown of respondents using a mobile device compared to those using a computer to complete the survey.


While mobile respondents are skewed slightly younger, the differences by age are not statistically significant. It is important to note that there are older alumni using mobile devices to complete an online survey—while alumni are more likely than prospective undergraduate students to use a computer to complete an online survey, we cannot assume that younger alumni are the only ones using a mobile device. In fact, 28% of alumni age 60 or older completed the survey using a mobile device.

How do responses and response behavior differ between for mobile vs. computer respondents?

One concern with unintentional mobile respondents is that their responses or response behavior might differ from those responding to a survey using a computer. For example, there is a concern that if presented with a multiple response “select all that apply” question, mobile respondents might select fewer response options than those using a computer because they might have to scroll more or take more time to make selections when using the smaller screen. We tested for differences in mobile vs. computer responses for a sampling of different question types outlined in the table below. These questions represent some of the questions that we anticipate might be more burdensome for a mobile respondent.

QuestionQuestion TypeNotes on additional burden for mobile respondents
Aided awareness: schools with an excellent academic reputationMultiple-choice, select all that apply from a list of 24 colleges and universitiesProgrammed as two columns; mobile respondent might have to hold phone horizontally or scroll right to see all response options
Statements that best describe characteristics of University XMultiple-choice, select all that apply from a list of 16 short statements (6-18 words)Programmed as one column; mobile respondent might have to scroll down more than once to read all statements
Rating agreement with various statements about University X10 point rating scale, where 1 is strongly disagree and 10 is strongly agree. Rating 16 statementsProgrammed in a table where respondents might have to hold phone horizontally or scroll right to see the full 10 point rating scale. Additionally, respondents will have to scroll down to rate all statements

For the multiple choice questions, we found no statistically significant differences in the responses or the number of options selected for respondents using a mobile device vs. those using a computer. For the 10-point rating scale question, we found no differences in the number of respondents who skipped the question or mean ratings for mobile vs. computer respondents. This was great news for us. The unintentional mobile respondents did not have a negative impact on the quality of our survey data. That has been the case in almost every survey we have conducted since we started tracking unintentional mobile respondents.

So what happens when we do see a difference for mobile respondents?

In this case study, we did not see any differences in how mobile respondents responded to the survey compared to respondents using a computer. But what happens when we do see a difference? In a separate recent study conducted by SimpsonScarborough, we noticed some differences in mobile vs. computer respondents for the question below, which required respondents to view a video.

Please view the video below (embed video):

How does the video influence your impression of University X?

  1. Very negatively
  2. Somewhat negatively
  3. Does not affect my impression
  4. Somewhat positively
  5. Very positively

When we took a closer look at these responses, we found that we had a number of mobile respondents who noted in the follow-up open end that they were unable to view the video. We had tested the video capability on both apple and android mobile devices, so how could this have happened?

Luckily, we had embedded metadata in our survey that was able to show us the operating system for these respondents. We found that these respondents were using an old operating system. That brings up another interesting element to the unintentional mobile respondent issue: we have no control over whether people keep their phones updated. In the rare case where we are using a video or audio file, this could be an issue.

So we know the “why,” but what did we do about it?

We found that some of these respondents who did not view the video still answered the rating question. And since they were not able to view the video, these responses were not usable. Unfortunately, because we could not assume that everyone who was not able to view the video noted that in the open-end, we chose to only report on non-mobile respondents for this question. Luckily we had a large sample size and a large number of respondents who used a computer, so this was not a problem. But we learned an important lesson. From this point forward, when using video in a survey, we will include a response option that allows the respondent to indicate that they were unable to view the video.


More and more respondents are choosing to use mobile devices to take surveys we intended to be taken on a computer. We started to track mobile usage on our online surveys so that we could have a better idea of how our respondents are using mobile devices and how this usage affects the quality of our survey data. Fortunately, we have found very little, if any, impact. But it’s not something we can ignore. We will continue to monitor mobile survey takers and strive to design mobile-friendly surveys that ease the burden on these respondents.

Building Your Research Brand

Marketing and branding has taken its place among the key strategic functions and objectives at research universities around the world. And while we’re in the midst of the annual release of rankings and “best of” lists, university leaders would likely rather find themselves listed among the top schools in research expenditures, grants awarded, and sponsored research that will follow the rankings hoopla later in the year.

Think your research brand isn’t big business?

Make no mistake. Research reputation and the funding that follows it is a critical imperative for top universities. And as federal investment in basic research falls, getting grants, attracting innovative faculty, and luring industry-sponsored research have become key goals of every research university’s branding effort.

Building a research brand requires different approaches than building an institutional brand, supporting fundraising, or driving enrollment. Here are three tips to get you focused.

  1. Hey marketers, don’t underestimate the value of PR. For most colleges and universities, traditional methods for building research reputation centers on a drumbeat of pitching media and placing stories of breakthroughs, big grants and star faculty in media. In our study for Stevens Institute of Technology, a survey of university presidents, provost and admissions deans (those same people who vote reputation in rankings),  cited media as a key influence. In the onslaught of new marketers and marketing tactics, do not undersell the role media relations has in building your research brand.
  2. Go to where the action is. Your offices of research, technology transfer, or corporate relations are the places faculty go for policies, process, and guidance in attracting and learning about research opportunities. The grant writers and support staff can be great sources for guiding where the latest wins and superstar faculty are hidden on your campus. Don’t wait for faculty to knock on the marketing communications door.
  3. Tell stories of impact, not of dollars. Often university research stories focus on the dollars granted to support the research. But they rarely tell of the impact or the real people passionate about doing the work. With the rise and opportunity afforded through content and digital marketing, you’ve got the opportunity to use your own channels to build research superstars.

Consider these terrific examples of innovative ways colleges and universities are trying to build their research brands:

  1. The University of California’s research Tumblr blog is a great example of curating and posting social content designed to be shared and followed. UC also has the terrific Fig 1 video series with animated shorts on various research topics. Several posts have topped more than 100,000 views on YouTube. A personal favorite, “We are Built to Be Kind,” has nearly 200,000 views.
  2. Colorado State University animal science professor Temple Grandin earned a Webby and broke the internet with the highest-rated “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session. It became the most popular and highest-rated in Reddit’s Science section.
  3. Florida International University developed a web app that helps local residents visualize the impact of rising seas on their neighborhoods.
  4. Finally, don’t be afraid to put faculty voices front and center. UC Berkeley’s Berkeley Blog has been pulling in faculty voices on newsworthy topics and op-eds for years now. These posts often lead to media placements and help establish experts and further the reputation of the campus as a true innovator.

As interim University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce said, “These days geeks rule.” Make sure your university brand strategy has research at its heart.

CASE Accepting Nominations for SimpsonScarborough Scholars Program

CASE is currently accepting nominations for the 2016 SimpsonScarborough Scholars program. Established in 2008, the program honors our founding partner, Christopher Simpson, who passed away earlier that year. Well-known in higher education for media relations and crisis communications work, Christopher was strongly committed to serving as a mentor to young professionals. The SimpsonScarborough Scholars program continues Christopher’s legacy by supporting the professional development of promising candidates in higher education marcom. Visit the CASE website for complete details, including scholarship benefits, eligibility requirements and application instructions. The application deadline is Friday, November 13.

November Strategically Speaking Webinar

Now more than ever, higher education marketers need to be able to measure and track brand strength over time and report on marketing effectiveness. What should be measured? What metrics accurately capture the outcomes of the marketing effort? How do you account for the impact on recruiting and fundraising?

These are important and tricky questions that need to be answered in order to help you create a systematic process for measuring marketing outcomes. In this session, we will discuss metrics that should be used to measure your brand strength over time. We will also describe metrics that should be used to monitor the marketing effort in order to support future decision-making and help leadership understand marketing’s impact.

Effectively Measuring Marketing ROI
Led by: Elizabeth Johnson and Renee Daly
Date: Thursday, November 12, 1:00-2:30pm ET
Registration fee: $295

Register today and learn more about the Strategically Speaking webinar series.