Converge 2019 Recap: Content Creation, Enabling Genius, Managing Crisis

Last week in Atlanta, SimpsonScarborough had the amazing opportunity to partner with Converge to put on Converge 2019: The Digital Marketing Conference for Higher Education. The conference featured engaging sessions covering topics ranging from creating data-driven personas to mastering Google analytics to harnessing the power of market research to build a brand. There was no shortage of colleagues to learn from.

After listening to all the great conversations, three big-picture takeaways stuck with me the most:

Higher ed marketers can—and should—act as creators, not information pushers.

A lot of the times at higher ed conferences we hear how higher education is behind the curve and that we are in a game of trying to “catch up” to best practices in other industries. I love the desire to want to learn from others; I hate the assumption that we are always behind. In his session “Flashes of Genius: Learning the Art and Science of Creativity,” Allen Gannett of TrackMaven (and author of the book Creative Curve) shared three habits that cutting-edge “creators” have in common.

  • They are consumers: “You can’t have insights about things you don’t know anything about,” Gannett said. The best creators consume vast amounts of content related to their industry. We all have a colleague who has a child that has undergone the college search process. Talking to them, it is easy to see how going through that experience changes their thinking about higher education marketing. Our challenge is making sure we are doing that more than once, twice or maybe three times in our lifetime.
  • They create opportunities for silence: This can be hard, especially in an industry that’s short-staffed and often on a shoestring budget. In order to get a head of the curve, time has to be set aside to step back, disconnect, and just think.
  • Imitate the structure of successful work (with a twist): People crave what is familiar because in our brains, unfamiliar things represent risk. New creations that resonate feel familiar, yet have just enough alteration to them that they are exciting and keep the consumer engaged. 

We must view content strategically rather than tactically.

“Content, like life, should have purpose,” said Angela Bostick of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. In her session, “Evangelists, Influencers and Storytellers – Oh My! A Journey Down the Yellow Brick Road of Digital Content Creation and Brand Elevation,” she laid out a very common-sense framework for organizing content according to marketing goals and highlighted how that content can best be expressed and measured. Her recommended categories included:

  • Content meant to entertain
    • Goal: Build connection with skeptical audiences by showing personality
    • Options: Student-generated videos, blogs, and competitions
    • Metrics: Total views/completions, shares, and engagement
  • Content meant to inspire
    • Goal: Motivate choice with aspirant audiences through emotion
    • Options: Leadership videos, event coverage, and faculty research
    • Metrics: Visibility with target audience, engagement, and conversion
  • Content meant to educate
    • Goal: Highlight differentiation to new audiences using detail
    • Options: Infographics, Q&A output, “how it works” videos
    • Metrics: Recall, completion, and downloads
  • Content meant to convince
    • Goal: Drive selection with qualified audiences using logic
    • Options: Research blogs, student-driven lists, comparisons
    • Metrics: Recall and conversions

No institution is immune to crisis.

More time, resources, and talent are being put in to building college and university brands than ever before. At the same time, these brands have never been more exposed to external and internal threats that can damage them. I took copious notes about risk management during the thoughtful panel “Crisis? What Crisis? Advice from Your Peers Who Have Been There” with Jennifer Campbell of Ithaca College, Carol Keese of the University of Virginia, Lawrence Lokman of Penn State University, and moderator Simon Barker from Blue Moon Consulting Group. They talked about three core ideas crucial for ensuring all that hard branding work doesn’t go to waste because of a crisis:

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare: Unfortunately, it is not a matter of if a crisis will happen, but when. The goal, then, is to be able to identify a potential crisis early so that decisions can be made when there are more (and better) options on the table. That only happens if there are clear procedures in place and open dialogue between campus stakeholders.
  • Keep marketing: It is easy for a crisis to overwhelm a marketing and communications team. It is also important to not appear tone deaf to very real and serious incidences that occur. However, even in a crisis it is important that marketing teams continue to promote and tell the story of their institution because if they don’t, no one will.
  • Measure the impact: By engaging in consistent benchmarking research, it is possible to assess the impact of a crisis on a brand. Data delivers crucial insight into where and how any negative perceptions can be overcome.

Kudos to Converge on another great conference. I look forward to seeing what is new and next in 2020.