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The British University looking outside education for innovative marketing strategies

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Higher education is getting technical as the University of Chester recognizes that other industries have a head start in marketing. Richard Bengree needs to be alert.

Richard Bengree, director of marketing, recruitment and admissions at the University of Chester, understands that marketing innovation can come in many forms so being receptive to each and every one of them is imperative to staying relevant.

As the education sector slowly responds to new technologies and applications, legacy organizations are having to question their strategies and the tools they use to deliver the best services to students.

Whether that be utilizing data insights, engaging with cloud technologies, or responding to millennial users, Bengree, the University of Chester marketing leader, is focused on making sure his marketing strategies are in line with the wider industry, as he explains in this interview.

Hot Topics: How do you stay on top of new innovations in marketing and how does that influence your buying decisions?

Richard Bengree: We are marketers first and foremost and we bring a strong technical and theoretical understanding of marketing to our work in the higher education sector. This means that we have to have a deep understanding of higher education and, of course, our markets, but we like to look outside of Higher Education (HE) for our inspiration and to stay in tune with wider innovations in marketing.

Therefore, our buying decisions are informed by understanding the specific issues we have to address and attempting to address them through investing in technologies and innovations that help us stay agile and competitive.

So, primarily we look outside of higher education (HE) for innovations and ideas. As a group of designers, content creators, event planners, researchers, developers and marketing people we love to bounce ideas off one another and we are always sharing things that we may have found interesting for one reason or another. There’s no better way to spark a bit of collective creativity.

There are also some brilliant HE marketing-specific commentators out there whose work is really valuable to us. I’m thinking of Jim Tudor at The Future Index who scours the world of tech and innovation and synthesizes his findings into some really engaging content. There’s also people like Tracey Playle at Picklejar who are always interesting and useful to look to for inspiration.

HT: How are you utilizing data to optimize your marketing strategies?

RB: For the modern HE marketing department, data is vital in everything that we do. We are lucky that we are able to work with UCAS who can provide us with some of the data we require on a weekly and daily basis and the tracking of our prospects and applicants is vitally important to us. The decision-making process in applying to a standard undergraduate course at a UK university is very long – sometimes 18 months in total – so there are lots of risk points where we know that we can ‘lose’ a prospect. Our best chance of mitigating for this is to have a really good understanding of our data.

Again, data management on the scale that we now have to engage in is something that is relatively new to the HE marketing sector and another area where a good understanding of practices from other sectors can be very useful. It’s also helpful to look at other HE sectors, especially in America and Australia where the systems have been ‘marketized’ for a lot longer.

HT: What specific challenges do you face as a marketing director within the education sector?

RB: With challenge comes great opportunity to develop interesting and creative responses so I don’t like to dwell on what is difficult about being a marketer in this sector but more about how HE marketers in the current climate can make significant changes.

Things can take time in HE and, of course, money must be efficiently spent. Our corporate website offers a good example as we know its current limitations. However, behind the scenes we have a brilliant project, led by our Web Manager Matt Jones, to develop an incredible new mobile-first site based on a cutting-edge content model that should make us seriously competitive in the online space. It’s something that we are working on as a small team and in-house. While that can be a challenge it’s also seriously rewarding from a creative perspective.

As I say, marketing has come late to HE in the UK but it’s boom time now!

HT: How can Universities best leverage marketing innovations to future-proof themselves?

RB: The best advice I can give to anyone working in HE marketing is to look as far and wide as possible for inspiration. HE’s initial attempts at differentiation have, perversely, led to a more homogenous offering than ever, so there’s real opportunity to stand out from the crowd if you can get it right.

There is so much of interest out there in the B2C world that we can learn from, adapt and develop. Also, youth marketing as a concept has never been a hotter topic. To reach out to this one segment of our market, understanding youth marketing and an entirely digital-native generation is an absolute must.

But the bottom line is to understand what marketing is and what it always will be at its core. New techniques, technologies and innovations make the job fascinating and creative and this just adds to the buzz. You have to be willing to take risks, jump on a few band-wagons if needs be but jump off when you get the chance and always be the one who is willing to say “listen to this – I’ve got a bit of an idea I want to share…”