UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Guest Post: Marketing Man Takes Off His Tie

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 6 June 2007

Peter ReaderToday’s guest post is from Peter Reader, Director of Marketing and Communications at the University of Bath. Peter will be giving a plenary talk entitled “Marketing Man takes off his Tie: Customers, Communities and Communication” at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (which, incidentally, is now fully subscribed). And, as you’ll see from Peter’s post, he will be address a hot topic of the moment, which has been the focus of recent discussions on this blog – the role of social networking environments such as Facebook.


When Brian invited me to speak at IWMW 2007, little did I know what was to follow. I’ve very much a data immigrant, but I’m also an ideas person and, for example, I treat my PC as I treat my car. I plug it in and switch it on – and I expect someone else to be able to turn my ideas into reality, just like I expect the garage mechanic to know that ‘it’s got a little rattle’ means exactly what needs fixing. But I still know what I want. Where my approach differs is that I don’t want to pay garage bills for my ICT.

I am absolutely convinced of the importance of e-communications and e-marketing, not just for the recruitment of students but in all the other markets in which universities operate. As my University’s Marketing Director, never a day goes by without me being offered one package or another, including advertising of course. What’s more, it is clear change is taking place ever faster. Take the media – remember when the Times Educational Supplement was, in effect, a listing of all teaching jobs in the country. Not any more; it’s now a magazine. And The Higher, trade paper for universities, is also seeing its advertising revenue disappear; is that, maybe, why Murdoch sold The Times supplements?

 PR and marketing used to be all about campaigns, controlling the message, managing the communication channels and promoting the product. Product, Price, Place, Promotion. All neatly defined. But these old ideas of ‘control’ look more and more unrealistic. Now the talk is of focusing on the idea, ‘influence’, public reactions and not public relations, viral marketing, students as customers, B2B, client management and CRM, with the web and web technologies seen increasingly as the university’s most important marketing tools.

 As for social media, when most of our students arrive at university with a Facebook account, why are universities bothering to think about our own sites? Most prefer to use their own email address; the vast majority have their own account when they arrive and the old idea of universities offering email accounts is no longer any big deal. And, too, the idea of there being one youth market is just rubbish. Superbrands, such as Nike, are giving way to technology brands, such as Google, which has just been voted one of the top 10 companies for whom students would like to work. And all the time there is the staggering growth in user-generated content.How can universities harness this opportunity to best advantage? The product is still the key, but we have to give the customers, including our students and potential students, something worth talking about, to differentiate themselves. And universities are not very good at doing this; evidence from the Open University is students cannot tell the difference between institutions. What about their Web sites? We need to innovate, but universities are just so conservative.

I said I’m an ideas person; what about yours?

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4 Responses to “Guest Post: Marketing Man Takes Off His Tie”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. We do need to innovate and after reading the recent posts on here I believe many of us are singing from the same hymn sheet now. At Edge Hill I’m hoping we can start piloting an opt-in service for email soon allowing students to use their own email as default. I’m also keen to allow students to choose the tools they prefer to engage with information. The more we listen to the students and adapt our services accordingly the more useful our services and our marketing will be.

  2. I hate to say it but I have pretty much the complete opposite view to Alison.
    First of all, whilst I agree with Peter Reader’s statement that “Most prefer to use their own email address”, I only see evidence of that in students dealing with their social life. The majority, when dealing with the University, use their University-supplied account.
    I’d actually argue that we should discourage the usage of free accounts like Gmail or Hotmail when dealing with the University by educating our users about the relative trust of these accounts. You simply cannot put much trust in someone’s identity if they are using a free email account (eg. eBay’s signup verification.) Worse, is that many companies understand this and simply block all hotmail, gmail at the perimeter. Which is a bit of a bummer for those students who have been used to using Gmail when dealing with the University but are now going for that chance-in-a-lifetime job opportunity…
    The other big problem, especially prevalent in Universities, is we think that the only way email can go is to add more availability and more capacity. I disagree. In many large organisations, email is just part of the suite of tools known as Groupware. We should be working to integrate University-wide calendaring, then collaborative tools, shared project spaces, Task assignment, Instant Messaging and even VOIP into this to increase the productivity of the students; help them work together. If you let your students scatter to a variety of free email services now, when you try and put this functionality into the setup later on will be (a) a lot more difficult and (b) greatly reduce the impact of the service.
    I think some of the Web 2.0 inspired ideas such as Edge Hill’s “Hi!” service are really excellent and something which I applaud loudly, but we do need to be careful that we don’t throw away all we have achieved to chase the fashion of Web 2.0.

  3. Mark – I agree we should tread with caution and shouldn’t make changes simply to “chase the fashion of Web 2.0.” but students are communicating with universities and university related organisations (e.g. UCAS) with personal emails prior to starting courses. Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t students applying online now through UCAS with personal email addresses?

    Yes I agree there are issues regarding the use of these but in my view students the move is definitely towards the integration of personal and professional services and it’s certainly something we wish to explore further.

    I’m not proposing we stop providing these services for students but allow them to use their preferred tools/technologies if they wish.

  4. ahndunk said

    I agree with Alison. We should treat them with caution.

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