Landing : Athabascau University

Short interview with an American Online Learning Marketing Guru

This interview focuses on a plug for his F2F conferences, but it is interesting to see 8 techniques for reaching this student market and asking which we excel at at AU.



  • You’re right Terry, these eight techniques are very interesting and the core of marketing online ed - which is a significant part of any SEM strategy. I’d like to say that we excel at all eight, but the honest answer is, we don’t. I won’t address every point in detail, but I’ll touch on the ones we (Advancement, Brand, Marketing & Recruitment) find most challenging and end with the ones we do pretty good (always end on a positive, I say).


    Creating a Value Proposition in a changing Economy: This one is tough because the value proposition of any of online learning experience is (at least, should be) flexibility and convenience. When AU was basically the only degree-granting institution offering quality and comprehensive distance (and now, online) PSE it was easy to lean on the flexibility/convenient angle. We filled a niche that no one else did. We no longer hold that coveted corner of the market. What we can say is that we’ve been doing it longer than anyone else (apart from Open University, UK), more than 40 years and we continue to push forward with groundbreaking research specifically in this field. The core positioning statement and brand promise that came out of the rebrand project was, “Focused on the future of learning”.

    - Building your online Brand: So many think of “brand” as a twenty-first-century buzzword. The reality is that brand forces institutions and organizations to take a long hard  look at how external audiences (customers, students) see them, and most importantly, what they say about them. AU has had strong student satisfaction rates, however, retention rates are not where they should be. Why? Where’s the disconnect? Why is AU better known internationally than domestically? Building a strong brand is a proactive, conscious effort – every day – at every touch point.  Initiatives to build a strong brand have been, until very recently, under resourced and in most cases, non-existent. The idea of “build it they will come” was never a reality – it takes a lot of work and resources to raise awareness and instill brand loyalty. Having just gone through an extensive rebrand of the university most people at AU are at least, somewhat familiar with the process. However, this is just the beginning. There is still much work to be done to create a strong AU brand.

    - Storytelling:  Creatively telling the AU story – not just through another student or alumni testimonial (all universities do this and they almost all sound the same), but strategically writing creative narratives that strengthen the AU brand, generate leads and grow enrolment.  Writers with the special talent for storytelling are needed more than ever as we begin to integrate social media and online content into the AU brand experience.


    -       Agile marketing and Using Analytics to Drive Marketing Decisions: this point mentions “marketing teams”. The reality at AU is that Advancement has one marketing and social media manager, and myself – there are no marketing resources embedded within faculties attached to specific programs – aside from Faculty of Business marketing/recruitment team, we’re it. We have an online web strategist/manager and an awesome web team that has invaluable expertise in helping define and track web metrics that align with our marketing goals as well as analyzing user experience and behaviours. This creates a means of measuring progress and success. We track alignments with specific marketing campaigns and spikes in engagement and/or enrolments with specific audiences. But there is a downside to this positive point; marketing budgets and marketing success are integrally tied together. Currently AU’s marketing budget is 0.5 per cent of our general revenue. Prior to 2011, conservative marketing budgets generally ran between three and nine per cent of general revenues. Since then, marketing spending has risen 30 per cent as a percentage of revenues, and 40 per cent as a percentage of overall organizational budgets. For 2013, total marketing expenditures are on track to grow by more than 6 per cent. If we’re expected to compete in the marketplace, AU’s 0.5 per cent marketing budget isn’t going to take us very far.

    -       To MOOC or not to MOOC:  I don’t have to tell you, Terry, that AU has major players in this area. And this may be the start of another Landing discussion: how do we leverage AU’s MOOC capabilities and advantages in the marketplace?

    I’ve written more than I intended. I’m sure others will want discuss these and/or the other points from this interview, but bottom line is, even though we are tackling all of these points head on we have a lot of work to do. “It takes a village”.

    Nancy Biamonte November 25, 2013 - 3:34pm

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