Keys to Developing an Integrated Marketing Plan

by George C. Dehne

GDA Integrated Services has no set procedures when working with an institution on developing an integrated marketing plan. The kinds of research available, self-knowledge, marketing organization and so forth differ widely among institutions. We, therefore, offer a series of options that we recommend based on the needs of the client.

There are several items that are key to an integrated marketing plan.

Solid Branding

Consistency is the key to branding. This applies everywhere from alumni meetings and advertising to any sort of paper or electronic communication. Successful branding requires hammering home the same unique messages and always keeping them in the forefront. Branding is built on trust. The weather changes all the time; that is why we can't trust it. On the other hand, many colleges do not recognize their unique messages. We help them find it and establish them quickly.


Your institution must create its own legend. Nike used 'Just Do It' and MacDonald's coined (but then lost) "You deserve a break today." Institutional similarities are often in the minds of the specific institutions. No matter how many colleges there are, we can guarantee that the experience you offer has a fingerprint of its own. GDAIS has worked with more than 300 colleges and universities and no two are alike. A college must give its students and donors a specific, tangible reason(s) to prefer that institution to alternatives. The prospective student has to believe they will be better off if they attend your college while donors must feel that they or society will be better off if they donate to your institution.

Unfortunately, we have found that many colleges often think what makes them distinctive is not, and what they think is commonplace, is often a distinction. We help colleges sort it out.

Build Trust by Giving First

Life is all about sowing, then reaping; but sowing comes first. If you don't give first, you will only get limited results. The more you stop thinking of your institutional image and focus on what prospective and current students need instead, the more you are trusted. Branding is all about trust. One of the keys to successful word-of-mouth marketing is to give something of value in return for kind words. We help institutions become experts in word-of-mouth or reputational marketing.

Know Your Customer

We are constantly amazed how little colleges and universities know about their current students and their alumni. Key to successful branding is fully understanding those who are thriving in the process and those who successfully graduated. Below we discuss ways to better know your "customers."

Fix the Strategic Identity

Behind all branding and marketing must be substance. Too often colleges are lured into presenting a superficial brand before they have matched the reality to the rhetoric. While sometimes irritating, we push colleges to deliver the promised "products."

GDAIS Options for Developing an Integrated Marketing Plan

As noted above, not all institutions need the same kinds of research and direction. Below is the compendium of the GDA Integrated Services approach.

Environmental Scanning

To determine the currency of an institution's brand, GDA Integrated Services often recommends a national and regional review of what the future might hold. The GDAIS team provides information on changes in higher education, the new generation of students, national lifestyle changes, changing employment needs, changing character of the work place, as well as demographic and economic changes. We also do the same analysis for the institution's home region. We believe this is an important part of determining the future relevance of your institution's programs.

GDAIS Exclusive SWOT-Plus Exercise

GDAIS personnel bring the perspective of having worked with hundreds of institutions to the traditional SWOT analysis. For example, an opportunity seen from inside the institution may appear to be a liability from our perspective. Additionally, GDAIS adds a category called "possibilities" to the SWOT analysis. These are activities, programs and possibilities that the institution may wish to consider to enhance available opportunities or to reduce the impact of the threats.

Developing the Institutional Language

We all know that eight of ten traditional and non-traditional undergraduates at any college or university first learned about that institution by word of mouth (friend who attends, alumni, high school teacher, friend of a parent, colleague, etc.) Additionally, it is word-of- mouth sources that have the greatest credibility with prospective students and donors. In other words, for effective integrated marketing, an institution must have an appropriate and effective "elevator" speech. That is, an accurate description of the institution that can be presented to a stranger in an elevator ride from the first to the third floor. GDAIS offers two ways to help develop the institution's language.

Image Research

GDAIS usually advises those institutions without recent market research to conduct at least baseline image research before unrolling an integrated marketing program. We have found that most colleges can get sufficient image information from surveys of inquiring students (both traditional and non-traditional) and alumni/ae. Because the traditional-age students in an inquiry pool are so diverse in interests and attitudes, they represent a microcosm of the public. Alumni/ae drive an institution's image. Contrary to popular belief, alumni/ae tend to have a realistic image of their alma mater. An image survey determines who knows about your institution, what these audiences know (what first comes to mind), how they compare you to similar and different institutions on such things as quality and value, and provides direction on how your institution can raise its visibility as well as enhance or change your image.

Generally, we test the language of your institution determined by us or the surveys described above on these external audiences when we conduct an image survey.

Action Research

Depending on the needs of the institution, we will often suggest that an institution conduct action research. This research tests activities or "symbols" that would increase interest in the college or university with targeted-audience programs. For example, we would test current programs as well as those that have potential on prospective students to find if it would increase their desire to attend. Or we would learn from alumni what the college could do to increase involvement with the institution, increase giving or encourage their children to enroll.

Marketing Inventory Matrix

When required, GDA Integrated Services asks each office with some responsibility for internal and external marketing to complete the Marketing Inventory Matrix. The purpose of this inventory is to review the amount of time, money and other resources required from each area to support various marketing initiatives ranging from special events to publications.

On-Campus Interviews

GDA Integrated Service personnel conduct in-depth interviews with the staff in all offices that have responsibility for marketing or communication with internal and external audiences. These interviews include the president, chief academic officers, chief student affairs officer, chief financial officer and, of course, the chief advancement, admissions, continuing education and public relations officers. The purpose of these interviews include:

Organizing for Integrated Marketing

GDAIS reviews the inventory matrix, interview notes, on-campus planning documents and institutional goals and objectives to determine the most effective way to organize for a cost-effective integrated marketing program.

The Tools of Integrated Marketing

GDA Integrated Services generally recommends using both traditional and non-traditional ways to reach and persuade targeted audiences. In addition to the expected, such as direct mail, television and radio commercials and specialized advertising, GDA Integrated Services recommends and, if desired, can implement a wide variety of exclusive communication tools.

Service Materials

As noted above, if you give something first, you will gain a special place in the minds of the recipient. GDA Integrated Services has found that service materials can have a profound impact on an institution's visibility and image. For example, posters, handouts or videos that provide an educational service to employers can aid in fundraising and increased interest in continuing education. Materials that aid a teacher in the classroom can have the same kind of impact in the schools.

Reputational Marketing

Word-of-mouth marketing is the most important and powerful tool at an institution's disposal, but few actually implement a word-of-mouth campaign. GDAIS has the experience and expertise to enhance your institution's reputation through an effective word-of-mouth program.

Target Cities

The last free and most important resources available to most colleges are its alumni and parents. GDAIS has developed an effective approach to gain visibility and establish your institution's brand utilizing alumni and parents in key target regions throughout your state or the nation.

Visual Identity

When appropriate, GDAIS will use what we learned through the development of your integrated marketing plan to develop a new visual identity for your institution. As noted above, however, consistency is highly valued in branding so we make this recommendation only if your institution's visual identify limps behind the needs of the college or university.

Technological Communications

An interactive web site, customized emails and one-to-one instant messaging can contribute greatly to generating the trust needed for effective branding. GDAIS offers a wide variety of these kinds of services and instruction on how to get the most out of them.

Reflected Visibility

GDAIS has found strategically aligning a college or university with highly respected and very visible for-profit and non-profit organizations can quickly reposition the institution among target audiences. This may include having the institution's choir perform at a benefit for a children's hospital or providing interesting faculty to make a presentation at a "brown bag" lunch for employees at a large and trusted corporation.

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