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Being Proactive: A Habit for Highly Effective College Presidents

By Carole Arwidson

Both LAWLOR and RHB have long advocated for higher ed leaders to engage in proactive marketing and communication efforts, and better yet to do so using data-based decision making to increase the likelihood of success.

Being proactive is the first habit described by Stephen Covey in his bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People—and the same could be ascribed to highly effective institutions. Merriam Webster defines proactive as “acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes.” And in a blog posting titled “The Power of Proactive Marketing,” the writer described proactive marketing in terms that are apropos for higher ed too:

“It is a means of applying foresight to your efforts to think and act ahead of anticipated events. But proactive marketing is more than just a mindset. Proactive marketing is an analytical approach that allows marketers to be agile, real-time, data-driven, and adaptable to the ever-changing needs and wants of both current and future customers. It encompasses all forms of marketing, and focuses on building strategies with a detailed understanding of a campaign’s audience, impact, and metrics for success—before executing the actual campaign.

“A proactive approach to data gives marketers a longitudinal view of their competitive landscape, a dynamic understanding of their baseline metrics, and the analytical confidence to innovate within their campaign strategies.”

Well said.

Being proactive and having a results-driven process sets the stage for both success and continuous improvement.

This notion of being proactive was an area of inquiry in the 2016 Independent College Presidents Survey,  a LAWLOR and RHB collaboration. When college presidents were asked about their institution’s approach to marketing efforts, 59 percent said theirs was strategic and proactive, 31 percent a mix of proactive and reactive, and 10 percent reactive and ad-hoc. In exploring what their institutions did to make data-informed decisions, measure results (metrics), and track initiatives over time, here’s what the presidents had to say:

  • Dashboards (80%), reviewing and analyzing existing research (79%), and analyzing results to make adjustments and refinements in strategy (76%) were the most popular ways of making data-driven decisions and measuring results.
  • Just 60% were utilizing measurement tools (such as Google Analytics or pre-/post-campaign studies), while 59% were conducting market research to gather data.

It’s these latter two findings that particularly caught our attention.

Online tracking tools such as Google Analytics can provide valuable insights into who visits your website, how they got there in the first place, and what pages they spend the most time on. This is powerful data for marketers to use to develop strategy and make adjustments during a campaign to improve results.

Pre-/post-campaign research is ideal for measuring the effectiveness and impact of a marketing campaign by first providing a benchmark assessment and then later measuring the impact of any changes that occurred as a result of the campaign. Data obtained here can provide not only a sense of what worked, but what might need to be enhanced or revised going forward in future efforts.

And of course, market research equips you with the information you need to make informed strategic marketing decisions about the 5 P’s: product, price, place, promotion, and people. Such research can help you:

  • better understand the opinions, needs, and behaviors of your current core constituencies;
  • identify potential new student markets;
  • understand how your institution is perceived and compares to key competitors;
  • explore the strength of your brand in the marketplace and examine your institution’s value proposition;
  • identify (or affirm) any marketing challenges or brand disconnects that warrant attention; and
  • set realistic targets for your marketing efforts, among other things.

Research and metrics aid not only in planning and developing strategies, but also in course correcting during a campaign to leverage what is working and to maximize resources and efforts. Having data to inform your decision making and being strategic in your planning and implementation are at the heart of a proactive mindset. And that’s a great habit for both effectiveness and success.