Digital Marketing Interview Series with BCAMA President
Sarah Finstad is currently the Director of Marketing and Communications at Regent College and the President of the British Columbia chapter of the American Marketing Association (BCAMA). With profound experience in marketing, she has shared her thoughts and insights on digital marketing:
What are two or three digital marketing/social media/management trends that impact your role as a manager, and why?
- Using content to engage our audience. In higher education, we tend to sit on a vault of valuable academic content, whether it’s research by faculty, theses by alumni, or lectures and courses taught by faculty. Both Google and our audiences rank that content quite highly and consider it a trusted library of knowledge. The challenge, however, for academic institutions is to build platforms that gets content effectively into their audiences' hands in order to build their loyalty without the pushy sales pitch. EDx, launched in 2012 by Harvard and MIT, is a perfect example of this. 27 universities participate in the EDx open course platform, giving students of all ages the opportunity to learn and experience a high standard of education from a distance and free of charge. Although the forum is a stellar example of content marketing, it’s not the only content platform available to universities and colleges. Content is shared in a variety of forms through lectures, webinars, conferences, online publications, audio or video lectures, articles, social media, and so on. The key is selecting the appropriate platform to engage and build a relationship with prospective students.
- Connecting and then segmenting fractured lists of data is a huge challenge for the higher education industry. At Regent College, we utilize two key databases: one for students and one for donors. Additional data about those constituents is often held either in email lists, a CRM database for enrollments, e-commerce databases, or through online forms. The challenge is to move away from manually managing data from different sources and towards viewing all data as alive and connected to one central source. The technology is there, the investment is substantial, but in the long run, achieving a complete centralized repository of consumer data, helps to know more about the customers we engage with in order to provide them with value added learning opportunities.
In your experience, what are the top success/failure factors for a marketing campaign?The biggest failures for a marketing campaign today can be attributed to not knowing and not listening to your audience. Because we live in the digital space, you know when you’ve screwed up because you hear about it quickly in a very public way.On the flip side, the top successes come from knowing and listening to your audience. The higher education industry has to engage the next generation of students who are largely millennials. You absolutely have to speak their language (don’t preach because you’ll dig up a cloud of skepticism), engage them in a dialogue (they love to be part of the story), and watch other millennials take note (this group won’t dive in without an endorsement from a friend or someone they respect).
What do you consider essential skills for a marketing team these days?
- Strong writing skills
- Exceptional design skills that can translate your brand into every medium
- Ability to connect your brand to the interests of your audience
- Ability to be responsive and nimble in the digital space
What do you feel are the most underrated skills in a marketing team these days?At Regent College, we place a lot of value on solid design, programming, and communication skills. Higher ed is a significant life investment. Throwing poorly designed marketing at prospects results in missed sales opportunities and wasted marketing dollars. In Vancouver, we are fortunate to be able to draw from a highly educated creative community. I often hire talented writers, designers, and programmers from that community.
How did you get the background and skills necessary?On any given day, a senior marketer has to wear many hats: project manager, analyst, creative director, decision maker, problem solver, strategic planner, content editor, curator and so on. Having a long-standing career at large international company (Petro-Canada), managing and leading large teams of people (BCAMA Board), taking time out to spruce up my creative visual communications skills (Langara), and finding strategic marketing opportunities for companies as a consultant has all helped me as a marketing professional to think strategically and act tactically in my role as Director of Marketing and Communications at Regent College.
What advice would you give to young people who want to do your job some day?A former boss told me years ago, be careful what you write and sign your name to. I think with the rise of digital, I take that advice more seriously than ever before. It has become too easy to be a complainer or to share and respond to suspect and morally-charged material. Tread carefully, be articulate, avoid being long-winded, and watch your tone. Always try to solve problems in person by picking up the phone or by sending a personal letter or email. If the comment is warranted online, be a solution-based contributor rather than a complainer—it will serve you well in the long run.Sarah Finstad is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Regent College, where she actively works with an in-house marketing team to forge new innovative marketing paths in a competitive higher education industry. Her work at Regent College has earned her a 2013 International Brand Master Award nomination that showcases exceptional achievement in higher education brand management. Sarah is also the President of the British Columbia chapter of the American Marketing Association (BCAMA), a volunteer marketing association that provides educational and networking opportunities for a 400 member strong BC marketing community.