Should your website be the cornerstone of your marketing effort?

John Gough, Shawn Hardy, and Dallin Harris discuss the question “Should your website be the cornerstone of your marketing effort? We talk about the way social media and search has changed user expectations over the last several years, what users expect and hope for in your website, and how to differentiate yourself locally and globally.

John:

Hi everybody. My name is John Gough and these are Digital Strategy Notes from Higher Metric. I’m here with Shawn Hardy who is our Director of Strategy and Dallin Harris who is a partner at Higher Metric and in charge of New Business Development.

Today we’re going to chat for just a few minutes about this question, why should a website be the cornerstone of a school’s marketing effort? A lot of people will come in and say, “Hey, I need a website, it needs to do the following things. It’s got some functionality, I need some photos on it.” They treat it like just another brochure that they’ve got to put out there. “Everybody has a website, I need a website to keep up with everybody else.”

I think my perspective on that is a little bit different. I think a website is really, really important for digital marketing or marketing in general these days but I’d like to hear from you guys where’s your heart, where’s your mind on the website as critical or not critical.

Shawn:

One of the core reasons that I think it should be the cornerstone of your marketing is that the way that potential students interact with schools and organizations has changed in the last 40 years and even the last 10 years has changed again. Students are now in control, we don’t just market by telling them where to by making it look fun and happy. That’s not the way that people can market anymore, it doesn’t work any longer. Social media was a big part of that shift. Potential students look to websites to start to gain some information, some knowledge, and a connection with the organization. Without that website students actually shy away from traditional marketing so a website is a good portal into the way people want to interact these days. I’d say it’s actually the best portal to that relationship.

Dallin:

I like that. I want to be a little bit careful here because the title of this session implies that it is the cornerstone of a school’s marketing efforts. If I were to say what the cornerstone of a school’s marketing effort is, it’s their message. It’s understanding their audience and what the message is that they want to say to that audience and making sure that it resonates with them. I think the website is, nine times out of 10, the first and foremost biggest announcement of that message or a representation of that message. That way I think it could be viewed as the cornerstone.

I mean, if this is done right the website captures the marketing message perfectly. Everything else, from your brochures, to your trade show booth, to your social media campaigns all kind of take their cues from the website so I think it’s a very, very important aspect of it but I think message is still more important.

Shawn:

I would say maybe brand but … There are things that come before a website. However, it’s the highest value delivery mechanism for your marketing. It offers the most return on investment, most opportunity, and it’s the way that consumers want to connect with your school, campus and your community.

John:

Seth Godin wrote a book about … What’s the name of that book, Interruption Marketing?

Dallin:

Permission Marketing?

John:

Yeah, Permission Marketing, that’s right. He’s talking about exactly what you’re talking about, the student is in control. If they have Google Search and they’re looking for something they click on your website. They’ve never heard of you before, they’ve never seen your name anywhere. This is them loaning their time to you for hopefully more than just a few seconds to tell them all about your USP and who you are and what you can really offer them. In some more modern cases, online will be the only way they interact with you.

Shawn:

Yeah. I think one of the key things to that message, I agree with you is that it’s voluntary. People are coming to your website voluntarily. We need to embrace that and bear that responsibility.

Dallin:

Yeah. In my business development role one of the most common things I hear a client say is I just want the website to make the phone ring. Essentially what they’re saying is put a little bit of information on there and then put the phone number so that they have to call and talk to me to get the rest of it. I think that’s reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the idea of permission marketing, of the opportunity of a website, and can you do that? Yes, you can do that. You guys are probably getting sick of hearing this story but my wife and I were out shopping for a house. We’re literally sitting outside the sales office not going in to talk to the salesperson because I don’t want to be sold to. I’m looking on my phone at the website, at the different floor plans, at the different options.

It occurred to me at that moment that that website was the salesperson. That’s how a lot of consumer activities is driven these days, they don’t want to be sold to. They go on the website and if the website doesn’t give them what they need they don’t call and ask, they close the tab and Google someone else who will give them the answer they need because that’s the modality they’re accustomed to receiving information in.

Shawn:

I agree with you. One of the key parts of that, I think the great point that users don’t want to be sold to anymore, they want to select rather than be sold. They want to research rather than be told … That wasn’t supposed to rhyme. But, we carry the Internet around in our pockets and now on our wrist and that’s only getting more and more prevalent. Some 70% of Americans own smartphones; 70% of Americans don’t even own televisions or watch them regularly anymore. Times are changing, website is a big part of that.

Dallin:

I want to point out too the additional benefits of a website over a traditional salesperson. A website is on 24/7, it’s talking or sharing with students exactly the way you want it to every time, it never has a sick day and it can talk to 20,000 people at the same time. Again, there’s benefit to embracing this, not just treating it like a box to be checked.

John:

Not only that, but I think they also allow students to get right to what is most important to them, which is being informed. I think that’s what people want, they want to go into those situations smart, informed, and capable. Not only are they not sold to but in not being sold to they’re not overwhelmed by new information or they don’t make bad decisions because they weren’t prepared in a certain way. I think as a student or a user I appreciate it when a school or an organization will go out of their way to make those resources available to me and help me make a good decision before I have to make the decision.

Dallin:

Well, I think this is where schools have an opportunity these days because a lot of schools want to just put a phone number down in hopes that will do the trick. But, it’s about more than that. It’s about giving students the information they want to find up front so they can make educated choices.

John:

I think I would say that, Dallin, your earlier point about how message is obviously critical, right? You can’t market without a message but when it comes to communicating with your students there is no better way than … Or maybe better said, people insist on having a digital way to communicate with you. If you want to lean on social media or have a Facebook page or profile that is your digital hub there are a lot of schools that make that work but there has to be a digital presence for your marketing effort if you want to compete today.

Dallin:

Yeah, and I would say … That’s probably a whole other topic that contrasts do I host my school’s image on Facebook or on a website. Key thing being on a website you control the experience 100% what it’s going to look like and you’re not beholden to the rules and whims of another platform. You’re right. Students want to interact with your brand in a digital way, and telling them to just pick up the phone and call is not doing that. You’re missing a huge opportunity if that’s you.

John:

All right, great thoughts guys. Appreciate your time and thank you for listening.