University of Phoenix's SVP of marketing, Michael Sullivan, explains how the education giant is refocusing itself, and gives his definition for ROI.
While University of Phoenix is one of the internet's biggest advertisers, it is first and foremost an educator. Now, the Fortune 1000 company has tasked itself with rebranding American education, transforming it from an expensive and exclusive club to a high-quality, affordable, and scalable academic experience.
In his keynote address at the iMedia Brand Summit in Coronado, Calif., the University of Phoenix's SVP of marketing, Michael Sullivan, explained how they are working to fix some major misconceptions the public holds about them and what they stand for. Sullivan described the familiar private-college experience as "the old paradigm", stating that, "The typical student has changed, and this paradigm cannot incorporate everyone." Possessing assets like an educational network connected to 25,000 faculty members and the largest community of lifelong users on the planet, the University of Phoenix recognized that its revamped identify -- flexible and convenient -- would play a big hand in improving the public's valuation of an online degree.
Despite the 2009 U.S. Department of Education study that said, "Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction", general impression appears to view an online degree as inferior. With a nod to the Brand Summit theme, "The New ROI: The Rise of Integration", Sullivan said, "If I'm doing my job, I'm measuring ROI on the success of our students: The value of our degree has to mean something". Collaborating with Pereira & O'Dell, AdAge's Small Agency of the Year, the University of Phoenix created a new campaign founded on its slogan: "An educated world is a better world".
Because of its size, the University of Phoenix has had to deal with the majority of skepticism and criticism hurled at its industry. Fortunately, this has provided the educator with a firm understanding of the issues that needed to be addressed in its latest marketing campaign. Primarily, the company needed to shift the public's perception from a faceless corporation to a real educator, and the following guiding principles were created to help make that happen:
- Modify the digital experience to become intrinsically educational and treat consumers as students from the first interaction.
- Because University of Phoenix takes aspects of the brick-and-mortar education that work (e.g., advisors) and uses technology to replicate or improve upon that experience for online students, all communications must emphasize "service, not sales" and "education, not marketing".
The University is also creating conversation at events held across the country, co-hosted by the likes of NBC and Vanity Fair. In line with its popular "I Am Phoenix" campaign, its new commercials feature successful University of Phoenix graduates like Sean Blankenship, an automotive executive whose next-generation MBA prepared him to solve the problems inherent in launching an electric car company.
Sullivan, accompanied by guest speaker P.J. Pereira, the chief creative officer and co-founder of Pereira and O'Dell, walked the audience through the educator's latest digital experience, including personalized tools that give information based on user input; a visiting student status option that provides partial access to the e-campus; and an advertising commitment to "inspiring, pragmatic, and exclusive content that attracts new learners".
Pereira concluded the presentation by sharing his three requirements for a successful campaign:
- Dream. Stand for something that will make your grandson proud.
- Redefine your role as a marketer. Promoting ideas, not products, is a contribution by itself.
- Evangelize. Use your weight to bring other players to your cause.
Pereira's list echoed Sullivan's earlier comments about believing in the important role University of Phoenix could play in meeting our country's educational goals, as well as the potential behind the ambitious and ever-growing University's online community. Why so ambitious? As Pereira explained it, in response to a Summit audience query about the need to refocus at this point in time: "Because we cannot wait any longer!"
Lucia Davis is associate editor at iMedia Connection.
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