31 Oct

5 questions with Elizabeth Scarborough

I have the pleasure of serving on the CASE Indiana board (CASE Indiana is one of only a few state chapters of CASE in the country), and I am very excited about our upcoming fall conference on November 11, at Ball State University.  Elizabeth Scarborough, CEO of SimpsonScarborough, will keynote the conference.  She generously gave a preview of her presentation along with some other great marketing insights.  Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your expertise and see you November 11 at CASE Indiana!

1. Tell us about your CASE Indiana keynote presentation: “Why Colleges Can’t Brand.”  Why can’t they brand?

Colleges can’t brand because branding requires integration. Integrating any organization’s marketing requires breaking down silos. In higher education, our silos have been in place for decades or even centuries. So, to brand, we have to work across the entire organization to share marketing messages and strategies. This requires vision, leadership, and a great deal of institutional will.

2. You recently noted the rising number of vice president-level marketing positions at colleges and universities.  Is the once-held impression that marketing “cheapens the academy” finally a thing of the past?

That sentiment is dying to be sure…..but it’s not dead yet. Faculty members still say to me that higher education should be “above” marketing. Frankly, I agree. It should be. But, the “if you build it, they will come” approach only works in the movies. The reality is that colleges and universities have to convince students and parents their institutions are worthy of one of the biggest purchases in their lives. And, they seek to steward their alumni to bequeath their millions to their alma maters. This requires marketing. Not marketing that cheapens, but marketing that shines a light on the authentic distinctions of the institution.

3. How can advancement professionals be more strategic when answering the common question from the president or chancellor about ROI for their institution’s marketing efforts?

Advancement professionals need to help leadership understand the right ways to measure ROI. I’ve had a president ask me, “How many students did we get because of that billboard we put on I-95?” This question, of course, is unanswerable. But, many other mROI questions are answerable. We need to explain ways to effectively measure mROI and deliver mROI data and information to leadership at regular intervals, whether they ask for it or not.

4. Any advice for marketing officers who are trying to effectively pull together the myriad of marketing activities occurring throughout their school and strategically align them within the institution’s overall brand?

Keep on truckin! You are doing the right thing. Listen carefully and educate as you work to integrate. Tangible results may take years.  Consider it a marathon as opposed to a sprint.

5. As the pressures continue to mount for colleges and universities, what are the biggest challenges that higher ed chief marketing officers are going to face in the coming years?

Long term, I believe that managing the public’s perception regarding the rising costs of education is going to be a real challenge.

Bonus Question: You have your first book, to be published by CASE, in the works.  What is the book about?  What other books would you recommend to higher ed marketing colleagues?

The book is about marketing success stories in higher education. My co-author, Dr. Tom Hayes, is also my business partner and Vice President of SimpsonScarborough. Our book will profile over 25 institutions of all types, highlighting how they achieved a myriad of marketing objectives. Together, their stories paint a picture of the key ingredients to success in the marketing of higher education.

In most standard business books you can find something that applies to higher education. Anything and everything by Schultz, Aaker, Ries, and Trout are good choices.  Also:


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