The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode · 1 year ago

Transition, Reaction, & Tapping Student Expertise w/ Mary Barr


Marketers know that there’s always something to learn during a transition. Rather than sticking rigidly to the strategy that no longer applies, marketers — especially higher ed marketers — must embrace being reactive and open-minded toward transition.

In this episode, we interview Mary Barr, CMO at Ball State University, about leaning into transition:

We also chatted with Mary about:

- What higher ed can learn from consumer brand

- Tapping student expertise from a branding perspective

- The benefits of a two-student research group

- Promoting recycling in branding (a really cool story about billboard vinyl)

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for Higher Ed Marketer in your favorite podcast player.

You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, don'tor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketer Podcast, where, as always, we interview higher read marketers that we admire for the benefit and hopefully, the betterment of the entire higher read community. My name is troy singer and my partner in creation is Bart Taylor, and today, Bart, we get to talk to Mary Bar from Ball State University, who is a brand expert within the Higher d community. Can you tell us what we can hear from her during our conversation? Yeah, try. I think that I've known married for several years and have had a have the opportunity to have worked with her, and one of the things I've always really admired about Mary is that she is such she's got such a pulse on brand, pulse on storytelling, and I think a lot of the conversation will talk about today, whether it's about some of the transitions that she's been in her career and how she's kind of, you know, weathered the storms of some of these and as well as just, you know, some of her innovative ways of using, you know, focus groups and research and and and, you know, in expensive innovative ways. I think everybody could learn from that. And and then just the idea of, you know, just kind of how do brands kind of do new things and storytelling around that when you are doing new things that fit your brand. So it's going to be a great conversation. I think there's a lot to learn. Yes, and I don't know Mary as well as you, but what I do know about her is that she is an idea woman. So let's bring Mary into the conversation. We are pleased to welcome Mary Bar Chief Marketing Officer at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, to the Higher Ed Marketer podcast. Welcome to our podcast, land, Mary. Well, thank you, troy and thank you bar. This is such a thrill and an honor to be invited to be on your podcast. The pleasure is ours. And before we get started, if you could give the listeners a little bit about you and your role at ball state. Well, I would love to. It's Mary Bar I'm the Chief Marketing Officer at Ball State University and I've been in this role about about four years. However, I joke I've had a couple of tours of duty. You're in both states. I was the director of marketing for a period a left and was recruited away to Roseholman institution, to a technology on the other side of the state, whereas Vice President of marketing communications there, and then I returned back to ball state in this current role in two thousand and fifteen. So been back since then. Very good woman marry. You and I've known each other for a while and it's it's been a pleasure to kind of work with you in those different transitions. I know, I think we met early on through a mutual friend at ball state that I knew before she arrived at ball state, and so Julie introduced us and then there was some you know, she end up at Rose Holm and and you were at Rose Holman and so we did some work together at rose home and and that I'm proud of. And and so just, you know, just full transparency. You know you've you and I've worked together before, but I think it's just interesting that everybody can relate to the fact of a lot of transitions going on in, you know, in our careers and relationships follow one another two different places, which I always am grateful for, and it's one of the reasons why I really try to build relationships as a partner rather than a vendor. I I've kind of I've known you long enough to know that sometimes these transitions kind of end up in the middle of other types of transitions, and I know we talked a little bit about that. Tell us a little bit...

...about that. Oh my goodness. Yeah, no stranger to transition and of course it's easier to talk about transition years later, in hindsight, for sure, but like anything, I feel transition is an education. We can learn from it, especially as marketers, and kind of leaning into, leaning into it when we when we can. You know, we're creative people for the for the generally speaking, for the greater good folks on our marketing teams, but there is some comfort in routine and following, for example, a brand style guide. But we can always count on transition. I look at it as a good thing, especially if you can continue to deliver and stay calm and learn from the very brilliant people that are around us during those times. Bart's been my phone of friend a time or two. I had a couple of presidents at Roseholman. One unfortunately tragically passed away, so there was a sudden transition there and then, you know, whether it is folks on a team or retire a campaign or new players that come in, transition always does seem to be a part of it. The good thing is a brand a campaign can help identify some of the key players in those transitions. You definitely need them to be your biggest brand ambassador. Hopefully they're at the table when a lot of those conversations are happening to help inform it and to help capture their vision, their strategy and all that too. So yeah, I kind of joke it's me all the transition. Wherever I go, this transition follows. But I'm just I say that when I'm teasing. But I think when we can learn from transition, not be afraid of it, just consider it another part of a creative evolution, as with anything. Yeah, it's interesting that you say that. We did a podcast a few months ago with Christy Jackson. She's at university in North Carolina, and she talked about crisis communications and obviously crisis communication many times, whether it's a death of a president or other things, it does require a lot of transition and kind of getting used to the transition. You know, one of the things that I thought she kind of articulated well, and I think I hear you in your voice too, is that, you know, as marketers, as a communicators, we kind of have to plan that transitions going to happen. I mean we have to plan and think about those things, that change is going to happen, transitions going to happen, difficulties are going to happen and and what is it in our playbook from a brand or from a communication technique that's going to help us navigate through that? Because, I mean, at the end of the day, many times those issues and those those challenges end up in the marketing department, in the Communications Department, and it sounds to me like a lot of that is just starting to learn to embrace the change, embrace the transitions. Would you agree with that? Yeah, totally. There's, you know, reactive and proactive work that's always being done embracing things that are you have to react to and make it the best you can, but then also being proactive in moving forward and following some long, longer term strategies, for sure, and when you have this inside feeling that something's not quite hitting the mark, always going back to those brand messages, to that brand core, that brand strategy, and that can usually get you back on but also being able to at least be open minded when a transition comes or maybe a sudden new initiative or a sudden new plank that's being added on your plates, when you can really look at it, see it as an opportunity, seeing how it can help, maybe fill some gaps of some things that you wanted to do before. Then just trying to make it work, you know for sure. So, but I think being reactive, it's comes with a territory. This...

...past year we have had to be reactive in many ways and everyone has. But also then just keeping an eye on on the strategic plan, on the strategic planks within your marketing plan, and having that help you stay the course. That's great. That's great. Thanks for sharing that being vulnerable about that. I think sometimes it's a you know, dealing with change is always going to be vulnerable and then talking about it later, I think, is difficult too. So thanks for doing that. Try marrying a previous conversation that we had. We likely discussed an idea and the thought that you had that, similarly as you see in corporate larger brands, how they collaborate brands with one another for a mutual benefit or for a synergy, how we can do that within higher education. I would really like to go back into that conversation with you and get your thoughts around it or any type of initiatives that you think could come out of something a collaboration within higher education. No, no, for sure. You had asked me about like what kind of trends I follow or in marketing and industry, and I seem to love to follow maybe the greater industries, keeping an eye on music and fashion, the arts, and you know, there's been a lot of collaborations by some such by celebrities and consumer brands, for sure, and it's kind of fun. A lot of them have a short time frame, but they're not just cool but they also elevate both brands, give introduced new markets, new audiences to each and you know, often so I've been looking at that. Just thinking gets interesting. We all know sometimes higher it could be a beat behind consumer marketing. But make no mistake, we've got audiences, we've got consumers, we got people who shop and compare our compare prices, compare our myriad of things. So that's something I've been kind of looking at and I know a lot of universities are no stranger to, for example, lending a speaker series or a naming opportunities. Universities do things like that all the time and kind of a donor relation way. So so maybe there are some aspects of that and Higher Ed. But you know what are some of those things we can learn from, some of the things that attract our attention as consumers as we look at our favorite brands. We're consumers as well. We have to keep our eyes open for the things that attract us as consumers or marketers. But I may be interested in the same brands that I that I follow and that I'm loyal to, and they may have a partnership with musical artists and that opens my eyes to perhaps following that individual as an artist. And so I think it's it's good for us to say what's attractive to us, things that we enjoy or open our eyes with our favorite brands that we follow. I like that I did marry because I think that, as you said sometimes, and I've said this many times cut, you know, higher ad is a little bit of a beat behind. You know sometimes I estimated, you know, five to ten years, depending on what's going on, and there's, you know, and I understand that. I mean we're higher Ed, has been and for hundreds of years. I think that only in the last ten or fifteen years have they really had to start thinking differently and behaving differently because, I mean, I mean I'm a Gen xer. I think we all are here on this podcast is, as far as the three of us, and things changed kind of after we had our college experience and as we started becoming professionals ourselves. The world kind of shifted a little bit. I don't know if it was when millennials came along or if it was when, you know, it went from the three channels we were used to to cable and everything else.

I mean a lot of things shift at the Internet came online in the mid S, and so the world shifted and I think that the the consumer brands the retailers, a lot of other places kind of kept up with that shift. I think higher ed kind of continued to ride the way of that they had been on, not realizing that they needed to kind of shift as well and do the transitions that we were talking about. And so I think sometimes it's difficult for academia to accept that, you know, our perspective students or consumers, they have choice, they are shopping, as you've said. I mean there's there's a lot of things that I think that I remember being in meetings in the mid S and I would use the term sales or I would use the term shopping or I would use the term consumer, and, you know, you needed to pick up the administrators off the floor because, I mean, they were they were offended by that. And we are we are academia. We do not talk about things like that. That doesn't apply to us. I think that's changed, I think that's shifting and I think that's really healthy, but I think that it still comes down to the fact that we were still a little bit slow. I was talking to a client the other day about their social media and missed opportunities because they're messaging wasn't crafted perfectly and it wasn't. It didn't go through the entire system that they wanted to and they missed opportunities because they took him three or four days to reply to something that would needed to be replied to in an hour, especially, you know, social justice issue. That was the topic at that point. So we've got a kind of I think it it's a bigger topic. We've got to be able to kind of adapt and lean into that more. But I think it comes back to the fact, like you said, paying attention to those other industries, paying attention to consumer brands and retail and seeing what's going on. I mean just just paying attention to what happened on that tick tock video last summer where guys writing a skateboard and drinking ocean spray and and listening over to fleetwood Mac. Okay, all of a sudden you've got two big brands that jumped onto that and they did it well. Mean, ocean spray really did that well, they partnered well, they kind of took care of that man and they did it well. And I mean obviously he had his fifteen minutes of glory and fame and obviously it really impacted fleetwood, Mac and make fleetwood kind of responded in kind and there was a lot of really good things that happened out of that. That, I think, is we, as hired marketers, can see how brand's, how influencers, how others kind of play in the market place and and I use the word play intentionally, because sometimes it does take play more than it takes work or overthinking something, and I think that that collaboration between brands is something that we have to start playing with rather than coming up with this perfect solution. I mean, in a lot of ways higher it is kind of already created that way, but we call it articulation agreements. How can we start talking about it more? Is Collaboration and I find that fascinating to kind of think about that. Yeah, and you know, that leads me to think Bart two of we've got some great experts around us, and that's our students, and I like to turn off into, for example, our tour guys or are admissions for guides, their experts. They have their finger on the pulse. If we need them to help us articulate some things, let's have a focus group of five with with them or have them film something for us or give us some guidance on some things. Give us some guidance on swag. You know, Oh, it's not swag, is merch. They call it merge exactly. Again, the differences in age. So but yeah, and I think for us to enjoy that and to just sometimes they can. Hey, they're the extruits. They know what's attracting them and if we as them, they are very ready to know. They they can articulate brands. They know how to make their own brand with their own blogs and their key messages and their look.

So our current students are vary astute to their presentation and so I think when we can tap into them, or I joke about having my little posse around me. I had that at Rose Holman. I was not an engineer, but I had a bunch of engineering students around me and I had about four or five students I'm tried to create a relationship with that. I could bounce some ideas off of them from a branding perspective and and all that, if it would kind of meet their needs, since they have a very specific viewpoint as they were assessing brands and their high right options. Yeah, that's great and I think that even doing that you're recognizing them. A lot of them are influencers in their in their own right. You know, we talked about influence marketing and but I think that, you know, social media especially has kind of elevated that, you know, whether it's Youtuber, instagram. You know, I was talking to one one school. I was at a conference and they were kind of explaining how they were using instagram and influencer marketing with some of their students who had some of these students had tenzero followers in and of themselves as freshman in college. Well, that's the definition of influencer marketing. And so how do you recruit those students to coexist with your brand? You know, partner with your brand, partner with the brand of the school, because obviously they are a consumer of that brand. And so yeah, I think that's a that's a really interesting thought, Mary, and I know that even in our preconversation kind of leading into that, you talked about you just talked a little bit about focus groups and pulling some people together and you do that a little bit more around orientation for sometimes. Tell us a little bit about that and I know for sure, and I know many of your guests on your show or no stranger to research and analytics, and that's that's great. I know we got to have that. But almoso tradition that we do here is in during incoming for incoming students, during during orientation. Boy, here are people who have just been on a constant flow of marketing from ball state and others, and so we always just want to have a check step with them during orientation, incoming freshmen and their families. And Yeah, obviously it worked. So we're learning from the folks that it was effective with, and so every year we have a different agenda with with them. I'm doing it right now. I've already conducted three groups and have three more groups and the upcoming weeks. And you know, we try to get PREPS, current messages in front of them to see what resonates. Perhaps it's a new program for incoming freshman or for the first year experience. That is a trend in high right now, how to brand a first year experience so students meet their milestones during the year. So as we're rolling out some new things, asking at audience, I've even showed them billboards and TV commercials and things along those lines just for them to rate what their favorite ones are and have the conversation around it, and then that's always helpful when perhaps leadership or our internal clients have, you know, really love something and you're like, well, you know, what are our brand of student? They really like to see this type of thing, and when we can point to that and have some of the narrative around it, sometimes that's all we need to kind of change course a little bit because, again, yeah, they're the experts. They've just been on the receiving end of a lot of our work. That's great and I what I like about that and when we talked earlier, I just thought it was not only is it a build and check in and just kind of that process of, you know, there's already a group of people there that we can talk to and I think sometimes when people hear the word focus groups they think of think of two way mirrors and dark rooms and thirty seven people there that, you know, it's costs a lot of money, but I think the way that you're kind of approaching it, you don't have to say, well, we don't have the resources to do focus groups. Well,...'ve got the focus group already there. You just have to pull them together and ask them, and I think sometimes just that you know that that's that's a vulnerable thing to ask for somebody's opinion and be willing to hear it. I think sometimes that keeps us from doing it and we use excuses of cost and effort and everything else. And so I think that I like what you're saying. It's being vulnerable with ourselves to be able to say we might not know everything, but we do have some people that know more. Right now, frankly, it's really not that expensive. Sometimes it's just the cost of lunch and t shirt. And I'll tell you what, when you offer a free lunch and a t shirt, many people raise their hands and need those orientation leaders to help just get the amount that we need. And but yeah, keeping it small to the one we had the other day was to students and at first I thought, Oh boy, but boy, we could really drill in and they were fantastic and it was very enlightening and I brought some piece of feedback back that day and leadership changed a message, you know, over it, because we were kind of sort of about something. So so it's inexpensive. It's right in front of us and for me it's also educational and humbling to people that I work with. You know I often need a note taker and if I could have someone either on the team or an internal client help take notes for them to hear things firsthand, to I think it's helpful for them and then their ambassadors of the research and all that. And so it has come at least at ball state people even through the year SEC ay. Well, need to test that during focus groups and I love it when some of our internal colleagues are mentioning it and instead of us, always bring it up to so it is an expensive it's right under our nose and it is a great check step, positive or negative, constructive criticism that we can learn. That's great. That's very good. Sounds like you get a lot of pertinent information on your marketing through that research. Very inexpensively for sure. Mary, thank you for everything that you've shared with us today, but again, I can be a little greedy. So before we close, whether it be one nugget or idea that we didn't get a chance to mention that you think could be applicable for other marketers out there, oh gosh. Well, we did cover a lot and I can talk about marketing and I read and ball state all day. But one thing that's maybe a little random, I guess, is a little bit about recycling and recycling our vinyl. I don't know about other folks but under my perview is a lot of campus banners and billboards and a lot of vinyl on campus, even some of the things in the athletic facilities. You know, we generate a lot of that. Of course all universities have good recycling protocols in place, but it's still plastic after all. So one of the things we have done here, is here at ball state, is we took one of our vinyl banners that was displayed very prominently in the Indianapolis International Airports During our centennial celebration and we took that down, we cut it up, we had some experts at a local company make them into little zipped pouches that we then used as gifts and we use with a little card in them with a little bit of the story that this was a centennial banner that hung in the airport and it's recycled and hopefully you can have a little piece of our untilnal celebration and then gave a little life and another nice little story that we could pass on. So he passed those out some key downers and some key folks who worked really closely with the campaign, the centennial campaign, as a thank you gift. That is a...

...wonderful idea, as I think about it, as we produce things like that for other colleges, universities, finals everywhere, and I hope someone else skills that nugget. If I may ask, was that you or someone on your campus, a student? How did that idea come about? Yeah, no, I've been kind of tuned in. I don't know if I should name the company, but up, it's a nonprofit. It Indianapolis, Indiana. I've had a relationship with them through the years just through some of my other volunteer work and pop stands for people for urbidden progress and they do a lot of that work with sports outlets and other entities that do produce a lot of vinyl. So they are a really wonderful recycler of materials and so I had a relationship with them before and so I was always seeing vinyl and I've always wanted to do a project with them and I was thrilled that I could. At the time one of their founders was of all stigalum, so that add added to the story as well. But yeah, there's they are amazing nonprofit located at Indianapolis. I'm sure there's some other folks or sometimes even internally with a pail design program fashion design. Sometimes you may have some resources right into your nose as well and again adds to the story for something that might be kind of fun and unusual for a fundraising campaign or a special event. Thank you, Mary. That was a wonderful example. If someone would like to contact you about that idea or anything else, what would the best way for them to get in touch with you be? Gosh, probably my old school email. I'm easy to find. Em Bar and Bar at bsudded you. Thank you very much for your time and all the wonderful wisdom that you gave us today. Barred, before we get out of here, do you have any parting words? Yeah, I just wanted to thank Mary and for all that she's offered us today and I think that knowing her for so long as I have and just in this conversation, I think everyone can kind of understand and know that she's a brand expert and I think one of the expertise of recognizing that and somebody who really understands brand is how willing they're able to kind of talk about stories, and I love the fact that a lot of what we talked about today, whether it was the use of some focus groups, whether it's about, you know, the stories of some of the transitions that she's been a part of and what that means and how to how to navigate that. The idea of, you know, what stories can do brands together tell and even down to the story of, you know, hey, we want to recycle something, but not only do we want to recycle it because it's the right thing, but how can that then support our brand, because our brand is all about empowering people. It's about, you know, ball states brand is a lot more than just recruiting students. There's a lot of things that Mary has kind of talked about today that I think is reflected in her conversations and things that they're doing a ball state that go deeper and telling those stories to help articulate the brand, I think is so important and I think that Mary does a great job of doing that, whether it's through a billboard that you see on interstate sixty nine or whether it's just through this conversation about, you know, the recycled elements and utilizing a local nonprofit to do that and making those into meaningful gifts for donors. I think there's a there's a chance for all of us to tell our story better, and if you want to learn how to do that, I would observe what's going on a ball state. And so those are those are some really good ideas. So thank you again, Mary. Oh Gosh. Well, thank you bart and thank you troy, and thank you for all the work that you both do in our industry and help us look great our pleasure and want to remind everyone that the sponsors of this podcast. Number one is barts company, Kaylor solutions and education, marketing and branding agency and by Think, patented a marketing,...

...execution, printing and mailing provider of higher it solutions. On behalf of Bart Kaylor and myself, troy singer, thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time,.

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