The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode · 3 months 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 were listening to the higher edmarketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in highereducation. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to studentrecruitment, donut relations, marketing, trans new technologies and so much more.If you are looking for conversation centered around where the industry isgoing, this podcast is for you, let's get into the show, welcome to the higher ed marketerpodcast, where, as always, we interview higher red marketers that we admire forthe benefit and hopefully the betterment of the entire higher redcommunity. My name is troy singer and my partner in creation is bart calorand today bark we get to talk to mary barr from ball state university. Who isa brand expert within the higher rid community? Can you tell us what we can hear fromher during our conversation? Yeah troy. I think that i've known mary forseveral years and have had a have the opportunity to have worked with her andone of the things i've always really admired about mary- is that she is suchshe's got such a pulse on brand pulse on story telling- and i think a lot ofthe conversation will talk about today, whether it's about some of thetransitions that she's been in her career and how she's kind of you knowweathered the storms of some of those and as well as just you know, some ofher innovative ways of using you know, focus groups and research and, and youknow, inexpensive innovative ways. I think everybody could learn from thatand and then just the idea of you know just kind of how do brands kind of donew things and story telling around that when you are doing new things thatfit your brand. So it's going to be a great conversation. I think there's alot to learn. Yes, and i don't know mary as well as you, but what i do knowabout her is that she is an idea woman. So, let's bring mary into theconversation, we are pleased to welcome mary barchief marketing officer at all state university in munsey, indiana to thehigher red 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 beon your podcast. The pleasure is ours and before we get started, if you couldgive the listeners a little bit about you and your role at ball state well, i would love to mary barr. I am the chief marketingofficer at ball. State university and i've been in this role about about fouryears. However, i joke i've had a couple of tours of duty here in bothstates. I was a director of marketing for a period left and was recruitedaway to roseholme institute of technology on the other side of thestate where, as vice president of barking communications there, and theni returned back to ball state and this current role in two thousand andfifteen. So i've been back since then very good, woman, mary you and i'veknown each other for a while, and it's it's been a pleasure to kind of workwith you in those different transitions. I know i think we met early on througha mutual friend at ball, state that i knew before she arrived at ball stateand so julie introduced us, and then there was some. You know she and that,but at rose holman and you were at rose home, and so we did some work togetherat rose home and and that i'm proud of and- and so just you know, just fulltransparency. You know you ve, you and i've worked together before, but ithink it's just interesting that everybody can relate to the fact of alot of transitions going on in you know in our careers and relationships followone another to different places, which i always am grateful for, and it's oneof the reasons why i really try to build relationships as a partner ratherthan a vendor. I've kind of i've known you long enough to know that sometimesthese transitions kind of end up in the middle of other types of transitions,and i know we talked a little bit about...

...that. Don't tell a lie bit about that:oh my goodness, yeah, no stranger to transition and of course, it's easierto talk about transition years later. In hindsight, for sure, but likeanything, 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 generallyspeaking for the greater good folks on our marketing teams, but there is somecomfort in routine and following for an example of brand style guide, but wecan always count on on transition. I look at it as a good thing, especially if you can continue todeliver and stay calm and learn from the very brilliant peoplethat are around us. During those times, bart's been my phone a friend a time ortwo. I had a couple of presidents at rose holman, one, unfortunatelytragically passed away. So there was a sudden transition there, and then youknow whether it is focus on a team or retiring. A campaign or new players that come in transitionalways does seem to be a part of it. The good thing is a brand a campaign can help identify someof the key players in those transitions. You definitely need them to be yourbiggest brand ambassador, hopefully they're at the table when a lot ofthose conversations were happening to help inform it and to help capturetheir vision, their strategy and all that too so yeah, i kind of joke. It'sme all the transition, wherever i go, this transition follows, but i'm just isay that when i'm teasing, but i think when we can learn from transition andnot be afraid of it, just consider it another part of a creative evolution aswith anything yeah. It's interesting that you say that we did a podcast afew months ago with christi jackson, she's at university of north carolina,and she talked about crisis, communications and obviously crisiscommunication. 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 ascommunicators we kind of have to plan that transition is going to happen. Imean we have to plan and think about those things that change is going tohappen. Transition is going to happen, difficulties are going to happen andand what is it in our play book from a brand or from a communication technique?That's going to help us navigate through that, because i mean, at theend of the day many times those issues and those those challenges end up inthe marketing department in the communications department, and itsounds to me like a lot of that, is you know, starting to learn to embrace thechange embrace the transitions. Would you agree with that? Yeah totallythere's you know reactive and pro active work, that'salways being done embracing things that are where you have to react to and makeit the best you can, but then also being pro active and moving forward andfollowing some long longer term strategies for sure and when you havethis inside feeling that something's not quite hitting the mark, alwaysgoing back to those brand messages to that brand corp that brand strategy andthat can usually get you back on, but also being able to at least speak openminded when a transition comes or maybe a sudden new initiative or a sad newplank, that's being added on your plate. When you can really look at it, see itas an opportunity seeing how it can help maybe fill some gaps, some thingsthat you wanted to do before and just trying to make it work. You know forsure. So, but i think being reactive.

It's comes with the territory this pastyear. We have had to be reactive in many ways, and everyone has, but alsothen 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'sgreat. That's great thanks for sharing that being vulnerable about that. Ithink sometimes that's a you know. Dealing with change is always going tobe a vulnerable and then talking about it later, i think, is difficult to so.Thanks for doing that, joy marrying the previous conversation that we had. We lightly discussed an idea and athought 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 asynergy, how we can do that within higher education, i would really liketo go back into that conversation with you and get your thoughts around it orany type of initiative that you think could come out of something acollaboration with in higher education. No, no for sure you had asked me about like what kindof trends i follow or in marketing and in the industry, and i single love tofollow, maybe the greater industries you know, keeping an eye on. You knowmusic and fashion the arts, and you know, there's been a lot ofcollaborations by some s by celebrities and consumer brands or sand. It's kindof fun. A lot of them have a a short time frame, but they're, not just cool,but they also elevate. Both brands give introduce new markets new audiences toeach. You know, often so i've been looking at that just thinking it'sinteresting and we all know sometimes higher. I could be a beat behind consumer marketing, but make no mistake:we've got audiences, we've got consumers, we got people who shop andcompare compare prices, compare marid of things, so that's something i'vebeen kind of looking at, and i know a lot of universities are no stranger to,for example, lending a speaker series or a daming opportunities. Universities do things like that, allthe time and a kind of a donor relation way, so so that maybe there are someaspects of that in higher ed. But you know what are some of those things wecan learn from some of the things that attract our attention as consumers. Aswe look at our favorite brands, were consumers as well? We have to keep our eyes open for thethings that attract us as consumers or marketers, but i may be interested inthe same brands that i that i follow and that i'm loyal to and they may havea partnership with musical artist, and that opens my eyes to perhaps followingthat individual as an artist, and so i think it's good for us to think what'sattractive to us things that we enjoy or open our eyes with our favoritebrands. Have we follow? I like that? I did marry because i think that, as yousaid, sometimes an i've said this many times cut you know higher ad is alittle bit of a beat behind you know. Sometimes i estimate it. You know fiveto ten years, depending on. What's going on and there's t you know- and iunderstand that i mean where higher ed has been for hundredsof years. I think that only in the last ten or fifteen years have they reallyhad to start thinking differently and behaving differently, because i mean imean i'm a gener. I think we all are here on this podcast as as far as thethree of us and things changed kind of after we had our college experience andas we started becoming professionals ourselves, the world kind of shifted alittle bit. I don't know if it was when millennial came along or if it was whenyou know it went from the three...

...channels we were used to to cable andeverything else. I mean a lot of things shifted, the internet came online inthe mids, and so the world shifted, and i think that thethe consumer brands the retailers a lot of other places, kind of kept up withthat shift, i think higher ead kind of continued to ride the waves that theyhad been on, not realizing that they needed to kind of shift as well and dothe transitions that we were talking about, and so i think sometimes it'sdifficult, ffor academia to accept that you know our perspective. Students areconsumers; they have choice, they are shopping. As you've said, i meanthere's there's a lot of things that i think that i remember being in meetingsin the mids and i would use the term sales or i would use the term shoppingor i would use the term consumer, and you know you needed to pick up theadministrators off the floor because i mean they were. They were offended bythat and we are. We are academia. We do not talk about things like that thatdoesn't apply to us. I think that's changed. I think that's shifting and ithink that's really healthy, but i think that it still comes down to thefact that we're still a little bit slow. I was talking to a client the other dayabout their social media and missed opportunities, because their messagingwasn't crafted perfectly and it wasn't. We didn't go through the entire systemthat they wanted to and they missed opportunities because they took themthree or four days to reply to something that would needed to bereplied to in an hour, especially, you know, social justice issue. That wasthe the topic at that point. So we've got a kind of, i think it's a biggertopic. We've got to be able to kind of adapt and lean into that more, but ithink it comes back to the fact, like you said, paying attention to thoseother industries paying attention to consumer brands and retail, and seeingwhat's going on, i mean just just paying attention to what happened onthat tick. Tock video last summer, where you know guys riding asskateboards and drinking ocean spray and listening thing over to fleetwood,mac. Okay, all of a sudden you've got two big brands that jumped on to thatand they did it. Well, i mean ocean spray really did that. Well, theypartnered. Well, they kind of took care of that man and they did it well, and imean obviously he had his fifteen minutes of glory and fame and obviouslyit really impacted fleet with mac and mac fleet would kind of responded inkind, and there was a lot of really good things. That happened out of thatthat i think, as we as higher ad marketers can see how brands, howinfluences how others kind of play in the market place- and i use the wordplay intentionally because sometimes it does take play more than it takes workor over thinking something, and i think that that collaboration between brandsis something that we have to start playing with. Rather than coming upwith this perfect solution, i mean in a lot of ways: higher ed is kind ofalready created that way, but we call it articulation agreements. How can westart talking about it more as collaboration, and i find thatfascinating to kind of think about that yeah, and you know that leads me tothink bart to. We got some great experts around us andthat's our students and i like to turn off into, for example, or a tour guyswere our missions. Tor guides their experts. They have their finger on thepulse if we need them to help us articulate some things. Let's have afocus up of five with with them, or have them film something for us or giveus some guidance on some things. Give us some guidance on swag. You know. Oh it's not swages march.They call it merge again the differences in age so butyeah and i think for us to enjoy that and to just sometimes they in hey,they're, the extries. They know what's attracting them and if we ask them,they are very ready to know they can articulate brands. They know how tomake their own brand with their own blogs and their key messages and theirlook. So our current students are very...

...astute to their presentation, and so ithink when we can tap into them or i joke about having my little possearound me, i had that at rose holman. I was not an engineer, but i had a bunchof engineering students around me and i am about four or five students. I amtried to create a relationship with that. I can bounce some ideas, offerthem from a branding perspective and all that if it would kind of meet theirneeds, since they have a very specific viewpoint, as they were assessingbrands and their highridge yeah, that's great and- and i think that even doingthat you're recognizing them a lot of them are influencers in in their ownright. You know we talk about influence, marketing and but i think that you knowsocial media especially has kind of elevated that you know whether it'syutu or instar m. You know i was talking to one one school. I was at aconference and they were kind of explaining how they were using instar mand influence or marketing with some of their students who had some of thesestudents had ten thousand followers in and of themselves as freshmen incollege. Well, that's the definition of influence or marketing, and so how doyou recruit? Those students to co exist with your brand. You know partner withyour brand partner with the brand of the school, because obviously they area consumer of that brand and so yeah. I think that's a that's a reallyinteresting thought mary, and i know that even in our pre conversation kindof leading into that you talked about you, you just talked a little bit aboutfocus groups and pulling some people together, and you do that a little bitmore around orientation for sometimes tell a little bit about that- and iknow for sure- and i know many of your guests on your show- are no stranger toresearch and analytics, and that's that's great. I know we got to have that, but almost atradition that we do here is in during incoming for incoming students duringduring orientation. Boy here are people who have just been on a constant flowof marketing from all state and others, and so we always just want to have acheck step with them during orientation, incoming freshmen and their familiesand yeah. Obviously it worked so we were learning from the folks that itwas effective with, and so every year we have a different agenda with withthem. I'm doing it right now. I've already conducted three groups andhave three more groups in the upcoming weeks, and you know we try to getperhaps current messages in front of them to see what resonate. Perhaps it'sa new program for incoming freshman or for the first year experience. That is a a trend in higher right now how tobrand a first year experience s. Do this meet their mile stones during theyear. So as we're rolling out some new things asking that audience, i've evenshowed them billboards and tv commercials and things alongthose lines just for them to rate what their favorite ones are and have theconversation around it, and then that's always helpful when perhaps leadershipor our internal clients have. You know, really love somethingand you're like well. You know what our brand of students they really like tosee this type of thing and when we can point to that and have some of thenarrative 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 beenon the receiving end of a lot of our work. That's great and- and i what ilike about that and when we talked earlier, i just thought it was not onlyis it a build in chicken and just kind of that process of you know, there'salready a group of people there that we can talk to and- and i think sometimeswhen people hear the word focus group they think of, i think- of to a mirrorsand dark rooms and thirty seven people there that you know it's cost a lot ofmoney, but i think the way that you're kind of approaching it- you don't haveto say. Well, we don't have the resources to do a focus groups. Well,you've got the focus group already...

...there. You just have to pull themtogether and ask them, and i think sometimes just that you know that'sthat's a vulnerable thing to ask for somebody's opinion and be willing tohear it. I think sometimes that keeps us from doing it and we use excuses ofcost and effort and everything else, and so i think that i like what you'resaying it's being vulnerable with ourselves to be able to say we mightnot 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 lunchand a thirt 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 helpjust get the amount that we need and but yeah keeping it small to the one wehad. The other day was two students and at first i thought, oh boy, but boy wecould really drill in and they were fantastic and it was very enlighteningand i brought some piece of feedback back that day and leadership changed amessage you know over it because we were kind of uncertain about something.So so it's inexpensive, it's right in front of us and for me it's alsoeducational in humbling to people that i work with you know. I often need anote taker and if i could have someone either on the team or an internalclient, help take notes for them to hear things first hand to, i think, ishelpful for them and then their ambassadors of the research and allthat, and so it has come at least at ball- state people even through theyear. I a we need to test that during focus groups, and i love it when someof our in internal colleagues or are mentioning it and instead of us alwaysbringing it up to so it is an expensive it's right under our nose and it is agreat check, step, positive or negative, constructive for tissin that we can noten that's great. That's very good sounds like you get a lot of pertinentinformation on your marketing through that research, very inexpensively forsure mary. Thank you for everything thatyou've shared with us today. But again i can be a little greedy so before weclose, whether it be one nugget or idea that we didn't get a chance to mentionthat you think could be applicable for other marketers out there, oh gosh, butwe did cover a lot and i can talk about marketing and i read and ball stayedall 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 knowabout other folks, but under my purview, is a lot of campus banners andbillboards and a lot of vinyl on campus, even some ofthe things in the athletic facilities. You know we generate a lot of that. Ofcourse, all universities have good recycling protocols in place, but it'sstill plastic. After all, so one of the things we have done here ishere at ball state is. We took one of our vinyl banners that was displayedvery prominently in the indiae international airports during ourcentennial celebration, and we took that down. We cut it up. We had some experts at aa local company, make them into little zip pouches that we then used as giftsand we used with a little card in them with a little bit of the story thatthis was a centennial banner that hung in the airport and it's recycled. Andhopefully you can have a little piece of our then tell me a celebration andthen gave a a little life and another lot nice little story and that we couldpass on. So we passed those out to some key donors and some key folks whoworked really closely with the campaign, the centennial campaign, as a thank yougift. That is a wonderful idea, as i...

...think about, and as we produce thingslike that for other colleges and universities, vinals everywhere, and ihope someone else kells that nugget, if i may ask, was that you or someone onyour campus, a student. How did that idea come about yeah? No, i've beenkind of tuned in. I don't know if i should name the company but pop it's anon profit in indianapolis indiana. I've had a relationship with themthrough the years. Just through some of my other volunteer work and pup standsfor people for bin progress and they do a lot of that work with sportsoutlets and other entities that do produce a lot of vinyl, and so they arer, a really wonderful recyclers of materials, and so i had a relationshipwith them before, and so i was always seeing vinal. I and i've always wantedto do a project with them, and i was thrilled that i could at the time oneof their founders was the ball state alum, so that ad added to the story aswell, but yeah there's they are amazing, non profit located at inians, i'm sure,there's some other folks or sometimes even internally, with a apparel designprogram fashion design. Sometimes you may have some resources right into yournose as well and again adds to the story for something that might be kindof fun and unusual for a fund recent campaign or a special event. Thank you,mary. That was a wonderful example. If someone would like to contact you aboutthat idea or anything else, what would the best way for them to get in touchwith you b, o gosh, probably my old school email, i'm easy to find m barand bar at bs. Do do you? Thank you very much for your time andall the wonderful wisdom that you gave us today, but before we get out of here,do you have any parting words yeah? I just wanted to thank mary and for allthat she's offered us today and i think that knowing her for so long as ihaven't, and just in this conversation, i think everyone can kind of understandand know that she's a brand expert- and i think one of the expertise ofrecognizing that and somebody who really understands brand- is howwilling they're able to kind of talk about stories. And i love the fact thata lot of what we talked about today, whether it was the use of you, knowsome focus groups, whether it's about you know the stories of some of thetransitions that she's been a part of and what that means and how to how tonavigate that. The idea of you know what stories can two brands togethertill and even down to the story of you know: hey. We want to recycledsomething, but not only do we want to recycled it because it's the rightthing, but how can that then support our brand, because our brand is allabout empowering people? It's about. You know, ball. States brand is a lotmore than just recruiting students there's a lot of things that mary haskind of talked about today. That, i think, was reflected in herconversations and things that they're doing a ball state that go deeper andtelling those stories to help articulate the brand, i think, is soimportant, and i think that mary does a great job doing that, whether it'sthrough a billboard that you see on interstate, sixty, nine or whether it'sjust through this conversation about you, know the recycled elements andutilizing a local non profit to do that and making those into meaningful giftsfor donors. I think there's a there's a chance for all of us to tell our storybetter and if you want to learn how to do that, i would observe what's goingon at ball state, and so those are. Those are some really good ideas. Sothank you going marry, oh gosh. Well, thank you, barin, thank you, troy andthank you for all the work that you both do in our industry and help uslook great our pleasure and want to remind everyone that thesponsors of this podcast number one is barts company, cave solutions andeducation, marketing and branding... and by think patented. Amarketing execution, printing and mailing provider of hired solutions onbehalf of bart cayler and myself, troy singer. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the higher edmarketer to ensure that you never miss an episode subscribe to the show inyour favorite podcast player. If you are listening, withoute podcast, we'dlove for you to leave a quick rating of the show, simply tap the number ofstars. You think the podcast deserves until next time.

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