By Martin Kidston
Just as the University of Montana takes a new approach on recruiting future students, so too is it changing its marketing strategy, placing more attention on content while tapping into technology used by the Millennial generation.
On Tuesday, UM’s top administrators met with the Missoula City Council and Board of County Commissioners in what has become an annual exchange of ideas, needs and updates. This year’s session explored housing, strategic planning, and marketing.
“When you think about marketing, most people just think about promotion, but that’s a very small sliver of marketing,” said Mario Schulzke, the university’s chief marketing officer. “In the science of marketing, you talk about product, price, place and promotion.”
Schulzke said the university is working hard this year to improve the user experience. The school recently launched a new “UMontana” app, which has already seen more than 5,500 installs.
The app enables UM staff to live chat with students to improve their campus experience. Like any other business, Schulzke said, students have choices, and the university – as a business – must change its way of thinking.
“We’re trying to answer a lot of the questions before the students get to our various offices,” said Schulzke. “One of the things we learned at the university is that people would get frustrated, not because of the interaction they had with our employees, but rather, because they had to go speak to six other employees. With live chat, we’re trying to solve some of the those issues.”
Schulzke said the university also has launched an “Above and Beyond” award for deserving students, alumni and community members. It also created a group dubbed “UXM,” which provides a bottom-up approach to resolving certain challenges.
Schulzke, who attended UM as a student in the late 1990s, eventually landed a job managing campaigns for international brands, from Vonage to Alaska Airlines. During that time, he managed advertising budgets valued in the tens of millions of dollars.
“It’s a little different at UM,” he said. “The way we’re going to solve our marketing challenge is not to throw money at the media, which is why you don’t see a lot of advertising for the university. We just don’t have the resources to do that. We have to be smart about the resources we do allocate.”
Schulzke said the university has narrowed its advertising approach to several platforms, including outdoor banners, which will start in the spring, and television spots to air during UM football games.
“We’re doing that not because we believe that’s where our prospective students are, but there was a strong desire from our alumni to have a stronger presence during our football games, primarily because Montana State University has a very strong presence during our football games,” he said.
Schulzke said UM will also ramp up its digital media strategy.
“The advertising we’re trying to run from a digital perspective is very much targeted to prospective students,” he said. “If a kid in Iowa is researching wildlife biology programs, they should see our ad. Once they come to our website and browse around the Internet, they should continue to see our ad.”
The new marketing strategy is a change from that of the past, where UM “bought a lot of ads” and hoped its message got out.
Buying such ads, Schulzke said, meant the school was leasing access to someone else’s audience, believing readers would follow the link back to UM.
The school has also grown its Facebook audience to 120,000. That, Schulzke said, is free and powerful advertising, capable of reaching a wide – and young – audience.
“Our mentality is much more defined to our audiences,” Schulzke said. “A lot of the Millennials, the only way you get their attention is through notifications on their phones, and the only way you get to do that is if you have an app on their phone.
“Our strategy is much more a strategy of content and less a strategy of disruption,” he added.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org