Measuring Brand ROI: An Interview with Bob Sevier

As the higher ed marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, it has become more critical than ever to be able to measure the impact of your marketing efforts on brand perception -- critical, but not always easy. In a recent interview with Academic Impressions, Bob Sevier, senior vice president of strategy for Stamats Inc., shared with us his guiding philosophy for measuring the return on investment for branding efforts.

Here is the interview, with links to additional resources -- we hope you will find it useful for opening discussion within your office.

Knowing What Works and What Doesn't

Academic Impressions (AI): Bob, why is it especially important to care about measuring brand perception now?

Bob Sevier: From the vantage point of the marketing professional, there are two reasons. First, it helps to find out whether your brand campaign is actually working. A lot of marketers are slowly transitioning from measuring output (Are we busy?) to measuring outcomes (Is it working?). Second, measuring the ROI on your brand campaign tells your supervisor that you're serious. Professionals show results, and when you can show results, you earn the opportunity for an increased budget.

That's why this is more important now than even four years ago. The competition for resources both within the institution and in the marketplace has increased, and the most precious resource is someone's attention. At the same time, our budgets are condensed, making it vital that we ask, Is this the best use for my dollar? You need to be able to make the case that your brand perception strategy is working, or someone else within the institution will want your dollars.

If budgets are tight, you may be reluctant to spend dollars on efforts to measure brand perception. But it's critical. If you don't measure brand perception before you launch the campaign, you won't have a baseline. And if you don't measure it after, you won't know whether your efforts had any impact.

You need to know whether you are building brand equity in the marketplace. Is your brand worth more today than it was yesterday? Are you getting better faculty, more students in the door, more gifts?

Measure Results, Not Volume

AI. Bob, what might a marketing office waste time measuring? In other words, what measures don't matter as much, and why?

Bob Sevier: What's less important is to look at a website or a social media site and document that you've seen 17,000 hits this month. So? How many of those went on to become students or donors? Too often, we like measuring the volume of things when we are less adept at measuring the vitality of things.

Here's another example to illustrate the point. Let's suppose the deans say we did 54 open houses around the country, and we met this many people. Great. But did that generate any prospective students?

What we need to be measuring is conversions.

How do you know that the alumni magazine is the answer? How do you know whether to offer that magazine online or in a blended fashion? Or how do you know that you investing more in outreach to alumni through Facebook? Ask questions. Rather than document what you're doing, document the results. How do you know where your dollars should be spent? A good marketing professional is channel and media agnostic.

MARKETING ROI: 3 COMMON MYTHS

Higher education marketing professionals are under increased pressure to demonstrate the effectiveness of their marketing and branding initiatives. To ensure funding, marketing offices must measure the return on investment of their strategies and communicate their success in tangible ways.

In this May 2012 article, we turned to Elizabeth Scarborough, CEO of SimpsonScarborough, to ask where institutions may be misdirecting their attention when it comes to measuring marketing ROI. She indicated three “myths” or challenges that hold many institutions back.

A Shift in Mindset

AI. What do senior leaders at an institution need to hear? Is there a cultural shift needed?

Bob Sevier: Too many colleges tend to blame the marketplace for their troubles. But success for a post-secondary institution is really about how your senior leadership responds to the market problem or opportunity. Any college can be successful; not all of them will be. You can't control demography, but demography isn't destiny.

"Those institutions that will thrive will have a senior leadership team that understands the need for continual improvement and isn't threatened by it. Leaders have to be comfortable with ROI. They have to be willing to invest resources to measure the impact of their efforts and improve, and they have to be willing to invest political capital -- that most precious resource -- in changing or letting something go when needed."
Bob Sevier, Stamats Inc.