Graduate Degree Program Websites Suck by Kevin Davis

Dear fellow higher education marketing professionals, the websites we manage, suck.

Having been a salesman much longer than a higher education marketing and branding professional, if I know one thing, it is that there is an art to selling and it must follow a specific and logical order. I have worked in the field for almost since 2012, and as someone also researching graduate programs for my educational goals, I have concluded that the user experience is an afterthought if at all. I say this as someone who has worked in enrollment marketing, directly. It is different when you are busy tasking from the inside compared to viewing externally as a prospective student. 

Millions of dollars are spent each year on training and improving the customer experience for luxury cars, goods, homes, all high dollar purchases. Why don't we treat the collegiate experience as a luxury item, that is what it is at the end of the day. Why don't we work on improving the collegiate shopping experience? The hope and expectations are that you earn your degree, spread the good word on your experience, and you give time and money back to the university. Car dealerships, mortgage banks, and luxury retail products are a one-time (multi-payment in most cases) transactions, and they do not maintain the same expectations as a college or university has of their alumni. We have it all backward.

These are the following items degree seekers would like to find on your website, and quickly. What program, how long will it take me, how much does it cost, and what do I need to apply? That is what everyone wants to know. Why is it so complicated to make these items easy to find in a logical order and flow? As marketing professionals, we must take the wheel as subject matter experts and think like salespeople on how to best present the information students seek. We also must seek feedback from students on how well we are conveying and displaying relevant information.

It can be hard to collaborate with other departments and determine what needs to happen, but it costs you students in the long run.

What folks want.

•      Degree programs- Students do not care about the school of business or wherever the program is housed unless it is Booth, Kellogg, Wharton, Etc. Improve your SEO to get the programs to show up quickly. Students do not know that your integrated marketing communications and marketing communications programs are in two different schools. Show all the graduate programs and link them to the appropriate program pages. Students may be looking for the marketing communications program and never see the integrated marketing communications program, which may be a better fit for them if all degree options are not presented.

•      Overview- What is the program about, what are the expected outcomes, who is this program targeting, what are possible roles one can expect with this degree.

•      Why should you get my money? What makes you different than anyone else, what's so unique about your program? Is it faculty? Placement rate? Diversity? Time to completion? Cost? Delivery format? 

•      Time Commitment- How long will it take for students to complete the program? Give me the fastest option, and make that clear. Be specific with the schedule showing what course load it will take to meet the best-case scenario goal. Fall = XYZ classes, Spring = XYZ, Summer = XYZ classes. Students do not want to see the average-case scenario; they want to see best case scenario and adjust it based on their reality.

•      Cost- How much does the program cost? List the total cost; students do not care about how much it is per credit. If it is $50,000, then say that. If the program is $50,000, and trips/immersions are required (and are to be self-financed) add that, as well as estimated costs for books. If that pushed the total to $60,000 say that. 

•      Contact- whom can I contact for more information? Where are your social media accounts for the program or school so that I can interact with others?

•      Events- Are there any events I can attend such as information sessions or networking events? That should be easy to find.

•      Admissions- Be very clear and concise on what is required for admissions. What does the process look like, what are the deadlines, if I miss this window when is the next start date?

There are far too many links to click to find necessary information, PDFs opened to view program curriculum, and calculators being pulled out to determine costs. If a concise flow is developed, the less your recruiters and admissions staff must field basic questions, and there is more time for them to work on closing applications and to get students into seats. The metrics are there, where are people clicking the most? What are they searching the most on the site? What are your heat maps telling you? All the digital advertising, direct mail, and marketing in the world cannot counter a lackluster web experience. I do realize and understand that the hierarchy and political climate in your university and department play a role in decisions involving the website, but it might be costing your students.

What are your thoughts and experiences with graduate program websites?

(Brand Trivia) The Black Fives Collection by Kevin Davis

Lil history lesson inspired by my trip to the mall today. I normally see one or two "Black Fives" hats at @lids, but today I was excited to see so many from the series at a local store . I own one of the hats from the series (below).

Click here learn more about the Black Fives 

Click here to view the Black Fives collection by '47 Brand & Lids

About the Black Fives

Just after the game of basketball was invented in 1891, teams were called “fives” in reference to their five starting players.

Basketball, like American society, was racially segregated. Teams made up entirely of African American players were often known as “colored quints,” “Negro cagers,” or “black fives.”

The sport remained divided from 1904 — when basketball was first introduced to African Americans on a wide scale organized basis — until the racial integration of the National Basketball League in the 1940s and the National Basketball Association in 1950.

The period in between became known as the Black Fives Era, when dozens of all-black teams emerged, flourished, and excelled.

African Americans were making moves in basketball generations before the N.B.A. was born.

About the Partnership

’47 , a privately held premium sports lifestyle apparel brand, has partnered with the Black Fives Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to research, preserve, showcase, and teach the pre-1950 history of African Americans in basketball, to create a first-of-its-kind collection of headwear, apparel and accessories that combines fashion with history to honor the pioneering teams of the Black Fives Era." 

Re: "I will never compare my life to yours. That’s why I’m happy." by Kevin Davis

Below is my personal reflection based on the article "I will never compare my life to yours. That’s why I’m happy."

 

I adopted this thinking years ago. I was beating myself up because I wasn't as "successful" as some of my friends and associates of the same age, similar upbringing, and background.

Some of my friends finished college in 4 years, some of them had great internships before graduation, some of them had great jobs right out of college, some of them earned advanced degrees years ago, some of them have been in their chosen career path or field for going on 15 years, some of them never got divorced, some of them are celebrating 15 years of marriage, some of them are heads of divisions or companies, some of them have more money in their retirement savings, some of them have great relationships with their spouses, some of them are half-way through their mortgages, some of them are on their 2nd or 3rd passport, some of them just seem to have it all together.

We are raised to follow typical or expected trajectory of those within our peer groups. But the more I live, the more I find that while others have things you wish you had  achieved the success you hoped to have at the same time as your friends, they want some of what you have.

I posted a meme the other day that said something to the effect of "what messes us up the most is the image of how it is supposed to be".

I stopped measuring myself by my friends' success and achievements. There is a difference between having a goal and being envious. I ambitious, but based on my own successes from where I was, where I am, and where I want to be. It's ok to want more than what you have, but don't let that dictate your life or let it become an obsession which fuels self-doubt, depression, etc.

The hardest part of being an adult is understanding and accepting that your life is not going to be the way you'd like, and you have to play the hand you are dealt and make the best of it for you and/or your family and friends.

My Saturday: I earned my Digital Marketing Certifcate by Kevin Davis

I spent my Saturday working on my Digital Marketing certificate from the American Marketing Association. I figured it would be a breeze since I've been working in the field for a while, but I had to actually pay attention and learn a few things. I spent about 4-5 hours on the certificate completing the six modules. Maybe next weekend I will work on my Google Analytics and Advertising certificates. 

What's in a logo? The GeneSIS of collegiate mascots by Kevin Davis

Brand trivia time: Ever wonder why so many college sports logos look alike, or are carbon copies some cases? Before there were brands, licensing, and trademarks in sports, one designer Arthur Evans of Angelus Pacific Co., designed 90% of the logos in the early part of his 45 year career.

If you wanted a lion, you got the stock lion with your name and color on it. This is one of the main reasons you see so many college programs rebranding over the last 20 or so years, to be original and to be able to trademark their marks.

What's in a logo? The Charlotte Hornets by Kevin Davis

What's in a logo? The Charlotte Hornets debuted as an expansion team in 1988, and their mascot Hugo the Hornet became an immediate hit with the fans. The Hornets moved back to Charlotte during the 2014 season under the ownership and direction of Micheal Jordan.

The team rebranded and updated their logo and elements. The rebrand was led by Darrin Crescenzi, a former designer for Nike brand (does their branding aesthetic make sense now?) The team also updated mascot Hugo and in the mascot version of the logo, you will see he is rocking a pair of Air Jordan Concorde XI shoes.

The team will also sport Jordan's famous "Jumpman" logo on their uniforms instead of the league standard Nike logo. Talk about branding and attention to detail. Even the real life Hugo rocks XIs. #rebranding #charlottehornets #nike#jumpman #hugothehornet #buzzcity#kevindavisbrand #jumpman #michealjordan

A Ding In Prairie View's Brand: Sending the Wrong Message by Kevin Davis

A Ding In Prairie View's Brand: Sending the Wrong Message

In the midst of all of the acts of excessive force and police brutality against black men and women, and folks being upset by athletes around the country for exercising their rights and kneeling during the national anthem, you may have very well missed the wild series of events that has taken place on college campuses all over the country. Students have been so active and focused on responding to current affairs through peaceful protests, and Black Lives Matter rallies, but new acts of racism keep meeting them in the face at every turn by their peers.

Before we get too deep into the topic, let’s level set and explain what the first amendment is and what it is not. I appreciate the first amendment, because it allows people to say what they really feel, which can be quite the double-edged sword.

What it is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What it is not:

Freedom from repercussion

For an expanded definition, click here

I’ll provide a brief recap of the incidents I can recall off the top of my head, and then get to the reason I decided to write this blog post in the first. I will kick it off at my alma mater, Eastern Michigan University.

Eastern Michigan University

On September 20th, students at EMU were greeted on campus with graffiti on the walls of one more symbolic buildings on campus. As a student, I went to King Hall many times for MLK events, study sessions, and programs. It was our African-American cultural center, our safe space. On the walls the phrases “KKK” and “Leave Niggers” were spray painted overnight. Students gathered and protested on the lawn of the university president, where he came out to meet the students and address their concerns. President Smith listened to the students, and made it clear that the university planned on finding the perpetrator(s), and prosecuting them to the full extent of the law, as well as offered a reward leading the arrest.

Kansas State University

On September 15th, Kansas State University student Paige Shoemaker and a buddy uploaded a photo to Snapchat with what looks to be a beauty mask on their faces with the caption “Feels good to be a nigger”. (LINK). Shoemaker responded to the reaction she received on social media by saying “It was sent in a joking manner to our friends,” she said. “I am the least racist and most accepting person you will meet. Never would I send it in a derogatory way.” The university responded within 24 hours, but did immediately state that Paige was not currently a student, and they went on disavow racist post.

 

University of North Dakota

On September 20th, a photo surfaced online with white students from UND in a dorm room with the caption, “Locked the black bitch out”. The university responded quickly on Twitter stating that this is a serious matter and they will look into it and take appropriate measures.

University of North Dakota, Again

In less than a week after the first incident, a second story surfaced at UND, this time with three young white women wearing makeup masks with the caption “Black Lives Matter”. The university responded immediately to the situation, acknowledging that the university has a long way to go, and needs to do better. 

As I mentioned earlier, there have been a number of events taking place around the country increasing racial tensions on every level. Worth mentioning is the letter from John Ellison, dean of students at the University of Chicago sent to students which made waves in the news. The most notable paragraph in the letter stated; 

"Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,".

In a time where students are encountering intolerance and racial ignorance everywhere including campuses, this is the message that was sent to incoming freshman. It begs the question, where are students supposed to feel safe? Who has their backs?

Now we will get to the reason I decide to type this blog post.

Prairie View Agricultural and Mechanical University

Just a few days ago, a Snapchat post landed an athlete in hot water. Brooke Merino, a soccer player for Prairie View A&M University (one of the nation's historically black colleges and universities, also known as a HBCU), posted a photo as the other young ladies mentioned above, but this time with black duct tape, which was a play on “blackface”, with the caption, “When you just tryna fit in at your hbcu,”.

Non-black students at HBCUs aren’t an anomaly, but they are largely the minority on campus, which makes her actions bolder. Brooke’s post went viral, and it circulated on social media like a summer wildfire in the desert. I’m sure there have been acts of racism on the campuses before, but this one stands out because Brooke is an athlete for the school, and this is the new age of social media.

Everyone waited to see what the university’s response would be to this, as the predominately white institutions (PWI) for the most part had been swift and deliberate in their actions on their respective campuses.

Brooke’s father responded by saying "She didn't mean to do that. It's been blown out of proportion," he said. "She's not racist. We're not racist. We're Mexican. It's a bad thing and it's been blown way out of proportion. She's not like that."

In an effort to quell the firestorm brewing on the internet over what happened on his campus and put the minds of students and alumni at ease, PVAMU President George C. Wright issued a response.

"As a scholar of race relations in the United States and president of Prairie View A&M University, whose alumni, students, and many supporters have experienced firsthand racial insults in the form of words, caricatures and a wide range of other actions, I know clearly the hurt and harm that can be done from intentional and unintentional acts of this nature.

Let me be clear that, whether intentional or unintentional, the actions have the same impact, and as a community, we denounce any racial slight whenever it occurs.

But let us not forget that the First Amendment ensures that discussion of even the most controversial and provocative issues will be vigorous and unfettered on our campus-without it, there can be no search for truth.

We have a duty to educate our community to always try to act in a responsible manner and recognize that speech does have consequences.

For 140 years, this university has maintained a standard of excellence and will continue to be a beacon of light for years to come."

 

As a marketing and communications professional in higher education, and the father of two sons who will be entering college in a few years, “What?” was my reaction to that statement. There was no definitive acknowledgement of the incident, and there was no definitive plan of action on what was to happen next. That’s crisis communications 101!

I also noticed this statement was not posted on the university’s webpage, just on Facebook. It seemed as though there was an effort to issue a response, but not make it a big enough deal to share through all of the channels the university uses for communication.

The last news update on the PVAMU website was on September 2nd.

The last news update on the PVAMU website was on September 2nd.

 

The way this offense has been covered and swept under the first amendment rug struck a nerve with me. I assumed by the wording that maybe there was a reason such a casual reply was given as an official response.

I was curious and began poking around to see what the PVAMU student code of conduct (SCOC) had to say about issues like this. I was sure there must be some sort of recourse or action that could be taken quickly in situations like this.

I did discover a couple of things in my reading of their SCOC, most notably there are only two issues to which the university has a zero tolerance policy; physical abuse and alcohol on campus. Racism and the like, aren’t included in that number.

There is one mention of racism/racial harassment in the document, section E, part 2;

I’m big on word play, that “repeated” part is what stood out to me. On a campus of a university founded in 1876, just a decade after the 13th Amendment went into effect, a time in which black students weren’t openly accepted by predominately white institutions, racism should be a ZERO TOLERANCE policy. The fact that an offense mentioned in the section of the code above has to be committed twice, because repeated means more than once, is problematic in my opinion.

My next question was what did the judicial process look like, if something like this needed to be played out in a formal fashion. I did see that there are ways around the process, if the university saw fit.

On page 14 of the SCOC it reads;

I’m not sure about you, but a student athlete posting a photo in blackface online while in PVAM apparel may cause the threat of disruption in the academic process, especially on the campus of a HBCU. I did feel a little bummed that on the campuses of PWIs, they issued responses which either removed the students, planned to look into the incidents, or they acknowledged they didn’t know who the perpetrators were. The HBCU handled the situation with kid gloves, publicly. I don’t know what the university has or has not done outside of the public eye, but I do know that their public response was lackluster, and I’d be a bit enraged if I were a current student or parent of a student enrolled at the school.

In times like this, we look to the university and/or the president for guidance, and for them to set the tone as to how things should proceed going forward with regards to the incident. I feel that PVAMU failed not only their collegiate community, but blacks overall. This seemingly rare occurrence played out in the public was a chance to make a bold statement- and be backed up by their own SCOC, but they didn’t.

Where are our safe spaces? We can’t have them on the campuses of PWIs, and now we don’t have them on the campus of a HBCU?

I see this as a misstep by the university, but also a wakeup call for universities to;

  • Review their student code of conduct policies to make sure the right messages are being sent to the collegiate communities at all times
  • Review their crisis communications plans and determine who will be issuing the statement, when the statement should be made, and more importantly who will be reviewing the statement
  • When issuing a statement, send it through all channels used by the university (Facebook, Twitter, university email, and on university website)
  • When all else fails, look at someone else’s template to develop or enhance your own crisis communications plan

When we don’t hold our leaders accountable and begin to make excuses for their actions (and I saw a LOT of excuses on this topic), you get what you deserve. Let’s raise the bar and demand more. Don’t let your pride for your alma mater cloud your judgment or cause you to look the other way. When the incidents happened at my alma mater Eastern Michigan University last week, pride went out the window in favor of a prompt and just response. I demand that as an alum, but more so for the students and parents of students attending the institution. Are you going to uphold the brand and perception of your university and collegiate experience, or let it be diminished by leadership’s lackluster response to pivotal incident on campus?

What people say about you based on what you present = Your brand

Again, I don’t know what the university has done in private, but as of October 2, 2016 at 1:35PM CST, Brooke Merino is still listed as a member of the women’s soccer team at Prairie View A&M University, and no further updates or details have been shared publicly.

We can't sell our HBCUs as the better choice for black students, when faced with a prime opportunity to reaffirm their relevance, we issue a weak response.

The country is watching, and PVAMU is still on the clock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being fired was a blessing in disguise. The birth of my personal brand. by Kevin Davis

This week, I got an email from LinkedIn with a few updates from my network. Some of my contacts had new jobs, some updated their profiles, and shared articles. This is all normal for LinkedIn emails, and it's generally how I keep up with what's going on in my network. This particular day in the "people you know" area of the email, I saw a former boss (see image above). The first person to ever fire me. I dropped a few four letter words at the screen, and wondered why of all people, would LinkedIn suggest this person as a possible connection. I don't have this particular role on my profile as it was many years ago, it was random. I looked at her profile, she's been successful, and had a nice career trajectory. She has no clue, how she impacted my life.

I sat and thought about it for a while, and mentally returned to January 2002. 

I'm a public guy. I love to share. Some things I am very public about, and others, I am extremely private about. My wife had never heard this story until I told her after I read the email from LinkedIn. I had compartmentalized this era of my life as it was painful, and lead to a long early to upper 20s for me.

When I took the job, I was 21,  I was married, was the proud father a super active baby boy, and another one would come later down the line. I was in school, I had a good job, my wife didn't need to work. I had solid credit, my IRA balance was way ahead of everyone else in my circle. I worked for an apartment community, so my rent was 50% off in a pretty uppity area of Ann Arbor- I had more money to save. Growing up, I had great role model and examples. My dad was a banker, and instilled the values of saving money, building credit, so I was well-versed in financial literacy. Life was sweet. 

I began this job as leasing agent, and was quickly promoted, skipping the leasing manager position, to Assistant Property Manager. I split my time between two properties, which wasn't the norm for someone in my role, but gave me so much experience in working both the middle and high rental rate communities. I was known at the headquarters by name, and often called to float to different properties to help in times of need.

For whatever reason, I think my ambition and desire to climb the company ranks, I found myself out of favor with my manager. We never had any real issues, just some mentions of me needing to work on and a few things here and there-nothing major. One day my manager was gone on vacation and assigned a floater property manager to work with me. I had a great relationship with this manager, or so I thought. 

Our standard operating procedure was to have a property manager sign off on move-in application packets, there was no way around this. I signed my areas as APM stating the process checklist had been completed, and I told the floater to sign hers. Apparently, she approved the file without completing her due diligence as PM, she never got everything she needed from the renters. We had taken their money, they were moved in. The manager never signed the application after discovering her error- she instead forged my signature, and told my manager, I signed off on it and she had never seen it before. Someone asking why I would pick this day, of all days to begin signing in the PM area, was never a question to the floater's mind.

Because of my title, this was a terminable offense. I was blindsided when my manager told me I was being terminated because of this oversight beyond my control. I pleaded my case, but remember, I was out of favor with her. She made up a few infractions she never spoke to me about, I had never been verbally reprimanded nor written up, ever. She had tears in her eyes as she politely told me I was fired, asked me for my master keys, and handed me a notice stating that due to separation of employment, my rental rate was going up to market rate, which meant 100% more than I had been paying. 

At the age of 22, I had just been fired, my rent was going up 100%, I had to drop out of school for the time being, and my second son was due in 60 days. My appeals to reverse the termination were denied. I spoke to lawyers, no one would touch the case without a ridiculous retainer. As a grown man, I was no longer able to provide for my family- we had to move back to Detroit, and in with family while I tried to turn my life around. I'm forever grateful for my support system to this day. It could have been a lot worse.

I couldn't find a job, unemployment was a joke. I tried hard not to touch my retirement savings, but ended up having to withdraw half, and eventually all to survive. This sent my life into a spiral, that took many years to correct. My credit went to hell, my savings were gone, retirement account was being depleted, and I couldn't find a job. I had been paying my car note on my Jeep so inconsistently, I became familiar with the sounds of diesel engines at night- I feared every truck was a tow truck, coming to repossess it. The icing on the cake, 4 years later, I ended up getting a divorce. Out. Of. Control.

In 2005, I launched my business with Erik Stephens and Quinne Lowe, Crush Media Group.  I made a pact with myself, that as long as I have a creative skill, I would never be broke again. Our company did well, everyone knew about it. We had developed a brand. I was developing the Kevin Davis Brand, and didn't know it. 

In summary, I learned a few things from that experience back in 2002. 1) Coworkers aren't your friends. 2) Never leave your eggs in one basket. 3) If you have a creative skill, you should never be broke. 4) Never get so lost in your job, that it defines who you are, and without it you are nothing. 5) Always invest in yourself FIRST. When you know your value, and invest in yourself, you are more of an asset and folks know it. 6) Always have a plan B, and a possible plan C. Most importantly, 7) Stay prayerful, thankful, and patient. Never let your circumstances define you and deter you from your goals in life. Keep pushing, the time will pass anyway.

Why do I work so hard, why am I always talking about personal branding, why am I always talking about life goals, why am I always on the heads of young folks, why am I always talking about finances, why do I love my family and network so much- I have a story, let me tell it so others don't have to live it. 

I'm from Detroit, nothing stops Detroit.

Be Dope.

-Kevin