Graduate Degree Program Websites Suck

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?

Rebranding The Chicago Urban League's Golden Fellowship Dinner

I began woking with the Chicago Urban League (CUL) back in 2014, photographing their annual Christmas event for the community. Earlier this year, I began designing marketing materials for them. The highlight of this partnership thus far, has been working on the 54th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner. This event is huge for the CUL, and draws about 1,600+ guests from the mayor of Chicago, on down to community leaders and corporate executives. It's a bit of a who's who of Chicago type event.

The event is a big deal. Below is an excerpt from the CUL's website about the event.

On Saturday, November 7, 2015, more than 1,600 of Chicago’s most notable corporate, civic and elected leaders committed to building a better Chicago will convene for the Chicago Urban League’s 54th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner at the Hilton Chicago. Themed: Inspiration for the Next Generation, we will celebrate our dedication to inspiring the next generation of leaders by giving them access to the skills, training, and technology necessary to make lasting change and meaningful progress.

I love giving back to the community, but I often don't have time to really commit to meaningful initiatives. So, I give back the way I know best, through design. I've been doing this in organizations to which I am a member, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., 100 Black Men of Chicago for years, as well as the Boy Scouts of America.

 

I received the design brief from the CUL to create a look that would be different from the previous years, but not too far from the visual aesthetic to cause confusion about the event. I will share a few of the designs from the creative process and end with the final look and feel. I will even toss in photos of myself, wife, and friends. :-D

 

The original concept I had was to incorporate photos from the previous year right on the cover of the booklets.

The original concept I had was to incorporate photos from the previous year right on the cover of the booklets.

I wanted to make use of the equal sign inside of the "54", which is a part of the Urban League's logo. In hopes to escape the traditional fancy type, I used "arial black" and "futura fixed" fonts to give a clean updated look.

I wanted to make use of the equal sign inside of the "54", which is a part of the Urban League's logo. In hopes to escape the traditional fancy type, I used "arial black" and "futura fixed" fonts to give a clean updated look.

The next version kept everything the same, but went with a damask texture background to add a bit of luxury to the design.

The next version kept everything the same, but went with a damask texture background to add a bit of luxury to the design.

Eureka. The type and arrangement was set, the last change was to make sure the color was more of a maroon or burgundy. Boom. The look and feel was locked down.

Eureka. The type and arrangement was set, the last change was to make sure the color was more of a maroon or burgundy. Boom. The look and feel was locked down.

Proudly standing next to one of the light boxes along the red carpet as guests entered the event. The creative direction I gave was carried out by the internal CUL design team flawlessly. 

Proudly standing next to one of the light boxes along the red carpet as guests entered the event. The creative direction I gave was carried out by the internal CUL design team flawlessly. 

My clients, the development team at the CUL. These ladies definitely make sure their projects have the Kevin Davis Brand on it. (L-R, Erika Soria- Development Officer,  myself, Melanie Sillas- Development Officer, and Tawanna Streater- Vice President & Chief Development Officer.)

My clients, the development team at the CUL. These ladies definitely make sure their projects have the Kevin Davis Brand on it. (L-R, Erika Soria- Development Officer,  myself, Melanie Sillas- Development Officer, and Tawanna Streater- Vice President & Chief Development Officer.)

My lovely wife (far right), Ruth Davis, of www.ruthdavisbeauty.com, provided makeup artistry to the ladies of CUL development.

My lovely wife (far right), Ruth Davis, of www.ruthdavisbeauty.com, provided makeup artistry to the ladies of CUL development.

With my better half, Ruth.

With my better half, Ruth.

32 South State Street: Jordan Brand Store

 

Footaction and Nike's Jordan Brand teamed up to open a new store in Chicago, known as 32 South State Street, and held its grand opening last week. I first saw announcements for the store's opening all over Facebook a few weeks ago, and was immediately intrigued. The videos and teaser photos did as they were intended, made me eagerly await the opening of the store. Everyone knows I am a big fan of both the Nike and Jumpman brands, not because I am a sneakerhead or athlete, but because I am obsessed with mega brands and their cult followings. I like to see what they do to stay competitive, how well they adapt to market shifts, competition, embrace technology, and how well they attract new customers as well as retain old customers.

Nike is my preferred brand of choice when it comes to athletic gear (when I buy it). It's crazy how a swoosh or the silhouette of a leaping Micheal Jordan, or Jumpman can create such buzz and hype, but I love it.


Being a native Detroiter, I've been a lifelong Nike fan, but I hated Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Of course I would have loved for him to be a Detroit Piston, but that wasn't in the cards. With that said, I've never owned a pair of Jordan shoes, although I wanted one particular model, the Air Jordan VI. Who knows, one day I may grab a pair.

Fast Forward to 2015, I haven't been a Detroit Pistons fan in who knows how long, and now I live in Chicago. Isn't it funny how life works out? I have since come to appreciate the accomplishments of MJ and his contributions to the game, not only on the court but off the court as well. I am surrounded daily by the fruits of MJ's labor and the love folks have for him in this city.

When my brand grows up, I want it to be like the Jordan Brand- an asset itself, but can be a powerhouse with the right partnerships and collaborations. I want Kevin Davis Brand to be that brand to be affiliated with, and have the same dignity of simplicity and consistent execution as the Jordan Brand.

I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man! - Jay-Z on Kanye West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”

 

2015 has been a pretty big year for Nike and Jordan Brand fans. Back home (unless you're a Michigan State Fan), you were pretty geeked up about this partnership coming back home to Ann Arbor. The internet sort of went nuts as the University of Michigan announced they were reestablishing their partnership with Nike Team Sports, and that Jumpman would be providing uniforms and equipment for their football team.

The excitement behind this partnership goes back to when Michigan's basketball team was dope in the 90s, and made waves in the NCAA. This blessed union between Nike and Michigan gave us the Air Flight Huarache shoes, the signature long basketball shorts, and  low black socks adorned with the Nike swoosh- which were all unheard of in that era. So for us Michigan fans, this is a return to the golden era of Michigan Athletics, not just on the basketball court. You know, connecting product and/or brand with a life experience- all that marketing stuff, right?

So, as you see was quite excited to see this type of partnership come to life less than three miles from my home after the Michigan announcement.

 

The other big announcement sandwiched between the Michigan/Nike/Jumpman and the 32 South State Street  announcements,  was the collaboration between the Jordan Brand and Supreme. Supreme is known primarily as a skateboard culture company specializing in apparel, which has it's own cult following, to which my teenage sons are within that number- unless they aren't anymore, their brand loyalty is as consistent as midwest weather most of the time.

After seeing tons of videos and posts from the Jordan Brand Facebook page, I decided to head downtown after a meeting to check out the new store. You can't miss this store, which is in the middle of one of the busiest shopping districts in Chicago. Amidst all of the skyscrapers and glossy storefronts, you are greeted by a simple white facade with horizontal lines and a Jumpman logo with a glowing outline. It almost looks like an art gallery, which isn't that far off once you go inside.

Footaction and Nike wanted to make sure this venture was truly "From Chicago, For Chicago", which is the consistent message through out the store and is on display before you enter the it.  In the front window, there are two sculptures designed by Chicago artist, Hebru Brantley, who is known for his playful characters sporting goggles appearing in many areas of the city.

The figures, one black and one white, are his interpretation of the iconic Jumpman logo.

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On the left wall as soon as you enter the store, another Hebru Brantley original can't be missed. He painted Micheal Jordan with his signature goggles you find on many of his art works.

Along with Hebru Brantley, another Chicago artist has work on display in the store, TrashHand. TrashHand is a dope photographer I began following on Instagram a few years back. It's cool to see him go from social media photographer, to doing iPhone photography course at the Apple Store. Many of his shots are lining the walls of the new store, and special edition shirts were also available for sale during the grand opening featuring his photos.

Jordan artifacts line the display case beneath the huge Hebru Brantley mural.

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On the other side of the wall is the Footaction store, which was unlike any I have seen before. There are many special and limited release items in the store, again you can't miss the connection to the city in the store. 

During my visit to the store, I was able to meet one of the sales associates, Caleb, who happened to be a marketing student at University of Illinois at Chicago (also known as my day job). He gave his school a shout out after seeing the logo on my jacket (I'm always representing something when I walk out the house). Being a brand geek, I stopped and talked to Caleb about the new store and what it meant to him. He said the already loves working there and that Nike has taught him so much about marketing, placement, and positioning as it related to appealing to the buying signals and senses of customers. 

Overall Thoughts

I think the store is dope and I plan on returning one day after work, when the crowd is smaller and I can truly explore it. I do wish I could have gone upstairs and seen the indoor basketball court and training facility, also known as "Station 23" . Those areas are not open to the public daily.

If you are a Nikehead or sneakerhead, or just someone who appreciates dope things, it's worth the trip down to 32 South State Street and taking it all in. if you are into the sneaker culture, you already know the price points inside of the store LOL.

I'm a fan because of the marketing campaign, the branding, and the commitment to making this a local thing.