What’s next after advertising and content

I have been away for the past month in a combination of work-related and holiday travels. I personally find this time out of the office useful to take stock of what we have been doing and what changes in direction we might have to take.

It was in one of the many artisanal cafes that have sprung up in Singapore recently that I thought about how our MBA marketing efforts have evolved in the time since I joined CJBS. At the time, our budget was predominantly skewed towards advertising and that was split between print and online advertising. We then re-oriented our marketing to become more social and, to support that new focus, to create more content. The content we produced was a mix of text, audio and video, and focused largely on the student experiences, addressing concerns about an MBA and the admissions process.

More recently, we have made a subtle but significant change in the type of content we produce. We started to produce content that we felt would be of interest to our pool of prospective candidates and that drew upon the Cambridge networks and connections that a CJBS student could tap into. In most cases, there wasn’t even an explicit link to the Cambridge MBA. To me, this was quite a courageous step because we were now making educated guesses about the issues that our pool of candidates would be interested in, finding people who had insightful things to say about these issues, and thinking of engaging ways to produce such content.

I am not a natural at articulating my thoughts, so it was a pleasant relief to come across this slideshare by John Willshire (@willsh), which I feel captures many of my thoughts. Willshire developed Artefact cards which my colleagues at CJBS would know as the pack of yellow cards that I carry with me to meetings. These cards are large enough to contain one idea but small enough to force one to be very succinct in articulating that one idea, and in a wonderful example of eating one’s own dogfood, John’s presentation relies heavily on his Artefact cards. Slide 3 has his tagline which also coincidentally explains what we were doing in terms of shifting our content. Briefly, it says that it is better to make things people want than it is to make people want things.

At this point, I should say that there have been benefits to the Cambridge MBA from producing such content. People who have appeared on our podcasts have deepened their engagement with the Cambridge MBA by becoming speakers on our concentrations or inviting our students to participate in events that they have organised. It is just that the benefits become harder to measure in a linear fashion and to me, that’s a logical consequence of how brands are now more complex. See slides 81-83 of John Willshire’s presentation.

This shift towards making things people want has also been extended to the school’s website. Before a recent revamp, the school’s home page only contained brief information about our programmes with links to more extensive landing pages for each programme. I had always felt this was unsatisfactory because this sent a message to the outside world that the school was only interested in running programmes. CJBS, and any other school for that matter, has to be, and is more than just a collection of degree programmes and executive education. So, the new website now features a wealth of content generated from our faculty, students and alumni.

I also think it is great that with the school rightfully generating more content, we are now free to think of the next phase of our marketing. It is becoming clear that marketing has to become more intertwined with what we do in the school. On the other hand, many organisations regard marketing as an afterthought in the same way that a person in charge of a factory would turn to the marketing office and say, now sell this. I am also coming to the view that what people want is to learn, and to be part of a community that learns together. It will be our challenge to think of how we can tie these threads together.

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