Creativity Without Conversion Equals Zero

university-of-the-pacificLast week I had the opportunity to lecture in the content engineering class at the University of the Pacific (UOP), where I’m an executive-in-residence for digital marketing and media and where I have helped design the curriculum. For the last few years, I lecture every semester on the newest technology-drivers.

What a difference a few years make and I am pleased to say that change is afoot at the university and across the U.S., as schools are now building programs geared to meet the critical requirements of business in some of the most sought-after areas of marketing: social media, content marketing, and content analytics, where clearly an imbalance exists between skills taught in classrooms and the skills sought in the marketplace. A few years ago many of the students questioned the value of analytics.

This time I presented my case study of a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company using cross-channel analytics, correlating online and retail behavior, utilizing mobile apps, iBeacons, and augmented reality. I’ve written about it here. In class we mapped out just where content was created, who created it, and where measurements are needed. We talked about CPG company goal of increasing lifetime value (LTV), greater customer engagement, and we designed calls to action and discussed and identified conversion events and stages. We talked about metrics for augmented reality, profile information, and purchase history and their relationship and how we look to normalize structured and unstructured information in analytic applications. We discussed what person in the process is responsible for what action. They get it.

Universities and their business partners are indeed looking for ways to leverage their current curriculum toward a higher technological quotient. They see the need to produce graduates with the skills geared for today’s competitive environment. Yet teaching “Internet marketing” and “how to” classes – most often a minor repackaging of traditional marketing – is only a quick fix when instead we need an earth-moving overhaul at a foundational level.

For the last four years, UOP has been creating a program that addresses the needs of graduates, one that leverages the university’s existing curriculum in business, liberal arts, and engineering, but also remains adaptable to train students in new competencies as the market changes dynamically. When we started the program, few students in the liberal arts school studied the scientific method of test and control or used analytic tools. Today, students in the content engineering course build websites and use analytic tools to test and optimize the results. Some sites have thousands of visitors a day. They are learning that creativity without conversion equals zero.

We need to create a stronger culture of measurement in higher education, one that is market-based and rewards innovation. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, has called for a fundamental shift in thinking about the way students are educated. He writes, “The old model, where you go to college and then go out and find a job, is largely outmoded. It needs to be replaced with a new model, in which college years are spent explicitly preparing for an occupation.”

U.S. higher education – long a source of pride and differentiation across the globe – is undergoing a true crisis of value and identity. Pundits wonder whether universities are the next “bubble” of the U.S. economy, and university students are questioning whether their high-priced education and gargantuan debt loads – up more than 50 percent after inflation from a dozen years ago – will position them for a college-worthy career.

Says Jim Sterne, chairman of the Digital Analytics Association, “The need for analysts and content engineers who can determine the value of content is so great that our association’s online courses have been steadily sold out since inception in 2006. When times are good, companies invest in tools and systems.”

conversion-educationThe market needs well-trained content marketers who can create compelling content and measure and optimize that content using new analytics, predictive modeling, business intelligence (BI), marketing, and content management tools.

Marketing students should be given rigorous, cross-disciplinary training in writing, analytics, and technology; engineering students should be taught to create content; and English, journalism, and communications students should be taught about optimizing content for business value.

“I’m pioneering content engineering in our English department focusing on teaching the latest tools of analysis, analytics, and optimization alongside traditional writing and marketing techniques,” says Dr. Eric Sonstroem, the UOP English department chair. “I’m determined that my students really understand how content works on the Web, how it can be tested and measured, and how you can act on the data you get back.”

While classroom teaching is critical, UOP is also in the planning stage of a “hands on” content lab for its new campus in downtown San Francisco, opened last month near Twitter, Adobe, and in the city’s start-up SoMa district. It is envisioned that the lab will create, utilize and test software applications, conduct research, and educate students on content creation and analytic applications, and that students will intern within the tech community headquartered in the area.

UOP is certainly not the only institution of higher learning to address the data-driven marketplace needs, but the one I’m most familiar with, and other schools are today launching their own programs. Innovation is part of the U.S. DNA, and has been for centuries. Our institutions of higher education have been moving at a glacial pace but it’s beginning to thaw as the heat of market demand for digital sophisticates is “melting” the slow rate of change in higher education. We need to turn up the heat.

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A cartoon depicting web analytics. It shows a bubble with the letters WWW in it, surrounded by "click! click!". An arrow leads from the bubble to a notepad with graphs and charts on it. Another arrow leads to a chart on a piece of paper, with a lightbulb next to it, which leads on to a spanner with the words "tweak! tweak!" next to it. In the bottom left corner is a box with four bullet points in it: gather, report, analyse and optimise.
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