ROI in Acronym City

I have nicknamed our campus Acronym City.

We have developed a language all our own at UM-Flint.  Where else in the world would you hear a sentence like, “FYI, I have a meeting in UPAV with DSA, UREL, and the Dean of SHPS and then I’m going to UCEN.”

An outsider might utter their own acronym after hearing that:  OMG. Or possibly the now ubiquitous LOL.

However, in this sea of abbreviations, there is one acronym I think should be used abundantly and without restraint.  That acronym is ROI–Return on Investment.

One of my UR BFF’s, Andrea Yinger, has been studying this very issue as she works toward completion of her MFA degree in Media Design from Full Sail University. (Disclosure note:  Andrea graduates in September, and I am enormously proud of her.  This program has been fantastic for Andrea, and all of us on staff have learned from her throughout her studies).   In a recent staff meeting, Andrea spoke about marketing measurement, and how it is absolutely essential to any marketing campaign.  Even failures become valuable when they are measured.

Along with Andrea, I have been thinking about ROI quite a bit lately as we put in place our marketing plan for the new fiscal year.  Often, I have many well-intentioned people tell me that they see advertisements for other universities in newspapers, on billboards, or on radio and television.  The problem with these types of media is that while the sales team will tell you how many readers, impressions, listeners or viewers will see your ad, there is truly no way to measure if people will see your advertisements.  Newspapers, billboards, radio and television use antiquated measurement systems that gives rough estimates, but cannot guarantee if anyone paid attention to your advertisement.  That is a huge problem.

In fairness to these older standards of advertising, it stands to reason that if you buy a billboard on the busiest stretch of I-75, place an ad in the first section of a newspaper, or buy the highest-rated radio or television broadcast, you will likely get someone to see or hear your message. However, it is not an exact science, but more a “spray and pray” approach that is incredibly difficult to quantify.

Some of the best ways to measure marketing ROI comes from a very old-fashioned marketing method as well as from something that is somewhat cutting edge.  Direct mail is still a powerful form for marketing, and it is simple to measure results.  Internet and social media marketing offers the most in-depth and complete information on ROI.  For instance, anytime we run a campaign on Facebook, we receive immediate reports on the demographics of who saw the advertisement, and who took an action, such as clicking on the ad which links to a website.  From there, we can measure how long someone looks at the information on the website.

A department that has really embraced marketing ROI is the Office of Graduate Programs.  For many years now, they have made it part of their process to measure the return on their marketing dollars.  They do this by simply asking inquiring individuals, “How did you hear about us?”  It really is as simple as that.  Ask people how they have heard about you, and then track your results.  There are even marketing ROI calculators available online for you to test out your plans before you make your purchase.  Arm yourself with facts and figures before you make your move.

During these times of tight budgets, measuring how the money is spent is not just essential, it should be required.  Marketing dollars are precious and should not be wasted.  Copycat marketing, buying into sales pitches, and (my personal favorite) doing things as usual because “that’s how we’ve always done it” needs to end.  Now.

If you are not measuring ROI, you may want to consider a marketing lifestyle makeover.  Every time you are planning to spend a marketing dollar, decide how you will measure your results. In Acronym City, ROI should be your BHAG or your efforts may end up DOA.

Jen Hogan