Thursday, May 5, 2011

Projects drive success of Interactive Marketing Program

We just completed a successful project with Restaurant.com in which our students in the advanced course Marketing 470 (Interactive Marketing Technology) worked in groups and acted as affiliates to Restaurant.com and used two marketing channels to drive traffic to their own landing pages. The students chose their own channels and measured and reported the results.

The channels chosen included email, google adwords, facebook advertising, twitter campaigns, facebook fan pages and contests and some offline channels such as campus-wide flyers and ads in our campus newspaper. Overall, we drove almost $8,000 worth of traffic to the site in the form of new Restaurant.com certificates in a four week period, 10% of which will be donated to a charity of the students' choice.

Students in this project got to compare channels and see the synergies in both. It was a great opportunity as a professor to coach them through the challenges and rewards of a real-life marketing campaign. This project is unprecedented in terms of interactive marketing education in its design and scope and in the level of involvement of the project company. Students had to work with Restaurant.com to get their plans approved and implemented and learned about project management and how to get things done in a company as well as about channel strategies and channel synergy.

Students learned about the legal aspects of marketing as one group had planned a campaign around "March Madness." When they learned it was a trademarked term, the group switched to "Buzzer Beater" as the tag line for its offers. This integrated campaign using emails and adwords advertisements around certain themed events and holidays performed well.

We used Omniture reports and Google Analytics to report the results and also some of the analysis tools from Facebook and other sources as appropriate.

Another advisory board member, Alterian, donated the use of its SM2 software in our classroom, which is a social media monitoring package. This tool was also invaluable in our project as we used the tool in conjunction with the keyword tool in google adwords to find out how people talk about Restaurant.com so we could refine our marketing campaigns. One group used twitter and facebook exclusively to drive traffic to the site and also blogged on influential sites as identified by SM2.

We also used Alterian's SM2 product in the Marketing 370 (Internet Marketing) course taught by Dr. Lauren Lacbrecque. Students chose a particular company and monitored the social media buzz and made recommendations for improving the company's social media buzz.

I am reminded of other successful student projects over the years in our program for Marketing 370:

2009-2010: Students participated in the Google Adwords challenge on a national basis and helped drive traffic to ten web sites that had not used Adwords in the past.

2009: A viral video campaign helped our interactive and sales programs and a startup firm rise high in the google search rankings. We were noted for our success improving our search rankings for our program through this this campaign in Aaron Goldman's book, "Everything I know about Marketing I learned from Google." I love talking to people who read the book and find out about our program that way.

2006-2008: Students also did live campaigns comparing two media channels and most of the groups helped raise money for charity. We raised over $10,000 for charity over three years, primarily for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (supporting my, Dr. Zahay-Blatz's, triathlons for that effort. Students were required to use email (Exact Target, which is also provided for use in our classroom by board member Exact Target) and one other channel and got to also got purchase lists and send out mailings or use social media, viral techniques and point of purchase and compare channel results.

2004-2005: Students worked on a variety of projects for industry including web site redesign efforts for major firms such as Careerbuilder, Teradata, Restaurant.com and Smurfit-Stone.

In our database and data mining course, Marketing 455, students have since the year 2005 been using data provided by the Direct Marketing Association based on real-life company datasets to analyzed marketing problems using statistical software and make suggestions based on the results.

It has been quite a journey from our first projects to this latest, most sophisticated real-world experiences that we provide our students. I know they are well prepared to begin their careers in interactive marketing.

If you want to get a taste of what we do in the classroom, come to our May 18th "Hot Topics in Internet Marketing Conference" http://www.internetmarketing.niu.edu. It's a lot like our classes except no grades or exams!!!
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