Customer Spotlight: University of Dayton

By Lauren Murray — Tuesday, January 30th, 2018 at 11:00am

A trend in higher education over the last few years has been for organizations to shift their marketing efforts to focus on online and digital strategies to recruit prospective students.  This has caused tension between the IT and Marketing teams because previously, the website was mostly managed by IT.  Many organizations are now realizing that both teams need to work together to create the best website.  I recently spoke with Darren Elking from the University of Dayton about how their IT/Marketing strategy.  At the University of Dayton, the website is owned by Marketing, but the IT team owns Cascade CMS.  Learn more about how they successfully work together.

What prompted the creation of the joint team?

We have a joint team between IT and Marketing that we've termed WebMAT (Web Management Advisory Team). There are two developers, including myself, as a Team Lead of Web Development, Web Services manager, and 3 members of Marketing that include the VP, Director, and Assoc. Director of Integrated Marketing.  Over the years, the team has evolved as folks have left, come on board, or been reassigned.  But five of us were part of the original team.  We try to keep the team smaller so that we can discuss topics and come to decisions.  

About two web redesigns ago (about 6 years ago), we decided to hold a regularly scheduled meeting between IT and Marketing as we worked through a website redesign.  Marketing owns our external website (udayton.edu) and contracts with a design agency every few years to rebrand it.  Historically Marketing would get the final design and then hand it off to IT for implementation.  This process left much up to interpretation by the development team without a complete understanding of the new brand and message.  Adding to the issues was the lack of consistency in deliverables by the design agency from project to project.  We saw regularly scheduled meetings as a way to keep the lines of communication open as the development team implemented the new design.  It allowed the developers to ask questions, prioritize features, and provide status updates on Marketing.  Marketing, in turn, would know exactly where we stood in the implementation of the new design.  The regularly scheduled meetings were, and still are, a necessity for us as most of us have full schedules.  Without a standing meeting, we knew the group would fizzle as would the communication.

Why did you decide to make the joint team permanent?

The first site rebrand we did after the formation of the joint team was a huge success, both in regards to implementing the intended brand and the communication to the wider campus.  After launching the new design, there were outstanding questions/issues we needed to address so we kept the group together, meeting on a less frequent basis.  Initially, we met every week for an hour but after launch, we backed it down to an hour every other week.  Working through the post-launch issues as a joint team made decision making easier and the combined marketing and IT expertise got us to better solutions than if we made decisions in a silo.  We quickly realized the benefit of the meetings and decided they would be a permanent fixture.

We still meet every other week for an hour, tackling an agenda that is built with topics that come up during the weeks between meetings.  We keep meeting minutes so that we can refer to decisions we made and why.  The joint team provides a way for us to take website enhancement requests and evaluate them using both IT and marketing perspectives.  For the most part, no one team or person is responsible for turning down or approving an enhancement request.  An individual will often respond to the requester but has the backing and reasoning of the WebMAT team.  Existing projects help determine priorities and timelines.  As a development team, we like to say, "we can build anything but what do you want?" when talking about new development.  The key for our websites is to only develop new features that align with the brand.  The joint team allows us to vet these new features before doing any work.

What is the team dynamic?  Do you still keep marketing and IT functions separate or do you try to co-educate each other?

Marketing and IT still function as completely separate units.  Marketing handles more than just the external web presence and our development team handles more than just the website development.  We try to recognize where requests or decisions might overlap or impact the other unit.  In those cases, we'll add an item to the agenda or send it out to the group for feedback via email.  Over the years, we've gotten pretty good at identifying where there is overlap or impact.  If we're not sure, we often present it to the team and move forward.

There's absolutely co-education between the two units.  Our developers now have a better handle as to what the brand means to the University and how that might impact a decision.  Or how a change we make on the development side might impact the workload on Marketing.  Marketing has a better handle on when development might be required for new features or changes to existing features.  There are even times when we ask the other unit if they've heard of a project that's in the works to provide a sort of "heads up this is coming".  It's a matter of development understanding the why behind a new brand and it's elements.  And for Marketing its understanding that a change here might impact this other feature there.  We have a good cross-section of expertise that helps inform decisions from different perspectives.

Other than the occasional team member turnover, the team has been fairly static.  This is likely to change in the near future.  The WebMAT team is beginning to tackle our internal intranet (portal) in tandem with an external site change.  The reasons for this change is that we're going to be making a push to get our internal content off the public website and into our intranet site.  The intranet site hasn't been given much priority or focus so it's become a point of pain for our users.  A few times we've invited a campus group to a WebMAT meeting to discuss a topic. This is especially true for difficult conversations or complex situations.

What have you learned from one another or about your users since starting the team?

Our communication to our Cascade CMS user base has improved. There's a level of expertise from the Marketing team about communication and wording for tough sell announcements.  IT is able to provide some insight into communications to make sure statements and claims are accurate.  We've learned that our Cascade CMS user base has a wide-ranging set of skills.  Some of the more technical users need more technical answers where our least technical users benefit more from marketing responses.  

The biggest thing we've learned about each other is, we're seeking the same thing.  We want an easy to maintain, highly functional external facing website that attracts prospective students.  The joint team makes sure we're operating lockstep; we are moving together in the same direction toward that goal.  It's given us a way and reason to keep communication ongoing at all times, not just during a rebrand.  We don't always see things the same way and being able to discuss those differing perspectives makes our team decisions stronger.  We're better as a team than as a singular unit.  Users get a unified message from the two units guiding the website.

A few other things we've learned - Even if there is a technical solution, it doesn't make it right to develop. Functionality and content reuse is often possible even if not evident at first.  We've learned as a team to get down to the root of the requests so we're solving the business problem.  Users are often accepting of “NO” if the reasoning is communicated to them.

What stats or analytics data do you use to determine the impact of your work?  Do you look at any other information, quantitative or otherwise, to gain insights?

We use various online site analyzers, Google analytics and perform some A|B testing when needed to help inform decisions.  We try to make changes specific to hitting a measurable goal so we know if there was an impact.  Most of this work falls to Marketing, specifically our integrated marketing team.  They communicate the goals in WebMAT of changes they'd like to see in specific metrics.  Then we come up with some solutions and implement the best one.  Sometimes marketing is armed with A|B test results to show that one solution is potentially better than another.

You regularly host a user group on campus every few months.  Tell us a little more about how that started and what the outcome has been.

During one of the rebrands, we got the idea to host all Cascade CMS users at a user group meeting.  The goal was to present the new design and outline how the site migration process was going to proceed.  They walked out of the meeting knowing that we were going from design A to design B, how we were going to get there, and the timeline.  There was such positive feedback that we decided to do another one as a status check but left it more open-ended so content editors could ask questions as they were preparing their sites.  Again, users felt they were in the know, improving their view of the impending work so we decided to try and have a user group meeting once a quarter.

We don't always stick to that schedule but generally when there are large changes planned, we schedule one. Our Web Services manager (IT position) coordinates the meeting and meeting space.  We typically use a larger auditorium classroom to accommodate a group size ranging from 80 to 150. The meetings generally last about an hour and a half.  We try to stick to about 2 or 3 topics so as not to overwhelm our Cascade users.  Topics vary depending on the place in the brand cycle we're in but have ranged from Cascade CMS 7 to  Cascade CMS 8, making the most of analytics, new features we added to the site, present a new brand, and cover frequently asked questions.  We try to present the user group meetings as a joint effort between Marketing and IT so we make an effort to have speakers from both units.  WebMAT decides on and presents the topics.  Our website branding and messaging has become more consistent across University units.  There is always time at the end of the meeting for questions from our Cascade CMS users.  Allowing the entire group to hear these questions helps them understand where they're doing things right or wrong.  Or how to solve a problem they're having that another unit just worked through.

I believe our biggest success comes from the joint message of Marketing and IT.  Generally speaking, changes to the website aren't being dictated by a single unit on campus.  It's the joint efforts of IT and Marketing to provide the best user experience as possible on our websites.

If you'd like to be featured in a Hannon Hill Customer Spotlight blog post, please contact Lauren Murray at lauren.murray@hannonhill.com.

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