Alumni Column: A Lesson in Marketing



American Express has been consistently ranked as one of the best global brands, with an estimated brand value of $14 billion (Inter­brand, 2010).

I have been an American Express Card member for years, but it wasn’t until I joined the company as an employee that I gained an appreciation for how powerful the brand has been built and managed. I can now summarize it into one word: marketing.

During the recent Real World event there was a lot of interest expressed in marketing, but also a fair amount of confusion. From an ex­ternal perspective, I can appreciate that market­ing, as a business function, can appear nebulous with lots of gray areas shared with functions such as sales and advertising.

However, if you think about marketing as the central function or the “hub of the wheel” that supports the growth and development of a brand, I think the function will become clearer.

Marketers live and breathe product strat­egy. Competition is always fierce and you need to continually find ways to be innovative and differentiate your offering. You constantly evaluate your market position and think about what’s next.

Whether you are marketing a product such as Coke or a service such as Netflix, your responsibility as a marketer is two­fold: (1) attract new customers and (2) retain existing customers.

You are always asking questions like: Who are my target customers? What types of prod­ucts or services are they seeking? Where do they shop? What type of messaging and advertising will attract their attention?

Some will argue that attracting new custom­ers is relatively easy when compared to retain­ing existing customers. Encouraging trial is step one, but the ultimate goal is to develop a long lasting relationship with your customer. Mar­keters work on developing life cycle marketing strategies to foster customer loyalty. At each stage of the customer life cycle, your challenge is to introduce relevant and compelling reasons for the customer to continue to engage with the brand – e.g. renew a Netflix subscription. Whether that’s a special pricing promotion or introducing new enhanced benefits, it’s the job of the marketer to figure out the right next step.

As a member of the Alumni Council, I had the pleasure of meeting with President Herbst while in Hamilton in January. President Herbst wears many hats in his role, but one of them is most certainly as the Chief Marketing Officer of Colgate.

Like American Express, Colgate University is also a very valuable brand that has enjoyed a strong legacy as a leading institution. To preserve this legacy, President Herbst’s mar­keting responsibility is also twofold: (1) build and manage the Colgate brand to attract new students and (2) leverage the brand to engage current students and alumni.

I would challenge everyone to put on their marketing hat and help President Herbst find new and innovative ways to differentiate Col­gate. There are the rational elements such as the liberal arts curriculum, faculty, campus, etc., but there are also the emotional elements to consider that are often the most compelling dif­ferentiators. What made you come to Colgate? How do you feel your experience compares to your friends’ at other universities?

From an alumni perspective, I can assure you that Colgate goes above and beyond to keep you engaged post-graduation.

But it’s a two-way street. Being nominated to serve on the Alumni Council was a wonder­ful invitation for me to take an active role in marketing Colgate to the broad alumni com­munity. I chair the District Clubs commit­tee and have a first-hand view of the amazing work that district clubs do to foster strong alumni connections. With hundreds of events scheduled around the world to bring alumni together, this is a real example of how “lifecycle marketing” works. The bottom line is that mar­keting Colgate should be a collective effort by both students and alumni.

We all have an ongoing responsibility to promote Colgate to the world and showcase what a truly exceptional university it is. So, if you are considering a career in marketing, consider Colgate as your first job!