University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) commissioned SimpsonScarborough to conduct a marketing and communicatons assessment along with a comprehensive image and branding study in the Fall of 2009. As a result of the project, UMSL hired Ron Gossen, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Marketing Officer. We spoke with Ron to learn about UMSL’s progress since our project was completed in the Spring of 2010.
Q. What let UMSL to commission SimpsonScarborough?
A. Under the direction of UMSL Vice Chancellor Martin Liefeld, UMSL empaneled a faulty/staff/external review committee of marketing and communications experts from the St. Louis region to evaluate the need for contemporary market research and, if indicated, selected the most capable consultant. SimpsonScarborough was chosen from a highly competitive field to conduct brand research and to provide strategic guidance in addressing the findings. The result included the suggestion of creating an empowered chief marketing officer at the senior staff level. “Empowered” is a critically important term in the recommendations and in subsequent implementation.
Q. What has surprised you the most since coming to UMSL in the role of CMO?
A. Often, marketers in newly created CMO positions are handed a plate of chopped liver and told to sell it as steak. I was handed a filet mignon and told to make it sizzle. The combination of SimpsonScarborough’s brand research and their analysis of the UMSL marketing and communications functions encouraged the institution to adopt a “marketing orientation”. When I came aboard, UMSL was convninced that both brand management and marketing were absolutely essential in our highly competitive (12 bricks-and-mortar higher-ed institutions) St. Louis market.
Q. Since SimpsonScarborough completed their assessment and branding identity, what outcomes has UMSL experienced?
A. By every measurable and metric, UMSL’s marketing and brand identity has made great strides. Over the past two years, attendance at our spring and fall open houses has doubled, and then doubled again to the point that we’ve added a second spring event. Our first-time freshmen and transfer applications have set records, with our applications for fall 2012 up 18% at this point. An independent brand awareness survey found that our SimpsonScarborough research-spawned positioning statement (UMSL: Serious Education. Serious Value) had more than double the top-of-mind awareness share of any competitor in the marketplace, that over 80% of the audience agreed that it “fit” UMSL “well” (versus 7.5% who disagreed), and that there was a 7:1 ratio of those whose opinion of the institution had become more favorable, compared to less favorable over the year (27% more favorable, 4% less favorable).