Remote Education Realities: Challenges Faced by Students, Academic Institutions – and Employers

Watching COVID-19 infection rates spread around the country – with record infection rates now predominantly in the Southern and Western Tiers – only underscores how hard a decision it is for public officials to resist science and public health experts and reopen their schools later this month. Colleges and universities, both public and private, also are weighing this tough decision.

In the private-sector companies, in the service sector, most workers will remain remote – connected by laptops, wi-fi and Zoom calls. It’s been an adjustment that employers and employees have had to make – some of us willingly in our comfortable home offices, summer houses and outdoor patios, and grateful to still be working.

Yet in the education sector, remote education is not so easy for many students (and educators). At least that’s what a Marketing EDGE student survey – conducted in late spring and released in a report last month – has revealed. It’s one thing for a student to pursue an online education by choice. It’s wholly another scenario when all students are forced into this transition by circumstances.

Remote Education, Not So Easy for Everyone

Marie Adolphe, Senior Vice President – Program Development, Marketing EDGE | Credit: Marketing EDGE

I recently spoke with Marie Adolphe, the study author and senior vice president of program development at Marketing EDGE, about what education – and the workplace – can take from the findings to improve the situation for “remote realities.” [Disclosure: I am an avid contributor to Marketing EDGE, a marketing education non-profit organization. Marketing EDGE also is a client.]

Chet Dalzell (CD): Thank you Marie for undertaking this research – which I have to say made me most curious as to how students handled this forced adjustment, heading home mid-semester from campus and picking up their studies online. In short, how have these young adults handled the situation overall?

Marie Adolphe (MA): The majority of students have managed the situation quite well; but, a significant minority, 23%, have struggled with this mode of learning. These students are in danger of being left behind, and the colleges and universities are looking for ways to support them as many go back online for the fall semester.

CD: What were some of the most cited challenges they have faced? 

MA: As you know, Chet, individuals learn in various ways, and for many students the interactive dynamics of the classroom is not only a preference, it is a necessity. The students we surveyed struggled to focus on their schoolwork due to the increased distractions of their home environment and the general chaos surrounding the pandemic. Students also struggled with the different teaching strategies generally employed online. Some reported increased assignments to make up for the lack of classroom discussions and stated that they felt like they were teaching themselves the material. One reason the results of this research were particularly alarming to those of us at Marketing EDGE is that some of the students struggling are also part of the diverse group of students who are the first in their family to attend college. It is a wake-up call for the marketing industry, especially in light of recent developments that have elevated calls for a more diverse pool of talent in our field. For the last few years, Marketing EDGE has heightened its focus on creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Given these tumultuous times, we’re doubling down on our efforts to work hand-in-hand with industry leaders and academics alike to provide support and resources so all students know there is a vibrant community within the marketing industry who is eager to welcome them into our field.

CD: What aspects of remote education do they appear to have well embraced? (My summer intern made the most of working remotely, but I wonder if it was as rewarding and engaging as it could have been for him.)

MA: Many students who participate in our programs have been making the most of the career related opportunities available this summer. We had more than 800 students participate in our EDGE Summer Series webinars where they learned about personal branding, sports marketing, e-commerce, and leadership. Students have also made the most of virtual internships, micro internships, and other opportunities to connect with brands and marketers. The resiliency that these students are learning will serve them well when in-person internships return and more importantly, as they prepare to take leadership positions later in their career.

CD: Is there any guidance or suggestions you believe educators, educational institutions – and employers with remote work forces – might take away from this study? Is Marketing EDGE planning any additional research or follow-up?

MA: It is important to find ways to connect with students (and employees) and to have them connect with each other. Our best advice to educators and employers is to first seek to understand the experiences of your students and workers by really listening to them. When possible, involve them in finding solutions and try to find consensus on how to move forward. We are all in unchartered waters and unleashing our inner creativity to solve these problems is a must. The solutions we find will not only support those who are struggling, they will help everyone else thrive, too. We will follow up with some of the respondents at the end of the upcoming fall semester to see if their experience of online learning has improved.

Student Struggles From Online Learning Transition

Source: “A Sudden Transition to Online Learning: The Student Perspective,” Marketing EDGE (2020)

The full report may be downloaded here.

Needed Again? The Ad Campaign That Saved New York

It’s midsummer, yet we are at a moment in time when tourism and travel ad campaigns are practically at a standstill, due to COVID-19 and our economic shutdown. Here in New York, the lights of Broadway will be out for not just the rest of summer, but the entire year (subscription required). Who knows if New Year 2021 will bring the bright lights back – and if so, the audiences, with billions in the balance.

The city also was recently met with the passing of Milton Glaser, the founder and publisher of New York magazine, and the graphics genius behind the now-ubiquitous “I❤NY” graphic.

A wise soul never bets against New York.

Another advertising genius, Mary Wells Lawrence — the first woman to found, own, and manage a major advertising agency (Wells Rich Greene, in 1966) – was honored last week with a Cannes Lions “Lion of St. Mark” for lifetime achievement. Her agency – with Glaser’s design – literally took a “deteriorating” New York and launched a Broadway-focused campaign that began the city’s (and state’s) path toward the world giant of tourism that it is today.

Here are some samples of work from this campaign in the early 1980s – note the direct-response call to action. Also of note, Glaser developed the graphics pro bono, and the jingle also was donated by composer Steve Karmen.

A Campaign That Sparked Imagination, Captured a Moment, and Practically Created a Category

New York will need nothing short of another seminal ad campaign – or campaign extension — to revise its fortunes once again.

This work was indeed seminal. Until that time (campaign launch, 1976-77), there were few state-funded tourism campaigns that captured America’s imagination as much as “I❤NY” – only “Virginia is for Lovers” (1969) comes to mind. “I❤NYmay not have invented the category, but it took travel and tourism marketing to new heights in public consciousness.

Famously left for bankruptcy by President Gerald Ford, New York City’s perceived state in the mid-1970s was nothing short of disastrous. Depopulation, crime (Son of Sam), blackouts (and looting), decrepit public transit… one might argue the city barely functioned, if at all.

But New York always fights back. The truth is the city never lost its global mantle atop finance, fashion, night life, the arts, and retail, among other sectors. Broadway is uniquely New York and – other than London’s West End – there was no greater concentration of live theater in all its forms than the Big Apple, so of course Broadway was going to be the initial focus of an ad campaign, which happened to open the door to New York’s comeback.

And oh, did it work, perhaps far beyond tourism and economic revival. It created an energy and mystique for the city that touched a chord with many – not just to visit New York, but to come to the city and live, take a chance, and forge our path in the pursuit of happiness. (When our pop heroes of the time – Blondie, the Rolling Stones, Kiss (Ace Frehley), Michael Jackson – are singing in and about you, adding a dose of parody, it’s also hard not to notice.) What followed in New York City is truly remarkable – a booming economy that even periodic stock market corrections and September 11 could not dislodge. These latter events, merely interruptions.

That is, until now.

A New Marketing Challenge – Who Wants to Step Up?

Even prior to COVID-19, New York has had new images and realities to contend with: a population that peaked in 2016, even amid a wildly successful tech and biomedical boom; Gen Z and Millennials with vitality and genius who can’t afford the price of entry – or, worse, feel it’s not worth it; strangulation by repugnant and short-sighted immigration curtailment and visa restrictions that serve to fail the American Dream. And now, it was the epicenter of a pandemic, which has brought into question the safety of dense population centers everywhere.

So how will NYC & Company, the State of New York Division of Tourism, and Empire State Development perhaps unite to revive New York’s fortunes this go-around?

It’s time for a Next Generation to dream big, strategize, and present the next seminal campaign (extension) that will “save” New York. I ask, who’s going to do it? Where are the next Mary Wells Lawrence and Milton Glaser?

How about you? If you and your agency are creating successful work right now, you can prove it: The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has now issued its 2021 International ECHO Awards call for entries. What makes the ANA ECHOs so unique is that each campaign is judged by peers based on data-informed strategy, creativity, and results in business outcomes that any c-suite would love. “Brilliant results. Executed brilliantly.”

Like the State and City of New York, thousands of brands right now need agency and marketing leadership that inspire, motivate, and move business and the economy. In both consumer and business markets, domestic and global, earning an ECHO shows data prowess in real campaigns that make a difference on the bottom line – attributes and outcomes that are in high demand. Take your best work from 2020 and enter, and I’m proud to say, I’ll have the opportunity to help judge that work this fall.

I’m eager to see the best. New York’s image curators ought to be watching as well.

How the Impact of COVID-19 Is Changing Marketing

Well, it’s not as if we can start 2020 all over again — we’re already halfway through this year thus far. Yet, we can say one thing, COVID-19 and its recessionary impacts may be hanging around awhile. How may this have changed marketing mid-year, and possibly changed it permanently?

Well, it’s not as if we can start 2020 all over again — we’re already halfway through this year thus far. Yet, we can say one thing: COVID-19 and its recessionary impacts may be hanging around awhile. How may this have changed marketing mid-year, and possibly changed it permanently?

Such prognostications have kept The Winterberry Group, a marketing research consultancy, plenty busy since March: reading the tea leaves of government data, industry interviews, marketing dashboards, econometric algorithms, and the like. Principal Bruce Biegel told a Direct Marketing Club of New York audience this past week that indeed June has been better than May, which was better than April — when the U.S. (and much of the global) economy was in free fall.

So what’s underway and what’s in store for us midyear? Have we turned a corner?

Our Comeback Will Not Be a U-Turn — ‘Swoosh!’

When unemployment shoots up to 17.1%, and 40 million American jobs either furlough or disappear, there’s going to be a lag effect. The “wallet” recession is upon us, as consumers hang onto their savings, or eat through them, so there’s not going to be the same level of demand that drives upward of two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

New York City is a COVID-19 epicenter — and the commercial real estate market may take five to 10 years to recover, reports The Economist (subscription required). Knowledge workers will return, eventually. But densely populated urban centers, where innovations accelerate the economy, may look and feel different for some time, and that in and of itself could hamper national and global growth. Can other innovation clusters stave off the virus to protect collaboration?

And then there’s our world of advertising. Biegel sees digital being a “winner,” as traditional media continues to take a drubbing. Linear TV spending dropped by a quarter this quarter, and direct mail by half. Experiential and sponsorship spending has been slashed by 75%, as concerts, live sports, conferences, and festivals all took a public health-ordered hiatus. Yet, even in digital categories, Q2 has yelled “ouch.”

Email is the only channel to have held its own, though pricing pressure has cut margins. Social, search, and digital display all have posted drops from 25% to 40% during the quarter — and though all our eyes were home watching Disney+, Netflix, and the like, even OTT/addressable TV ad spending was down by 5%. With the Newfronts coming this week, it will be interesting to see what types of digital media may post gains.

So if June’s “recovery” in media spend is any indication, Q3 (sans Olympics) and Q4 (yes, we’re still having an Election, last time I checked) should be solid though not buoyant. Biegel says it may be a “swoosh” recovery — think Nike’s logo — down fast, but up again slowly, steadily and resiliently. Which begs the questions: Can ad businesses, business models, and brands cope with a new reality?

The “new normal” is about coming out of the COVID-19 crisis — and half of executives surveyed by The Winterberry Group aren’t expecting miracles:

Medium-Term Budget Cuts

IAB-Winterberry Group State of Data (2020)

 Q3 Will Start a Recovery … of Sorts

Source: Advertiser Perceptions, Pivotal Research Group (2020), as reported by Winterberry Group

And, Biegel reported, that it may indeed take to 2024 — with COVID-19 firmly in a rear view mirror — for a recovery to be complete, according to IPG Mediabrands Magna. It is predicting a 4.4% ad spend contraction this year, a 4% recovery next year, and “subdued” results thereafter until mid-decade.

So How Have We Changed — and Will These New Behaviors Stick?

Some effects, though, may indeed have permanence in how Americans consume media — perhaps hastening trends already underway, or creating a whole rethink of how we act as consumers. Consider these impacts:

  • Streaming to TVs more than doubled during COVID-19 crisis. Have we rewired our video consumption habits away from scheduled programming for good?
  • Mobile data traffic surged 380% in March alone. Consumers have taken to their smartphones everywhere — so how has mobile viewing altered consumer’s screen habits across devices, and will it stick?
  • DTC brands and catalogs know all about remote selling — and so do millions of consumers who have now come to love shopping this way.
  • Video game use is up 60% — opening the door to more in-game advertising opportunities. This may change the mix of brands seeking to engage consumers there.
  • In January there were 280,000 posted job openings in data analytics. There are 21,000 today. More than half of marketers expect predictive modeling and segmentation to occupy their marketing strategy concerns for the balance of 2020.
  • Tangible value matters. Consumers will be demanding more pricing benefits from brand loyalty, and less VIP experiences. We may be getting tired of lockdowns but we are steadfast in a recession, savings conscious mindset.
  • Business travel – yes, your clients may be returning to the office, but do they really want to see YOU? What can B2B marketers and sellers achieve virtually?

It’s ironic, Biegel said, that privacy laws and the crumbling cookie are making customer recognition harder in the addressable media ecosystem, just as consumers expect and demand to be recognized. Identity resolution platforms will evolve to cope with these new marketplace realities — both of which are independent of COVID-19 – but the solutions will bring forth a blend of technologies, processes, and people yet to be fully formulated. These are still open and important marketplace issues.

So assuming we’re healthful health-wise, we have some challenges ahead in ad land. I’m glad to have some guideposts in this unprecedented time.

The U.S. Postal Service Needs Financial Protection

Even in crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19, there’s not likely to be new postal reform bill any time soon. So here we are now: the U.S. Postal Service needs financial protection.

COVID-19 may have frozen ad budgets, including direct mail, but the financial woes of the U.S. Postal Service have pre-dated the current crisis. Calls for postal reform to facilitate all types of fiscal fixes have gone unanswered, despite bipartisan support to get the job done. Huge Congressional mandates from 2006 to pre-fund healthcare costs for future retirees – which do not exist to any such extent in the private sector – are just one example of how politicking gets in the way of running USPS more efficiently.

On paper, the U.S. Postal Service should be holding its own. And it had been through the end of last year.

A Formidable Job of Management Couldn’t Predict a Crash

Mix and match, but it’s been managed. In 2010, First-Class Mail volume was 77.6 billion pieces. In 2019, it was 54.7 billion – a nearly 30% decline. Marketing Mail also declined, but less precipitously – from 81.8 billion pieces to 75.7 billion. Meanwhile, as direct-to-consumer (DTC) shopping has taken hold, parcel volume has doubled from 3.1 billion to 6.2 billion package deliveries, making the USPS truly the Greatest Carpool on Earth. (Happy Earth Day.)

And though there is mail volume decline, the “mail moment” remains vital, and delivery points have increased from 150.9 million in 2010 to 160 million in 2019. Against this expanse, the USPS has shed 93,000 jobs in 10 years, maintaining 497,000 positions in 2019.

Throughout all this, USPS operating revenue has increased to more than $71 billion, from $67 billion in 2010. Rate hikes have been predictable and better managed. So why the carnage?

Yes, it’s COVID-19. Mail volumes reportedly have dropped by 30% since the crisis began. Add to this the hands-tied effects of the Congressional mandates – and it’s no wonder the USPS Postmaster General is seeking a “we need cash” bailout. This time, will Congress – and The White House – answer the call? According to The Washington Post, as of Friday, April 24, President Trump stated he would not approve of emergency aid for the Postal Service if it didn’t raise prices for package delivery immediately.

We Can Debate the Amount – But Let’s Recognize These Heroes at Work

The U.S. Postal Service is a quasi-governmental operation that answers by U.S. Constitution to the American people – but is called upon to run as a business. And it indeed tries. Yet it can’t just set rates on its own, as everyone gets a voice in rate-making and operations, even competitors.

Even in crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19, there’s not likely to be new postal reform bill any time soon. So here we are now: the U.S. Postal Service needs financial protection.

It’s hard to blame the USPS, but that doesn’t stop President Trump from calling out sweetheart deals that don’t exist. Add to the cacophony those who wish to privatize – answer to shareholders instead of the public – and sparks fly. Postal labor interests, for one, are powerful – and so are marketing mail and parcel customers. No one wants to upend the letter carrier.

But a virus might just do that.

So as I put on my mask and gloves, and go to the mailbox as part of my daily heightened ritual, I retrieve my personally addressed parcels, flats and letters. I spray them with Lysol. I open and read each piece, and I recycle each piece when I’m done (Happy Earth Day again). And I wish Godspeed, and a few billion tax dollars, to all these postal heroes who are keeping American commerce every day in movement. We need you. America needs you. Thank you.

Brands Need to Keep Engaging – Don’t Just Stop Because of Crisis

We are in extraordinary times – and it’s only prudent to recognize this. While the Fed may be doing everything possible to keep our economy afloat, we likely will remain in limbo until a public health victory is apparent. It’s time to take stock of what we do on behalf of our brands and clients, to immediate effect.

Among thousands of businesses these past two-plus weeks, many of us have effectively handed our marketing decisions over to finance and accounting. Which means, if you’re not producing an immediate revenue gain, you’re probably being cost-reduced to the bone, if not entirely out of work. Such is the illiquidous, flash-frozen effect of COVID-19 on our economy. We’ve lost more U.S. jobs in three weeks than we did during the expanse of the Great Recession.

Cash is in crunch, and though The Fed may be doing everything possible to keep our economy afloat (will it work?) we likely will remain in limbo until a public health victory is apparent. That could be months. It may yet take longer to resume growth – and who knows how business and consumer behavior may have changed by then? We are in extraordinary times – and it’s only prudent to recognize this.

It’s time to take stock of what we do on behalf of our brands and clients, to immediate effect. There is much work to do.

Marketing Must Continue … With Prudence

  • Every pharmacy, drug store, food store, and big-box retailer – and the agencies that support them – should proactively communicate store safety measures, and elevate “conveniences” such as shop-online-and-pick-up-in-store to the preferred method of distribution. This is an opportunity to build consumer and brand trust.
  • For financial marketers, the need to connect with consumers right now regarding savings, budgeting tools, and capital preservation should be a high priority. Make it happen.
  • On television, I’ve seen the messages of optimism from the likes of Walmart, Toyota, and Ford. (Post your inspired ad in the comments section below to share, please.) We need these messages right now. Beyond our own mortality, we will emerge on the other side of this. Brands need to be megaphones for hope and empathy. And certainly not insensitivity.
  • Perhaps TV spending is too steep for many brands’ budgets. In my email inbox, my favorite restaurants offer meals-to-go, my coffee house enables virtual tips for unemployed baristas and healthcare workers, and nonprofit organizations are postponing their live fundraising events with an online ask for the here and now. Needs don’t stop, in fact, the chronic has become acute. For those of us who can afford to help, there’s a collective mood to give. There are reasons to keep relevant communication appropriately flowing to audiences.
  • My previous post addressed data quality. Let me repeat: all those mobile and data visitors to your sites right now must not go unrecognized. Ensure you have a data and tech plan to identify (perhaps in the form of free registration, analyze, and engage accordingly.
  • Respond to the Census. Yes, do it for democracy. But we in the marketing business also know how invaluable Census data is to the economy, and the strategies we map for our brands.

So, yes, we’re all facing a flash freeze. And marketing-as-normal needs to be re-calibrated. So let’s re-calibrate … show our CFOs the likely payback, and let’s get going.

 

 

The Grand Reopening of the U.S. Economy Will Happen, Plan for It

We are in uncharted territory, much as we were in previous economic downturns and recessions. Yet, do know, another expansion will follow … eventually. There will be a grand reopening of our economy, and as marketers, we need to plan for it.

I love defaulting to optimism – even in the darkest of times. It’s been part of my survival mechanism through all sorts of crises. That being said, we are in uncharted territory in this new normal, much as we were in previous economic downturns and recessions. “The Great Recession” of 2008-2009 was largely Wall Street born and Main Street slammed. But remember, the Great Expansion followed. A possible recession stemming from COVID-19, however, would be largely reversed, with millions of livelihoods suddenly denied, and both Main Street and Wall Street being slammed in tandem. Yet, do know, another expansion will follow … eventually. There will be a grand reopening of our economy, and as marketers, we need to plan for it.

Listening to the U.S. President talk about getting parts of our country back to some semblance of normal by Easter may seem wild-eyed and some might say irresponsible. In reality, China is reportedly already back on line – after six-to-eight weeks of paralysis. Does this mean a possible “V-shaped” recession (very short), a “U-shaped” one (mild), or an “L-shaped” one (long term)? We don’t know.

It’s always dangerous to make prognostications, but we can learn from patterns elsewhere in the virology. With the United States now the most afflicted nation in sickness, we yet have a massive fight ahead to control viral spread. And doubt and fear have taken hold as two debacles have come about, one public health and one economic.

Unfortunately, there is no “on/off” switch for the viral crisis. Even when its spread is curtailed, which will happen, we’ve been shaken and edginess is going to remain. That’s only human.

Patterns of consumption will not resume as if nothing happened. Unemployment shocks will not reverse as easily as they came. So there will be a “new” normal.

However, a reopening is coming. You might say that’s my optimism, but folks – we are going to be okay in a time. It may not be of our choosing, as Dr. Fauci faithfully reports, but one that will be here nonetheless. As marketers, let’s get ready for it.

Look to Your Data to Prepare for What’s Next

Recessions are actually good times to look to the enterprise and get customer data “cleaned up.” The early 90s recession gave us CRM, and database marketing flourished. The end of the Internet 1.0 boom in 2000 brought data discipline to digital data. And the Great Recession brought data to the C-suite.

So let’s use this time to do a data checkup. Here are four opportunities:

  1. Data audits are often cumbersome tasks to do – but data governance is a “must” if we want to get to gain a full customer view, and derive intelligent strategies for further brand engagement. Quality needs to be the pursuit. Replacing cookie identification also is a priority. Understand all data sources to “upgrade” for confidence, accuracy, privacy, and permissions.
  2. March 15 might be a good date to do an A/B split with your customer data inputs – pre-virus and during-virus. What new patterns emerged in media, app usage, mobile use and website visits? Are you able to identify your customers among this traffic? If not, that’s a data and tech gap that needs to be closed.
  3. Customer-centricity or data silos? It’s always a good time to tear down that silo and integrate the data, yet sometimes healthy economic growth can mask this problem. Use the recessions to free up some time to actually get the work done.
  4. Test new data and identity solution vendors to increase match rates across your omnichannel spectrum – to better create a unified view of audiences, both prospects and customers. I’ve already seen one of my clients come up with a novel offer to analyze a subset of unidentified data to drive a substantive lift in matches.

As we work remotely, it’s important to understand that this current state of crisis is not a permanent state. Only once the virus is conquered, on its weaknesses not ours, can we really have any timetable to resume the economy. That being the health science, it just makes great business sense now to “stage” your data for that eventual Grand Reopening.