How University of Arizona is Using Audience Segmentation to Optimize Engagement

How University of Arizona is Using Audience Segmentation to Optimize Engagement

Jenna Rutschman, Director of Marketing and Communications, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at University of Arizona, joins the Content Experience Show to discuss audience segmentation in higher education.

In This Episode:

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Full Episode Details

Engagement Through Audience Segmentation

When it comes to reaching a diverse audience, few marketing professionals have more experience than those in higher education. Universities are trying to find ways to engage and assist students and parents in every range of age, income, and location.

This is why the work of Jenna Rutschman at the University of Arizona is so compelling. Using data-driven audience segmentation, she has shown a measurable increase in engagement and effective communication with the many demographics she is serving.

By taking an intentional look at your audience and building communication strategies unique to each segment, you can not only maximize your marketing efforts, but ultimately benefit your audience by giving them exactly what they need in the format that best suits them.

In This Episode

  • Why audience segmentation is important when marketing to a wide range of demographics
  • How the University of Arizona optimizes email for communicating with students
  • How marketing with higher education can differ from other “worlds” of marketing

Quotes From This Episode

“We’re going through a very productive strategic planning process with audience segmentation research, so we can actually understand our students, their parents, our faculty, and the community, and how they want to communicate with us.” —  desertpanda13

“What we really want to do is not drive the culture or events down the throats of students via email, because they want to consume that content in more of a natural form in social media.” — desertpanda13

We are striving to make decisions based on data. Click To Tweet


Content Experience Lightning Round

What are some of your favorite records?

Jenna is an avid music fan and vinyl collector. Some of her favorites include Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, Tom Petty’s Great White Open, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors!

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Episode Transcript

Anna Hrach:Jenna, thank you so, so much for joining The Content Experience Show. It is so great to have you here today.
Jenna Rustchman:Thank you so much, it's great to be here. I'm excited to talk with you and Randy.
Anna Hrach:Yes. I know. You've been on Social Pros before, so I'm glad you got to hop over to this side and come chat with us about some content. Now, one of the things that I'd love to just have you do real quick for everybody listening is just give everybody a quick little "About Jenna." You have some really amazing background and some really great experience that has led you to your position of being the Director of Marketing and Communications for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the U of A today. Go ahead and just give everybody a little bit about you.
Jenna Rustchman:Sure. Totally. Thanks so much. I spent all of my career, actually, in digital advertising agencies and traditional advertising agencies. I started in 2004, actually worked alongside Jay Baer back in the wee, early hours of my career. I just really found a love for strategy and research and content, and making decisions based on data for your target audiences, and all that jazz. I get really pumped about branding, in a kind of embarrassingly way, but I spent 15 years doing that, and then owned my own business for a while, which was just eye-opening and such a great experience. Then my husband and I moved our family to Tucson, Arizona, and I landed a job at the University of Arizona, which is my alma mater. Go Cats. I'm just really pumped to be on the quote-unquote "client side." It's different to be sitting on the other side of the table when I'm working with outside firms and things like that. I am a through and through Wildcat and marketer.
Anna Hrach:Nice. That's so funny. I have to fully admit that I went to Northern Arizona University, so we don't actually get into the whole U of A, ASU football, sports rumble, but I feel it, living in Phoenix, for sure. Jumping over to you being a Wildcat through and through, what are you sort of doing on your day-to-day now? Tell us a little bit about what it's like to jump over into, one, such an amazing school that has a great legacy, and also has a lot of opportunity. Jumping in, what was that like?
Jenna Rustchman:Yeah, you know, it was really interesting. At first, it was just so nostalgic for me to be back on campus, and kind of seeing the underbelly of everything, and having meetings in Old Main. But what's really interesting is my day-to-day is to support the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. It's actually the largest college here at the University of Arizona. We are a very diverse and robust college, so we have majors that range from anthropology to Mexican-American studies, to really popular ones like journalism, communications, to some really new, interesting centers. We have a Center for Regional Food Studies, and things like that.
My role is to help students once they have been admitted to U of A. I don't really do a ton of the major enrollment, but there's some fuzzy lines there, of where my team jumps in. Once students are here on campus, it's our goal to market to them, to raise awareness of our college and our majors and offerings that we have for these students, but we also do a robust offering of community events, whether it's lectures, or community classroom events- we currently have one with Marv Waterstone and Noam Chomsky, who's obviously a world-renowned linguist and intellectual- that the community can actually take a class sitting with students, so we have that audience, and then we also have parents of incoming students that we're trying to think of, and then of course our esteemed faculty.
I serve all of those functions, and I'm pretty lucky. I have a great team. I have a senior communicator, Lori, who does all of the kind of long format writing. Then I also have Shoshanna who's on my team, who handles all of our day-to-day short form content for social media, email marketing, things like that. Then I have a whip, amazing graphic designer, Miles, who is just ... It's like working with an agency graphic designer. I've kind of set the team up like a little agency. We handle projects in that way, so we try to get things done as quickly and efficiently and on brand as possible. We are also part of the larger University of Arizona, is going through a strategic planning process right now, which is really interesting to be involved with, with our new president, Dr. Robbins.
Randy Frisch:That's really cool. You know, I have a question about how you deal with all the people you have to market to, but before we get there, you talk about nostalgia, which I think is so cool, about you being back at the school, as you said, that you went to. University of Arizona, I could not hold myself back any longer, so I'm going to go on a little tangent here. Can you name the line that this movie is from? "Otherwise you, the Wildcat, and every innocent person on the bus are going to end up just like your friend."
Jenna Rustchman:Oh, it's from Speed.
Randy Frisch:Nice. Nice.
Jenna Rustchman:No. Right? The one with Sandra Bullock, and-
Randy Frisch:Absolutely. Absolutely. All right. Sorry. I had to do it.
Jenna Rustchman:Oh my god. That's funny. You made my heart kind of sink a little, because I was like, "Oh god. I hope I know this."
Randy Frisch:It was random, but anytime someone says, "I'm a Wildcat at heart," which I think is what you said, I think of that movie, and I'm like, "It's so much fun," so I had to go there.
Anna Hrach:I'm giving Jenna right now the gold star guest award, because that was a crazy pop quiz that we did not talk about beforehand, and that was amazing. Hats off to Jenna on that one.
Jenna Rustchman:Thank you. Yes.
Randy Frisch:There you go. You kept your cool. You kept your cool. You're allowed to continue on the podcast. With that test done-
Jenna Rustchman:Yes. I mean, just so you know, I'm really good at pop culture Trivial Pursuit, should you ever be able to have me on your team, so I'm glad I stood up to the test.
Anna Hrach:I'm pretty sure Jenna just dropped the mic. We're done now, right? That was it? That was good?
Randy Frisch:All right. All right. Back to content, if you will. I've always found it interesting with universities and colleges, and I work at Uberflip, where we talk to a lot of marketers who are trying to figure out their content strategy and how they appeal to all these audiences. One of the things I've always found interesting at universities is, you've got to appeal to so many different personas. You've got students, who in themselves are studying all sorts of different topics. You've got the parents of the students, who especially when it's undergrad, they're making the buy-in decision quite often just as much as the student is. Someone once told me, I know it's not a B2B type of sale, but it's almost B2B, because you're selling to the parents as the business, who sell it to their kids as the consumer.
Jenna Rustchman:Yeah. Absolutely. Starting in August, one of the first things that I did was go to my dean, who is my boss, JP Jones, and I said, "We need to really understand who our target audiences are, because right now we're just blasting content in all these different ways." Well, actually, I shouldn't say "different ways." We were blasting content in the same way, across all mediums, and we really were only focused on kind of our internal faculty and staff, which is obviously very important, and our community. Talking to the actual Tucson community about some events and things that we have, but we weren't really thinking about our students or those parents, or how they also take in content, and that's something that as kind of more of a generalist and a strategist, and in my previous life in agencies, I think I was able to bring really good thoughts to the table.
Now we're going through a very productive strategic planning process that we're literally starting with audience segmentation research, so we can actually understand our students, their parents, our faculty, and the community, and how they want to communicate with us, and what stories they want to hear, because we are a Research I university, which is a very privileged accreditation that the University of Arizona has. I think a lot of people don't know, and then they think of social and behavioral sciences as more of a liberal arts, if you will, degree, but we actually have over 100 researchers that are all over the world, doing amazing things to help impact the environment and health in society, and how technology is having effects on humans. Trying to relay all of the information, we really have to be focused on who the audience is, and how they want to consume that media.
If it's community event, we do really well putting that information on Facebook, and in the good old newspaper, which I had not placed a newspaper ad in a really long time, but they do seem to work there for that specific audience. But for our students, they're not really on Facebook anymore, and they're definitely not reading the newspaper, so we have to be a little more unique, and we do some traditional outreach, where we put posters up all over campus, that I think that does help resonate with them, and talking to them through Instagram, and the most [inaudible 00:09:43] we've found to be able to talk with our students is actually email, and we keep it real short, really concise, image-driven, that looks great on mobile, and it's been converting much better than what they were doing in the past, which was really long, very long, letter-style emails. It's been really interesting to be able to kind of test and play with the different mediums and see how the audiences respond.
Randy Frisch:I love that approach that you're taking. I mean, first off, starting with research, which I think so many of us, our definition of defining a persona is sitting in a room and going with our gut. Good on you for taking that first step, and really interesting to hear that it's not just about what content works, but ultimately what medium. I know that's something that Anna, the two of us, we always talk about, that it's not just the content, it's the experience. Which in this way, I think the delivery is a big part of that experience.
Jenna Rustchman:Yeah. Absolutely, and I think it goes back to what you were talking about with kind of the B2B sales with parents, talking down to students. Not down to their students, but talking with their children. I have small children, so apparently I'm talking down to them. But one thing that I think is so powerful, and I'm really excited to be going on this journey with U of A, is to understand how these individuals are consuming this media this time, because there is so much information being put out to prospective students, it is impressive how much information they get, and how much universities are trying to sell them on a lot of similarities. They talk about if it's the warm weather, or their accreditations, and things like that, and I think students are really challenged, because it's a huge decision. It's a huge life decision about moving away, staying near home, what you're going to study, what that means. Do you want a business degree like your dad? Or do you want something that is more rounded and interdisciplinary, which a lot of students are wanting?
I found myself sitting in meetings where people would say, "Think about when you were 18. What did it mean to go to university?" I was like, "Seriously? Well, when I was 18, I had already started college, so A, we're missing the boat, because these people are making decisions earlier." That's really when it dawned on me. I was like, "We have to shake the boat here, and not just assume that we know what students want." We actually have to get the information from them and learn from them, and also understand what parents want. It's a huge financial burden that colleges are, and it also ... Higher education is kind of being beat up right now in conversations within media and other individuals in business saying that, "Is it antiquated? Should people be paying for it? Is it moving forward?" It's kind of my job to also showcase how the University of Arizona is in the forefront of these revolutionary topics like the impact of technology on humans, and food sources, and things like that.
Anna Hrach:This is amazing. I love all of these conversations. Also, I'm a huge fan of the fact that you just said that it's time to kind of shake the boat, and shake things up, and talk more about higher education. I definitely want to jump back more into some of the barriers and some of the challenges that come with higher education in this space specifically, but before we do that, we're going to jump and just hear a quick word from our sponsors.
Welcome back, everybody. We are here talking with Jenna Rustchman, so Jenna, before we left for the break, we were talking a little bit about some of the struggles that you were coming up against with higher education marketing in general, and the experience that's being created, and shaking the boat. I definitely want to continue on with that. One of the things that you kind of talked about earlier was how email marketing was actually really successful in reaching some of your students. It's fascinating, because you mentioned as soon as you kind of pulled the content way back, and really shortened up the messaging, that it was really successful. But a lot of what is out there today talks about how millennials have basically killed email, and nobody emails anymore, and it's so hard to reach millennials, and so hard to reach Gen Z. You're actually actively working with those populations every single day. What's your take on it, and especially with the fact that you saw success with email, when everybody's saying, "Don't use email."
Jenna Rustchman:Yeah. No. I think it's really interesting, because I think we also have to think in context of what a college is. I'm working with our advisors to come up with a communication plan to talk about things like last day to add a class, and last day to drop a class, and reminders about when spring break is, which I'm sure all students know when spring break is. But what we really wanted to do is not necessarily drive the culture or events down the throats of students via email, because they want to consume that content in more of a natural form in their natural habitat of social media. What we did was, we put together a communication plan of information that they truly need, and it is sent to them with ... We actually do funny memes, and two sentences about the action that they need to know about or they will miss a deadline, and then a button that takes them to that specific area in the website of UA that they can actually access the information. We saw just a huge rise in not only opens but clicks, and then the advisors were getting less panicked emails and phone calls about students forgetting to do things, because previously, they had sent them emails that were like five paragraphs, to say something that we've been able to accomplish in two sentences.
Anna Hrach:That's awesome. Honestly, I love that so much, because I feel like that is exactly sort of even why we do this show, The Content Experience, is that literally in a nutshell is providing the best absolute experience for students possible, and it's not about reaching them through new channels like Snapchat, and doing crazy Instagram stories to remind them of the deadline. It's literally giving them everything they need to know in the form that is easiest and most relevant to them. That is phenomenal and fantastic.
The other thing that you were talking about, too, that I want to jump back to, was you talked a little bit about some of the challenges with marketing with higher ed, and those who have worked with higher ed before are well aware that it's a totally different ballgame, right? Am I underestimating or kind of underselling that?
Jenna Rustchman:No. It's a totally different ballgame, and I had always, on the agency side, and not really fully understood what I was getting myself into. I will say I'm very lucky that the dean of my college, Dean JP Jones, he's very open to understanding that I am an expect in marketing and content, and digital, and all of those things, and trust me, and that's not always the case. Some of the struggles, though, is that A, we're a giant university, so we have everything from the Eller Business School is well-known, to the ... Well, it's also Eller. The Stevie Eller Dance School is I think number two underneath Julliard. We have the world-renowned Center for Creative Photography. We have the Mirror Lab, and optics labs, and all these things. Everyone's trying to kind of vie for their own space in the umbrella marketing, and I wasn't really prepared for that. I thought that it was going to be a little bit more centralized, and everyone would be kind of working together, so it's something that culturally we're working on.
Something else that's been really interesting is, you know, someone will receive a huge grant, or win an award, and then they want you to get press on it. It's not always newsworthy, and it's sometimes hard to explain to faculty that have worked very hard and are doing groundbreaking work in their category that the New York Times doesn't want to run a story about it. That has been really interesting. It's also been interesting to me that some of the different things that come into play, as to when you announce things, and how that works. But there's definitely a lot of people in higher education, and I think that Dr. Robbins is trying to change this here at U of A, but they don't see marketing professionals as experts. They see them as kind of order takers, and that has been a little stabbing in my heart, and I feel like I'm going back to 2004, when I first started, but I'm not afraid of a challenge, and I'm not afraid to speak up, so so far the change has been positive for me, but I do see some of my colleagues struggle with it a lot more.
Randy Frisch:Another area that I'm just kind of curious on, Jenna, is, as you've kind of moved into this different world of higher education, I know you've come from worlds where there's been a lot of probably spend towards content and content distribution. Without giving us budgets, but maybe you can give us percentages, how much of the media that you're putting out there is earned or sent through, when you say you're posting to Facebook versus paid distribution, towards some of those channels? Is there a large budget in your world to be able to distribute some of this content, or is it all about earning back that audience?
Jenna Rustchman:It's definitely earned first. I would definitely say that, but we do have some budgets that go towards different things like events. Noam Chomsky, or Professor Chomsky is on our staff, and when he does events, sometimes he brings in really big names who want to sit down and talk with him, and we will throw some money towards a media spend for that, so that the hall fills up and things. But it really is I would say 80% earned, which is definitely a new sensation for me, but what is also very interesting-
Randy Frisch:New challenge.
Jenna Rustchman:Yeah. That's a much better word. But what's also really interesting to me is that when we are able to find that kind of sweet spot of content that does talk about why the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences is important, or some groundbreaking research that's happened, some student success story, how it actually will get organically shared, and get that kind of organic engagement that I was used to in the glory days of the mid-2000s. It's really interesting to me to see how organic does still have a play.
Randy Frisch:That's cool. I bet over time, your ability to prove, as you put it, which channels are working best, hopefully given the school is so research-based, you'll be able to use that data to push for either more budget or make the right decisions.
Jenna Rustchman:Yeah, and that's actually a push that's happening across the university, is that we really are striving to make decisions based on data, and for me, especially my days when I worked at Terralever underneath Chris Johnson and Scott McAndrew, I mean, everything we did was data-driven. We came up with creative ideas based on data that we knew would drive our target audience to our customers, and so that's what I'm trying to do here at the University of Arizona, is actually to really understand, "What's basic numbers? What's the percentage of people that are accessing this form on mobile, and it's broken? Okay. Well, let's figure that out."
There's actually, I've had to bring it way back to fundamentals of looking at data to make decisions, and then it helps, though, people who aren't necessarily marketing driven or communications driven to see numbers and say, "Oh. That data is showing that we should actually ensure all of our websites are mobile optimized, and that we should lessen the content on them so that people can get to the point quicker," and then it starts to have a more robust conversation and quality conversation, which I think is exciting to see, and then with the research that we're having done, I think our ability to make better decisions based on data is just going to skyrocket.
Randy Frisch:Well, I gotta say, your summary of everything that you're doing is making me want to go back to school, and I hated school. I want to go just to get some of your marketing. Congrats to everything you've been able to pull from your experience into building a better content experience for University of Arizona, and that's probably the best promotion I can do for the school right there. If you've got a little bit more time, Jenna, what we'll do, we'll get you to stick around, and we're gonna get to know you a little bit beyond your work life.
Jenna Rustchman:Awesome. No problem. Thank you.
Randy Frisch:All right. We're back here with Jenna. We've got a little bit more time to dig in, just to get to know Jenna a little bit more. Not the Jenna who's figuring out how to optimize content delivery across different channels. I wanted to get to know a little bit of how you relax, and one of the things I did get to know a little about you is you're a music fanatic, but a nostalgic one, because it's all about vinyl in your world. Maybe you could tell us some of your favorite records, just so we get to know your real personality.
Jenna Rustchman:Ooh. Okay. Well, I am a huge vinyl collector. I'm embarrassed. I think some of my favorite albums would be, I'm a big Bruce Springsteen fan. I know. I feel old.
Randy Frisch:Nice. Nice. I heard he's playing on Broadway now, and that it's the best experience ever.
Jenna Rustchman:Yeah. Yeah. He's pretty amazing. I mean, he's just such a storyteller. I highly recommend his autobiography. Born to Run is a pretty great album, and I thoroughly enjoy that one. I actually bought the Tom Petty Into the Great White Open, the day that he passed.
Anna Hrach:Aww.
Jenna Rustchman:I know, and I love Tom. I'm a huge Fleetwood Mac. Rumors is an amazing album. Tapestry, from Carole King. I sound so old.
Anna Hrach:No, this is all classic.
Randy Frisch:I actually think you sound cool.
Jenna Rustchman:Oh, cool. Okay, good. Newer stuff, I'm really into Haim, the band. It's three sisters. They're great. They just have a new album out. I really dig both of their albums on vinyl, and The White Stripes is probably another one that gets played a lot in my house. Those are probably my top played albums. Adele is also great on an album. It just sounds ... Ooh, Amy Winehouse too. Sorry. I'll just keep going. I have a lot of albums.
Randy Frisch:I'm curious. University of Arizona obviously has its own radio station. Will they play vinyl, or not a chance? It's not like a classic feel like that, in any way?
Jenna Rustchman:No. I mean, I'm not sure for the actual college radio. It would be really rad if they played vinyl. I'm guessing that they're probably playing digital or some sort ... I'm guessing it's all set up as digital. AZPM, which is the local NPR station, is definitely not using vinyl. I've been on their show a few times, and I still see a lot of CDs on the wall, but I feel like that's probably not how they're doing it. I should get my own radio show on the local college channel.
Randy Frisch:Listen, you're going to have to listen to the intro and outro of this podcast and let us know if the choice of music is any good. There's no way the track is available on vinyl, but Anna and I did get to have a little bit of involvement in choosing that music, which was pretty fun, even going online, Anna, right?
Anna Hrach:Yeah. It was. There's a lot of stuff out there. I'm happy with it, but I'd love your opinion, Jenna.
Jenna Rustchman:I will listen to it, for sure. Yeah. I actually think when I was getting ready for coming on the podcast, I listened to you, and I remember when you guys were saying that it was new music, so I'll go back and pay closer attention, and give you guys some feedback.
Randy Frisch:Amazing. Well, for everyone else who's enjoyed this podcast with Jenna and wants to listen to some of those other ones and hear that intro over and over again, you can go to Go to Convince and Convert, find all the other podcasts that we've recorded over time there, and definitely leave us a review wherever you do get your podcasts, whether it's on Spotify, Stitcher, iTunes, Google Play. The list these days keeps growing, but we're everywhere that you find them. Please subscribe. Let us know what we can do to make this a better experience for you. Until next time, I'm Randy Frisch. Anna Hrach has been joining me, and thanks so much to Jenna for joining us. This is the Content Experience Show.
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