We talk digital transformation with Chris Aarons, co-author of The Digital Helix, a Wall Street Journal bestseller that outlines how organizations can embrace their own digital first approach.


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The Digital Helix

Transcript

Jarrett Smith: 

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Each episode it’s my job to engage with the brightest minds in marketing and higher education to uncover the practical insights you can use to level up your institution’s marketing and enrollment efforts. In this episode we’ll be talking about digital transformation with Chris Aarons. Chris is the co-author of The Digital Helix, a Wall Street Journal bestseller that outlines how organizations can embrace their own digital first approach. Chris has got an interesting perspective for higher ed. He’s a seriously accomplished marketer working with the likes of Amazon, AMD, and Microsoft. He currently lectures on digital marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. Perhaps the most importantly for our discussion, he’s also got a son who happens to be going through the college search process right now. In this talk, we discuss what it means to really embrace digital transformation. We talk about practical steps schools can take to begin embracing their own digital first DNA, as he calls it, and we talk about how he spotted a single school that really gets digital transformation while looking through the hundreds of direct mail pieces sent to his son. This was a really fun talk and I certainly hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Chris Aarons. Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Aarons:        

So excited to be here.

Jarrett Smith:   

Oh, I’m really excited to have you here, Chris. Really enjoyed your book and I just think there’s so many great ideas, big ideas around digital transformation. I was hoping maybe before we really get cranking into our conversation that we could just kind of define digital transformation for everybody because it’s a little bit, I think, of an ambiguous term or maybe a buzz word that gets thrown around a lot but maybe folks don’t really understand.

Chris Aarons:      

Sure. Digital transformation is really the reorganization of an organization’s business practices around digital technologies like AI, big data, automation, things like that. I think, as you saw in the book, one of the big things is buying technology alone will not make you a digitally transformed organization. You need the mindsets, you need the insights, you need to really think, and act, and become digital as an organization, as a team, and really as a group. Otherwise, that technology just sits on the edge and you wind up digitally wrapped in your organization with all this great technology but at the end of the day you are no more digital than anybody else who could buy this same amount of technology or maybe even bought less technology than you.

Jarrett Smith:                     

Right, yeah that makes a ton sense. I think that’s one of the key points you bring up in your book at multiple points is, you have to be careful not to just apply sort of a digital veneer to things.

Chris Aarons:

Yeah.

Jarrett Smith:        

If you roll out say, Sales Force in your organization, Sales Force on its own is not enough. That does not create a digital transformation.

Chris Aarons:   

We always go back to the fact that, why do you want to add Sales Force? Why do you want to add this digital thing? It’s usually to get some next level benefit. Right?

Jarrett Smith:  

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Aarons:  

It’s to transform the organization. In our book we have an example from Michael Schrage of MIT who talks about he went into an organization and they bought iPads for their sales team and said, “Look, we’re digital now.”

Jarrett Smith:      

Right.

Chris Aarons:           

No, you morons. You’re not digital, you’ve just simply taken a paper or a computer order entry system and turned it into a mobile order entry system.

Jarrett Smith:    

Right.

Chris Aarons:  

You haven’t captured the insights, you haven’t captured the data. That’s the really big thing, and I know we’re going to talk about it more, but I see that a lot with higher education institutions that seem to be either digitally wrapping or just adding digital but doing the same thing they did in the 1970s, 1980s, the 1990s. They just have it be a more digital flavor of that old traditional way of doing business.

Jarrett Smith:    

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. No, that makes a ton of sense. You know, I’d be interested to hear, what are when you’re working with an organization or thinking about an organization that seems to have done a good job with truly transforming themselves in this way, what are kind of the telltale signs that you would expect to see in that organization? What’s the tangible benefit that an organization might get out of digital transformation?

Chris Aarons:   

They think, act, and design differently at a very surface level. Within five minutes of conversation with somebody who truly gets it, you understand that the words, the actions, the language, the processes that they are putting in place are totally from a digital perspective. They’ve not tried to migrate traditional perspectives, traditional processes, traditional thinking and just make it digital. They think about the world in an entirely different way. Once you see these kind of back to back, this black and white, this yin and yang, you can pick up people who get it within just a few minutes on the phone, or in person versus somebody who is trying to digitally wrap or fumble their way through digital who has no more chance of becoming digitally transformed than the public library or something like that. They really don’t have that mindset and that digital thinking to go to the extraordinary, they’re always going to be at the, at best, slightly more than ordinary.

Jarrett Smith:           

Right, right. Could you give me, and I think for our audience, to kind of help make this concrete, could you give me one or two for instances to kind of contrast the traditional way of thinking about it versus the genuinely transformed way.

Chris Aarons:  

I am so glad you asked. As we were talking beforehand, my son is 16, scored extraordinarily well on the PSAT’s. We have been getting higher education stuff so I’m going to give you an exact higher education example that I saw right in front of me.

Jarrett Smith: 

Perfect.

Chris Aarons: 

We’ve been getting literally hundreds, not figuratively, literally hundreds of solicitations and invitations to school visit, or check our campus, our higher institution. Of all of these, there is only one that I can point to that says that this organization is truly digitally transformed. I’m not going to name them because I don’t want to give their secret sauce away so everybody starts copying them, but I will tell you why it was different, why it was better, why it was distinct, and how I know it’s digital. Of all of these things that we get, most of which are postcards or letters, and I’m sure you’ve seen them many times and certainly your listeners have either seen them or created them, and they all have three basic elements, the name of the institution, usually some kind of meaningless slogan like, creating leaders for the future or something like that, and then a multi-cultural picture of people sitting on the grass talking. Right?

Jarrett Smith:

Right.

Chris Aarons: 

Every one of them has that. At one point in time I had all of these laid out on the table and you could just see all of them had the multi-cultural circle on the grass. The slogans don’t mean anything because you can literally cover up the logo and you can use that slogan for almost everybody else. Very poor marketing, not customized, not specialized, not anything that would gather or garner our attention, especially when you’re getting hundreds of these. One day, right early in the process we get a nice little letter, not terribly thick, not terribly distinctive. We open it up and it says, “Hey, by the way I just want you to know that we have all of these great things.” “We’re a distinct institution, not just the same standard benefits, but really unique things.” Said also, “This last semester we admitted 47 kids from your high school, and we have over 25 hundred kids from your zip code who are attending, and we have a robust alumni network that comes from the Austin area,” where I live. It was really this customized, personalized, big data kind of thing. Immediately, we’re thinking, well this is really interesting because now if our son chose this school he would probably be going with a big group, 40, 50 kids from his high school.

The more important thing is that I’ve done a lot of research on social and digital, but one of the things I did long, long ago is that we saw a statistic that said 91% of people choose something because somebody like them chose it. Right?

Jarrett Smith:  

Right.

Chris Aarons:      

The reason for that is we’re all kind of narcissistic, we all think we’re super awesome, and so if I see somebody whose like me, aka super awesome like me and they chose it, well then it’s a really shortcut way to say that this is a really great option. By virtue of the way they presented this and packaged it, they shortcut everybody else and said, “Look, people like you are choosing this.” He won’t be alone, a fear of parents, and that we are a distinct institution that really kind of recognized this. The most important part of this whole story is this was not an institution that I would’ve expected to have this level of students coming from our zip code. It was surprising that it was this institution that seemed kind of far away from us.

That is using digital technology to mind your databases, to understand why people choose you, to understand why people from a certain zip code are coming and not just spraying and preying your marketing but saying, “Listen, we win in this zip code.” If we send out the right kind of information, the right kind of mailer, we can not only win in this zip code, we can win beyond our wildest dreams in this zip code and then we can figure out how we transfer that to other zip codes. That’s what they’re doing, it is a beautiful, beautiful way and like I say, we were so impressed by this one piece of mailer in these hundreds of others we got.

Jarrett Smith:

Yeah, that is such a interesting story, Chris, and I think so relevant. You know, one thing that listening to you tell that story that kind of stood out to me was that ironically, it came through on a piece of mail, snail mail. You know, I think a lot of times when people talk about, oh are we doing digital or is our marketing taking advantage of digital, what they’re thinking is, okay we’re going to hit them with emails and we’re going to target them on Facebook. Now we’re doing digital. You’re really talking about something much more substantive, much more transformative within the organization whereas-

Chris Aarons: 

That’s the mindset, see you picked up on it immediately, that’s the mindset is that the individuals who created this had a mindset to be distinct in how they present themselves, which is a huge problem in higher education. Like I said, almost all these communications whether it’s on student solicitation, or alumni solicitation, or fundraising are completely indistinct. Right?

Jarrett Smith: 

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Aarons:      

They’re just generic at best. These individuals saw that we could be distinct because we’ve mined the data, we understand why our students choose us, and we understand it at a granular level not just at a generic level. That’s the mindset is that when you have this data, it opens up all these opportunities. You see things that you never saw before and the answers to the hardest questions become super easy because the data guides you in the right direction. Yes, you’re exactly right and that proves my earlier point about the mindset and how it’s different because when I told the story you immediately saw how these people were thinking of at an entirely different level.

Jarrett Smith: 

Yeah. No, I love it. That’s good stuff. Chris, so we’ve laid this out and kind of given an example of the sort of thing that’s possible but this is not an easy thing to pull off with an organization. Certainly, colleges and universities, even a small one is an incredibly complex organization. Can we talk a little bit about even if organizations recognize this as a world they want to move to, what prevents them from getting there? Why? What are sort of the common reasons they fail at this sort of thing?

Chris Aarons:      

Right, and I’m so glad you asked that as well. One is that most institutions and/or organizations whether commercial or higher ed, or whatever have a biased towards let’s do something. There’s probably a president, a board of directors, whomever who are saying, “We need to get something up.” The calendar doesn’t stop because you’re not ready. When my sons test scores became available, everybody said, “We’ve got to get something out to this kid and all the other kids like him.” Right? That’s fine but the investment in the time to look at how you’re doing things can dramatically improve your results. It is a commitment to finding these things and understanding. I’m going to go back to this word, I’m going to use it a lot on your show, it’s called distinct. I want and need everybody listening to this and anything else that I wind up doing in my life to think about how you can be distinct, not different, but distinct.

The only way to really be distinct is to understand why people choose you, why people don’t choose you, how you truly compare to your competition, and then use that data to showcase specifically in a customized way what you want your audience to know about you, not just throw out the generic stuff. That takes a lot of effort, you’re incredibly right. That effort that you can spend over the summer or an advance of a bigger deadline will make you 10, 20, 100 times more effective going forward and I see a lot of job options out there for people who market higher ed and they’re always looking for somebody who can do something greater, do something more.

As a career move, once you figure it out you literally are the king and queen of this market and you can walk into your next job, demand a huge raise saying, “I’m not going to do something that’s 2% better than the last individual, I’m going to do something that’s 200% better and here’s how it’s going to be done.” Then you have that secret sauce to do it faster and more efficient. It starts with mining the data, it starts with looking at what your customers choose you for, why they don’t choose you, and really understanding this and not just sitting in a circle on a college campus and just kind of saying, “Here’s why we’re good.” Just throwing that out and hoping it sticks.

Jarrett Smith: 

Right, because you’re naturally going to go towards sort of the easy answers, which is what every other peer institution of yours is doing. Just to relate back to what you said about being distinct, we’ve seen this in our own work in the firm. Those firms that are, those organizations and schools that are not only looking to put in the effort, but they’re also brave enough to take a stand on something and kind of own a position in the marketplace, they experience some really huge tangible benefits by just being clear about who you are and what you’re trying to do.

Chris Aarons:     

Oh, absolutely. You’re 100% right because when you take that stand, when you carve out your space, when you own that space you transform not only what you can market, how you can market but like I say, so many other boring mundane questions answer themselves because you’re always going to be true to your own truth that you’ve now identified and created. We’ve seen this in the commercial world, whether you love or hate the Nike ad, Nike today is a different brand. Nike today is a more relevant brand than they were just two weeks ago, every bit of data proves this, every bit of sales data proves this, their stock price proves this. It is a different more relevant brand to their target market than it was a few weeks ago.

Conversely, Under Armour is far less relevant by virtue of [inaudible 00:16:12] assuming a space and taking a stand Under Armour now becomes even less relevant than they were a few weeks ago, which is hard to believe because they weren’t even relevant then. Other brands are going to kind of do their thing but they did something that was really interesting is that they said they were losing share to Adidas because Adidas said, “You can make a statement with fashion.” Nike didn’t pick up on that for whatever reason. Now Nike says, “You can make a statement with us and be fashionable. It turns the equation on its head and that’s the kind of thinking that I think every organization owes itself to do to get to a place where they are transforming their thinking and their execution, not just transforming their technology.

Jarrett Smith:    

Yeah. You know, the point that I want everybody to take home out of what you just said is that we’re having a conversation at the moment about some consumer brands, but this is not a conversation, this is not a strategy that only makes sense for consumer brands.

Chris Aarons:  

No.

Jarrett Smith: 

This really applies to every organization. I think it’s particularly relevant in higher ed as we’re seeing the sort of steady decline, and will continue to sort of see the steady decline of sort of our traditional student that we’re targeting. It’s going to become only increasingly more important for organizations to know who they are and how they are truly different in a meaningful way.

Chris Aarons:

I’ll give you an example from many years ago. I went to the University of Nevada in Reno and one of their big selling points at the time was that the journalism school has more Pulitzer Prize winners per number of students than any other school in the world, that includes Columbia, Northwestern, and all the big J schools that most people would think of as being global leaders, we have I think six or seven now, which most people have I think six or seven and they graduate 10x, 100x the number of students. They created a really compelling thing about this, and this was like the 1980s. I don’t see them doing that anymore, and I don’t see a lot of organizations selling these little individual things. If you want a journalism degree, or you’re interested in this, they had a way of saying that we are distinct because of this, and then talking about the faculty that created this culture of excellence and how it’s going to help you be a next generational journalist, public relations person, whatever your discipline happens to be, digital media person.

I think in the generic, everybody’s equal. In the specific, you can be distinct. That’s, I think, what you’re going to is that while yes, the Nike example is a very consumer thing, what they did is understood what their target market wanted to see from a brand like them and how they were going to respond and they did it. Here’s another thing, Jarrett, I will tell you that I went to the Sixth Floor Book Depository Store Museum in Dallas where Kennedy was shot. There’s this big thing in the gift shop, it says, “Now is a time for boldness and energy.” Kennedy said this, obviously, in ’62 when they were talking about the space race but with digital today, now is a time for boldness and energy and you actually have the tools and insights to be bold, to unleash that energy if you choose to use them. Otherwise, like I say, you wind up being generic to everybody and specific to nobody and I think we all know what the results will be after that.

Jarrett Smith: 

Very good. Chris, kind of along those lines, I mean the bulk of your book is about helping folks kind of grapple with this, begin to wrap their brain around the different factors, components of digital transformation. The title of the book is Digital Helix and you have this framework that you refer to. I wonder if you could just, at a high level, and recognizing there’s a lot of content here, but kind of at a high level could you talk us through The Digital Helix framework?

Chris Aarons: 

Sure.

Jarrett Smith:

I would love to, if you want to mention, why the DNA reference, if it makes sense along the way.

Chris Aarons: 

Yeah, certainly. Without that it would make no sense in my description. When we were thinking about writing the book and we were doing a lot of digital work for clients, the one thing that came up was that these things need to be interconnected, your thinking, your executives, how you think about customers, how you think about insights, where you get information, how you think about strategy. There’s seven components and I’ll let your readers go to thedigitalhelix.com to see all of them, I won’t bore you with the individuals because there’s a great graphic there they can download. These things need to be interconnected and interwoven. It’s not a hub and spoke, and it’s not one of these PowerPoint, predefined graphics. What it winds up being is a helix where these things are connected up and down, right and left, side to side. One without the other literally leaves you with a hole in your DNA, you don’t have a complete DNA. The reference of the helix, the double helix became so easy for us to see and [inaudible 00:21:26] how these things need to connect, and interconnect, and intertwine if you will, among these seven core principles. Again, they’re leadership, and strategy, and how you think about customers and insights, and things like that. That’s why we came up with The Digital Helix as the title because it really is the digital DNA for transformational success.

What it is, the book is really about getting people to think about these seven things, so not try to guess what they are or try to say, “Well, you know I think if we did these things they would work.” Then giving them some real concrete examples about how they can understand what good looks like. In the Schrage example, what bad looks like. Get their core thinking transforming to think about, oh yeah, okay I see that. We can do it in this way, kind of the way you and I are doing it in this interview. Oh yeah, so I can see how this works. Oh yeah, so this relates to that. Start that process across all these seven disciplines and understand the challenges and drivers that leading organizations, the 18% that really knock digital out of the park, do well and understand well and the 72% that kind of flail about and struggle, frankly, don’t get, don’t understand, or just never connect together. That’s really what the book is about. It’s 200 pages, but I’ve been told it reads like nothing flat because it’s really designed to have people flow through it and transform their thinking.

Jarrett Smith: 

Very good. Chris, you know obviously, you in the book dive into a lot of examples and kind of connect the dots on a number of things, and talk deeply about the implications in different areas. I’m wondering if we can talk a little bit about the marketing sort of implications here. Specifically, I want to zoom in on the concept of the customer journey that you talk about in the book. This is something that I hear about all the time, people mapping the customer journey, thinking about the customer journey in great detail or in our case for our audience, our student journey or prospective student journey. Within the context of digital transformation, how might our thinking about that change from just kind of thinking of this nice, neat linear journey?

Chris Aarons:  

Customer journeys are dead.

Jarrett Smith: 

You heard it first here. Well, probably not first.

Chris Aarons: 

Well, maybe not first. I’ve been saying it for a while but you heard it here more emphatically, more [inaudible 00:24:02] I guess. No, customer journeys are dead and don’t trust me. Go and get five customers who have bought the exact same product and ask them the steps they took. There will be commonality but the sequence, how they did it, the weight of it is all dramatically different especially for a very considered purchase like higher education for your son or daughter. The notion that people walk down a path, you know that go down the freeway of buying or choosing a higher education is simply not true. I’ll give you the facts, I got two, three, four, five hundred things sent to my son. That’s not linear, that’s random. That’s random and overwhelming. Now I have to shrink it down, he needs to shrink it down to figure out which one’s matter, which ones are interesting. Then there’s all of these other things, there’s cost, there’s financing, there’s tuition, there’s location, there’s all of these other things, there’s majors and what he wants to study, and how good they are, what kind of programs they have, there’s location, there’s the issue I brought up about going with kids that maybe are from the area, or maybe diversifying, finding a school that’s even more diverse than his current one now, which is not very diverse.

All these factors, and we’ve got to as individuals pair them down to a manageable list. That’s not a journey, that it is a random thing that people pick and choose, they do it in their own time, and their own scale, and they weight it in different ways. You know, a lot of this information doesn’t come from the institution or the organization, it comes from social, it comes from feedback loops, it comes from anecdotal things on the web, Google searches. If you’re trying to map out a nice, neat journey I think that’s a very interesting exercise. I wish you all the luck, but at the end of the day understanding why people chose you and clustering them and understanding where these moments, they make their decisions, these actual moments where they matter to them, where they are and how you can show up and be more impressive or different and distinct in those moments is critical to understanding how to market in a digital age.

Jarrett Smith:     

Yeah, and so you kind of introduced this concept of I guess, correct me if I’m wrong, the portfolio of experiences.

Chris Aarons: 

That’s what I was describing, yes.

Jarrett Smith:

Right, exactly. You have this collection of impressions, and touchpoints along the way. That’s a really interesting way. Just out of curiosity, how do you think about tracking and measuring sort of progress against your goals in that world? Do you still have potentially the sales funnel that you’re working through? Do you think about that or report out on that in a different way?

Chris Aarons:    

There’s another excellent question. One is we’ve just published a list and we have a report coming out with Forbes that talks about the 26 metrics that matter in the digital world, it’s on our LinkedIn, if you go to my LinkedIn, C-A, or C-A-A-R-O-N-S at LinkedIn I’m sure you could find it pretty easily. We’ll also have a Forbes paper coming out very soon that’ll have that in it and I could send it to you, so if you want to post it on your site, you can as well.

Jarrett Smith: 

Absolutely, we’ll put it in the show notes.

Chris Aarons: 

There’s different metrics that matter, but then again, it’s about not thinking in a funnel mentality, it’s about thinking in a moment’s mentality. When we had a commercial client that was, you know doing fairly well and had great technology and they were selling fairly well. When we looked at how their buyers actually chose and what their buyers were looking for, and then we put content, and resources, and showed up in the places that their buyers expecting us to be with the kind of information they wanted, their sales went through the roof. That’s no longer truly a funnel because you’re now taking those moments that matter and that experiential portfolio and you’re optimizing it for your brand and your target market. It becomes almost, I don’t want to say a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it becomes a more likely prophecy that you’re going to succeed because you know what these people want in those moments. That could be informational content, it could be social content, it could be any number of traditional content marketing things but how, and when, and why you show up there is almost as important as just being there. Actually, I would say it’s more important than just being there because so many other people will be there with you.

Jarrett Smith:  

Right, right. That’s so interesting.

Chris Aarons:

This goes for higher education too. Go to virtually any higher education website for fundraising or for new students and you see this generic thing, or you see that the same content that shows up in a social post shows up in their website, there’s no differentiation, there’s no customization. They don’t show up differently and distinctly in the areas where different and distinct is really required to stand out above the crowd.

Jarrett Smith:   

That’s so interesting and so much food for thought there. Okay, so those are some high level marketing implications. I wonder if we could talk a little bit about the organization because sometimes knowing what to do isn’t as hard as working with the people to get it all done and to build alignment in the organization. I want to talk a little bit about organizational dynamics.

Chris Aarons:

Sure.

Jarrett Smith:   

Certainly, in very large complex organizations of any type, but certainly in higher education we often haver very siloed organizations.

Chris Aarons:  

Sure.

Jarrett Smith:

You’ve kind of introduced this idea that everybody is responsible to each other.

Chris Aarons: 

Yeah, so that’s one of the seven-

Jarrett Smith: 

Could you talk a little bit about that?

Chris Aarons: 

Yeah, that’s one of the seven components of The Digital Helix. The point you’re making is that let’s just be honest, higher education organizations are extraordinarily monolithic, slow moving, and traditional in nature. Right? Across the organization.

Jarrett Smith:  

Right.

Chris Aarons: 

Which a lot of consumer organizations [inaudible 00:30:11]. For the individuals in those, this is where digital is literally your best friend, not figuratively and I do know the difference. Literally your best friend because you can experiment, you can find quick wins that can show how, look, we did one little thing different or two little things different and look at the results we’re getting with virtually no spend or no effort. What if we took a little bit more of this money and poured it into here, and experimented more. That’s how you’re going to transform other’s thinkings in a monolithic traditional organization. That’s the root of your first question.

The second question was about everybody’s responsible to each other, which means that we are not siloed. Yes, there’s a president executive branch of the institution, yes there are teachers, yes there’s the administration, yes there’s fundraising or whatever groups you have. It is incumbent upon all of you to share data, share insights, and share best practices so if somebody in fundraising figures out some way to 2x their results, they should be sharing that with the people in admissions. They should be sharing that with the others in the organization so they can all profit from this. Otherwise, you’re not digitally transforming. You have random experiments that succeed and they succeed in pockets. Then the rest of the organization kind of floats on its own. That’s not a transformation, that’s just trying something and it working without truly saying, “Okay, there’s an insight here, there’s data here.” “If you took our insight and combined it with your data, or combined your data and our data, we could do something amazing.”

I want to say, it goes beyond the four walls of the institution. If you go to a grocery store and you give them your zip code, they know more about you then you know abour yourself. My son, and his last name, and our address have given all of these institutions enough to know about where we vote, who we vote for, what we typically buy, how many cars we have, what kind of cars we have, what kind of insurance we get, what kind of house we have. It’s all out there in public data that they can get. If they can figure out something as esoteric as 60% of Volvo buyers from this zip code choose our organization, then you can start marketing specifically to those individuals and work back on figuring out why that odd eclectic group seems to disproportionately give to the organization or send their kids to the organization. If you don’t go outside the four walls and try these experiments, you’re going to be incrementally better, at best. That’s a long wish and a prayer for most people.

Jarrett Smith:  

Very good. Chris, this is such an interesting conversation. I want to be respectful of your time, and kind of wrap up a little bit. I’m wondering if we can kind of talk to sort of that person whose listening to this podcast that is thinking, okay, I’m on board, I see where you’re going with this. What kind of advice do you have for that person about how to get started in their organization? How to maybe begin evangelizing this a little bit.

Chris Aarons:

It starts with two things, intellectual curiosity and experimentation. Go out there and look at what’s happening, look at why something happens. If you got a result, good or bad, understand why you got that result good or bad. Look at the data, try to figure out what there is, be a marketing detective, be a institutional detective and say, “Okay, something weird happened here.” Why is it happening? Then let’s experiment on the edges to see if we can replicate it. One of the key points of the book, and I’m glad you brought this up because it is about failing fast, there is absolutely nothing wrong with failing as long as you fail fast and learn from every failure. If you experiment, you’re intellectually curious, you learn from your failures, you are going to find these little nuggets, these little ways of succeeding. Then you can put, as they say, the wood behind the ax and really do differentiated things, do extraordinary things, generate extraordinary results because you’ve kind of figured out where the forest and trees meet. You’ve created your own path that’s truly unique to what you’re trying to do.

If you’re intellectually curious, if you’re not willing to just do the same thing as yesterday with just a slight tweak, and you’re willing to experiment you can start and find these quick wins that will bring others on board. This is what I did when I created the social media program at AMD back in 2007, which was long before Twitter was even a dream in somebody’s mind, I did this and I had a bigger budget for my social media campaign than the rest of communications had for all of their stuff because I was able to show real results while everybody else kept talking about activity. It’s transformative to the individual, the organization, and I would say to one’s own psyche to be able to really sit back and say, “Man, I’m not only moving the needle but I understand how to move the needle.” That’s a glorifying feeling, a really wonderful feeling to be in and have for an individual, and for your organization, and for your bosses.

Jarrett Smith:  

Well, Chris, that is a great sort of note to end on. This has just been such a great conversation, so much to think about here. If folks want to find out more, want to read the book, connect with you, what are the best places to do that?

Chris Aarons: 

One is to go to thedigitalhelix.com. On there you can download a free chapter on mindset, which will certainly get people thinking differently. It’s largely written by the Seattle Seahawks head coach, Pete Carroll who has a real distinct philosophy on how people should think. I think if this has inspired you, and hopefully it has as a listener, then that will give you a lot more concrete things to kind of lean into. In addition, on LinkedIn, CAarons is my handle, or whatever you call it on LinkedIn. I have been publishing a number of different articles so you can read all of the articles from both myself and my business partner, Michael Gale that will really kind of talk about what digital transformation is, what it looks like, how you can think differently about your organization across commercial, and higher ed, and non-profit, and a whole bunch of other areas.

Jarrett Smith:     

Excellent. Well, Chris, thank you so much for your time today. This has been an absolute pleasure.

Chris Aarons:    

Oh, the pleasure is all mine. I’m so excited about this. Thank you.

Jarrett Smith:    

The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service marketing firm dedicated to helping higher education institutions drive enrollment, increase yield, and capture donors attention. For more information, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. As always, if you have questions, suggestions, episode ideas, or just want to reach out and say, “Hi,” drop us a line at podcast@echodelta.co. See you next time.