Monthly Archives: July 2013

The business case for digital marketing

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Entrepreneurs are regularly engaging with customers through digital marketing applications. Corporate businesses’ sites are enabling interactive information sharing, inter-operability, user-centred design and collaboration. Some are even allowing customers to interact and collaborate with each other in social media networks, blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, hosted services and web applications. The companies that are embracing such innovations will be those that will be successful in leveraging themselves against competition. They will be rewarded by the marketplace, as a result. Multichannel communications particularly through mobile technologies reach customers in a timely, relevant, personal and cost-effective manner. Therefore, digital marketing comprises a set of tools that allows people to enhance their social and business connections as they can share information and collaborate together on projects online. Millions of people have increasingly become familiar with blogs, wikis, social-networking sites and other online communities. A growing number of marketers are active on social media including Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter. They use these networking sites to collaborate with consumers on product development, service enhancement and promotion. Not all entrepreneurs are well versed in information-communications technologies, yet some are becoming quite successful in consumer engagement. Nowadays, it is relatively easy to build your own web page through blog sites like wordpress, blogger or posterous to name a few. The tools of production (e.g. content editing software and blogging tools) are widely available and are very user-friendly. In addition, customers have become increasingly acquainted with the marketing tools of distribution (e.g.amazon, ebay, itunes and the like).

These days, marketing is all about keeping and maintaining a two-way relationship with consumers. Digital marketing tools are a powerful way to do that. A growing number of businesses are learning how to collaborate with consumers about product development, service enhancement and promotion. Successful companies get consumers involved in all aspects of marketing. They listen to and join online conversations about products outside of their sites, as they value customers’ opinions and perceptions. Many businesses use web 2.0 tools to forge collaborative relationships with business partners including customers in their value chain. Their employees are often involved in this process. Moreover, it seems that customers are willing to participate by giving their feedback. For instance, consumers can possibly provide invaluable insight during the research and development phase of a product. In a sense, customers may help companies to improve on their existing product or service offering. The firms who respond quickly to their customers’ pleas will inevitably lead in customer satisfaction and retention. Apparently, consumers trust each other’s opinions more than a company’s marketing pitch. It goes without saying that there is no shortage of opinions online. For instance, blog sites like digg and delicious are continuously tracking the most popular topics on the web. Such blogs often feature the latest buzz about new product propositions. Commentators can often help to generate favourable remarks and positive reviews – which are always beneficial for businesses’ reputation. This may result in free publicity for brand awareness. Blogs, wikis and online communities are among the tools that companies are increasingly using for marketing, but there are other ways to reach consumers. For instance, many companies are resorting to instant messaging on their web sites, where shoppers can chat online with customer-service representatives.

Arguably, web sites and blogs can provide invaluable support to businesses in their endeavours to attract new customers. Yet, the businesses’ corporate image can easily become tainted with negative reviews (and comments) at some point in time. It is important for businesses to address and recover from such poor feedback. This contribution suggests that digital marketing tools can possibly be used to reinforce existing promotional strategies. These tools complement quite well with conventional advertising tactics as they raise awareness of the company’s presence. Needless to say that social media networks are used by millions of customers every day. Similarly, entrepreneurs can write numerous blogs to remind customers of their products or brands. However, the successful businesses are the ones who are capable of forging relationships with customers through digital marketing tools, including social media. Perhaps, consumers ought to be involved in marketing and selling activities; from product development to after-sales feedback. Companies can gain sustainable competitive advantages only if they value consumers’ opinions on various aspects of the marketing mix (including product, pricing and distribution preferences). In Kotler’s own words, “the marketing organisation will have to redefine its role from managing customer interactions to integrating and managing all the company’s customer-facing processes”.

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Embedding Formative Assessments in Curriculum Frameworks

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Educators who regularly engage in student-oriented approaches will inevitably need to adapt to different pupils’ needs, abilities, interests and learning styles. Nowadays there is adequate and sufficient evidence which suggests that educators who supplement or replace lectures with active learning strategies are improving their students’ learning and knowledge retention. At the same time, the students will become motivated as they participate in the discovery and scientific processes. Recent, academic studies have shown that educators are increasingly resorting to student-centred assessment approaches, including: Active Learning, Collaborative Learning, Inquiry-based Learning, Cooperative Learning, Problem-based Learning, Peer Led Team Learning, Team-based Learning and Peer Instruction among other methodologies. Therefore, educators are expected to identify their students’ learning needs and respond to them. Yet, they should also measure the progress of their pupils in their learning journey. This article maintains that (summative) assessments are a classic way of measuring student progress. Assessments are integral to the schools’ quality assurance, syllabi and curriculum programmes. In a similar way, such forms of tracking individuals’ performance and their progress are also applied in workplace environments by many employers. However this is only part of the story. To be truly meaningful and effective, assessments should also be “formative”. Educators may use tools and activities which are embedded in the on-going curriculum to garner students’ feedback at key points in the learning process.

Interestingly, educators are moving away from the conventional teacher-centred methodologies as they are enhancing their interaction with students. Formative assessments respond to the pupils’ individual learning needs as the educators are making frequent, appraisals of their students’ understanding. This enables them to adapt their teaching to meet the students’ requirements, and to better help everyone reach high standards of excellence. Educators ought to involve their students in their learning journey. This helps them to develop key knowledge, skills and competences that enable their intellectual growth. Nevertheless, although the educators seem to be incorporating various aspects of formative assessment into their teaching, it is less common to find it practiced in a systematic manner. Formative assessments are often present within individual teachers’ frameworks. It may appear that some of the emerging educational approaches are setting up learning situations as students’ are guided toward their learning goals. These approaches seem to be re-defining student success. To my mind, formative assessments are highly effective in raising the level of student attainment, as they are likely to increase the equity of student outcomes.  Formative assessments entice the students’ curiosity in the subject, as well as improving the students’ ability and aptitude to learn. Such student-centred methodologies emphasise the process of teaching and learning, as they involve students in their own educational process. It also builds students’ skills during peer and self-assessments, and help them develop a range of effective learning strategies. Students who are actively involved in building their understanding of new concepts (rather than merely absorbing information) and who are learning to judge their own quality and of their peers – are developing invaluable skills for lifelong learning. As a proponent of active learning my formative assessment strategies often feature role-playing, debating, student engagement in case studies, active participation in cooperative learning and the like. Such teaching approaches can be utilised to create a context of material, where learners work collaboratively. Needless to say, the degree of my involvement while students are being “active” may vary according to the specific task and its context in a teaching unit. Of course, there are different approaches to gauge students’ comprehension of what has been taught. A non-exhaustive list of formative assessment strategies can include:

  • Questioning strategies: During classroom interactions, students may be asked challenging questions. Questions often reveal student misconceptions. Questions can be embedded in lesson plans. Asking questions often gives me an opportunity for deeper thinking and provides me with significant insights into the degree and depth of student understanding. Questions will inevitably engage students in classroom dialogue that both uncovers and expands learning.
  • Criteria and goal setting: Students need to understand and know the learning targets / goals and the criteria for reaching them. Establishing and defining quality work together, asking students to participate in establishing norms and behaviours for classroom culture, and determining what should be included in criteria for success are all examples of such a strategy. Using student work, classroom tests, or exemplars of what is expected will help students understand where they are, where they need to be, and an effective process for getting there.
  • Observations assist teachers in gathering evidence of student learning to inform instructional planning. This evidence can be recorded and used as constructive feedback for students about their learning curve.
  • Self and peer assessments help to create a learning community within a classroom. Students will learn as they are engaged in metacognitive thinking. When students are involved in criteria and goal setting, self-evaluation is a logical step forward in the learning process. With peer evaluation, students see each other as valuable resources for checking each other’s quality work against previously established criteria.
  • Student record keeping helps students better understand their own learning as evidenced by their classroom work. This process of students keeping on-going records of their work will help reflect on their learning journey, as they examine the progress they are making toward their learning goals.
  • Portfolios, logbooks and rubrics: These instruments are widely used to provide an opportunity for written dialogues with students. Such tools help educators to evaluate the quality of their students’ work. On the other hand, students will use rubrics to judge their own work, and improve upon it.

Without doubt, there may be still some perceived tensions among stakeholders about formative assessments and summative tests. Education institutions have to be accountable for student achievement. They guide students to satisfy the requirements of their curriculum programmes. There may be a lack of consistency and coherence in policies between assessments and evaluations at both the institutional and classroom levels.  And there are different attitudes among educators about formative assessments. Perhaps, on-going assessments may be considered too resource-intensive and time-consuming to be practical. Educators are often faced with extensive curriculum and reporting requirements as they are often teaching to larger classes.

The right assessment systems foster constructive cultures of evaluation. Formative assessments are likely to help in promoting reforms for student-centred education. Ideally, information gathered through assessments and evaluation processes can be used to shape strategies for continuous improvement at each level of our education system. In classrooms, educators can possibly gather information on student understanding. Consequentially, this enables them to adjust their instruction to meet students’ identified learning needs. In conclusion, this contribution suggests that the locus of emerging educational strategies is pushing toward a proactive engagement in student-centred learning theories, where the student is placed at the very centre of the educator’s realms.

Also featured on the Times of Malta on the 27th October 2013.

Dr Mark Anthony Camilleri lectures at the University of Malta.

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Developing Social Marketing Plans

Corporate Social Marketing differs from other marketing activities as it focuses on responsible behaviours that help society and the environment. This contribution suggests that there are many benefits for businesses who carry out laudable initiatives. Social marketing raises the businesses’ profile as it strengthens the brands’ positioning relative to others. It improves the financial performance of firms, especially if it supports the firms’ marketing goals and objectives.

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Of course there may be many cynics among stakeholders (including customers) who view social marketing campaigns as none of your business. Therefore, developing and supporting social marketing campaigns will surely involve more than writing a cheque.

Businesses ought to pick an issue which is closely related to their individual organisation’s core business. The organisation’s resources and the corporate marketing strategies should focus on initiatives that have the potential for long-term sustainability. In addition, every member of staff should be encouraged to engage in socially and environmentally responsible behaviours. Perhaps, there is also scope in forging alliances with the public sector and non-profit organisations. Such external stakeholders can possibly provide relevant expertise, credibility and extended reach into promising customers. For instance, non-governmental organisations can easily identify the needs and wants of the communities around businesses. Finally, strategic marketing entails sequential planning processes which will involve consumer and competitive research as well as the effective utilisation of marketing mix tools.

A cohesive approach is necessary to ensure successful results. Therefore, the following steps and principles are highly commendable for the successful implementation of social marketing plans which will eventually reap fruit in the long term:

  1. Determine a vision for social behaviour: Who is the main sponsor of this concerted effort? What is the purpose of doing this? What social and environmental issue(s) will the plan address and why?
  2. Conduct a situation analysis, which triggers a SWOT analysis: What are the internal strengths and weaknesses? What are the external opportunities and threats?
  3. Segmenting target audiences: Which individuals and/or organisations in the community have the greatest need? Are these potential segments readily accessible?
  4. Set behavioural objectives and change management goals: A key success factor is the setting of specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and timely (SMART) objectives that become the core of campaign effort.
  5. Determine potential pitfalls to behaviour change: Perform a cost-benefit analysis of the desired behaviour. At this stage that it is also necessary to look at the competitors’ behaviours. The target audiences can also change their attitudes and perceptions about products and services over time.
  6. Draft a positioning statement: Are the businesses’ target audiences valuing socially and environmentally responsible behaviour?
  7. Develop the marketing mix, marketing strategies and tactics: Businesses need to respond to the barriers (and motivations) that target audiences may have. Some customers may be sceptical of the businesses real intentions. A few issues to consider in each of the 4Ps include: (i) Product – provide tangible products or services in the social marketing campaign, ones that will add value to the brand. (ii) Price – non-monetary forms of recognition can add value to the exchange transaction.(iii) Place – look for ways to enhance the distribution of the product (or service) by reaching out to the desired target market in a convenient way.    (iv) Promotion – develop marketing communication messages prior to selecting media channels. Messages have to be clear, understandable and relevant to particular target audiences .
  8. Develop a plan for evaluation and monitoring: Evaluation of target segments. Where there any behavioural changes in customers? Is the social marketing campaign successful?
  9. Allocate budgets and find additional funding sources: There may be scope in corporate partnerships (for philanthropy) with all sectors in society: e.g. public agencies, non-profit organisations, foundations and special interest groups.
  10. Complete an implementation plan: A three to five year plan may be required to educate staff, dedicate financial resources for infrastructures, change attitudes and perceptions to support behavioural change.

Also Published by the Times of Malta (18th July 2013)

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