Looking for a Lift: Why Clark University Chose the Acquia Platform
by Chris Hartigan
Looking for a Lift: Why Clark University Chose Drupal and the Acquia Platform
A Q&A with Matt Cyr, Director of Content Marketing
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Matt Cyr, Director of Content Marketing at Clark University in Worcester, MA. Clark is one of the most recent higher education institutions to adopt Drupal and leverage the Acquia Platform to deliver on its digital and institutional goals. Matt’s insight into the power of Drupal and the benefit of the Acquia Platform is a must-read for any organization that is looking to transform its business by changing the way its digital platforms deliver the brand and the overall experience to customers, students or otherwise.
How important is the web to Clark University's marketing efforts and overall institutional strategy?
It’s enormously important to us, but it’s not just about the web; it’s about the overall digital experience that people have with Clark University and how the digital and in-person experiences enhance—and are enhanced by—each other.
The work that we’re doing today, which includes bringing on Acquia to host and support the university’s website on Drupal and implement Acquia Lift, is the result of a process undertaken by our CMO and CIO in 2013 to develop a comprehensive digital strategy. The strategy has a variety of components that span the entire student lifecycle, from unknown prospect to successful student to passionate alum, but the overarching goal is to transform the way people all over the world interact with Clark.
This work is so central to the school that in his State of the University speech this year, our President, David Angel, listed implementation of the digital strategy as the number two institutional goal for the coming year.
What is Clark University looking to achieve through this rebranding and digital overhaul project? How will success be measured?
There are a variety of goals, one of which relates to the question you asked about the digital “project.” For us, this isn’t a project that will be started and completed; it’s a fundamental shift in how the university operates. Like many schools, we’re starting from behind when it comes to using technology to inform and transform people’s experiences with Clark—Drupal will be the university’s first-ever CMS, for example—but we recognize that a powerful digital experience is key to our future, so as an organization we’ve chosen to invest significant human and financial resources into this effort.
Another goal is to give the world a better idea of what Clark is all about. We have a compelling history, amazing faculty, really great undergraduate and graduate academic offerings, powerful research and a culture that truly supports new thinking and an innovative mindset. And we have a lot of markers of success—#76 in U.S.News & World Report’s annual list of best national universities, #13 on Forbes’s list of most entrepreneurial universities, enormous year-over-year growth in applications—but we remain unknown to a lot of people.
Our name recognition is low, acknowledgement of our academic quality isn’t where we want it be and we operate in the shadow of the amazing colleges and universities in Boston.
Part of the reason for this lack of recognition is that you can’t really see who we are because the digital experience is disjointed, good content is locked away in silos and we haven’t done a great job bringing Clark to life.
We aim to address these challenges with the digital strategy, but to ensure that we’re being successful, we’ll use data to see which efforts are and are not working. One of the reasons we chose Drupal as our CMS and Acquia as our support partner is that you put a premium on giving the customer a really clear view into the data. We want to know, for instance, where along the digital path we’re losing prospects or where we’re being really successful in helping them move through their journey with us. Armed with this kind of information, we can do a better job creating compelling content, helping people understand why Clark might (or might not) be a good fit for them and, most importantly, help people connect in person with someone at Clark. The core idea of the digital strategy will really come to life when we’re able to help people have a consistent and seamless experience with Clark—on the computer, on the phone or on campus—and the data to back it up.
As far as markers of success, it ultimately comes down to two things: revenue generation and reputation enhancement.
Anecdotally, I’d love to hear from students, parents, job applicants, peer institutions and others that the experience they had online with Clark felt exactly like the in-person experience.
Beyond that, there are hard metrics that we’ll be looking at closely, like rates of conversion from prospect to applicant to student, and name recognition as measured through brand surveys.
We know Clark University will be implementing Acquia Lift as part of this project. Why was it so important that Lift be included in this effort?
There are a variety of reasons, but it boils down to one simple word: personalization.
Many organizations—and I think higher ed is one of the worst offenders—start with what they want the world to know about them, rather than trying to give the user the information he or she is looking for. We’re like carnival barkers shouting through the digital bullhorn, “Step right up! We know you came here looking for information about our academic offerings, but take a look at our new building!” You see this all the time on university websites—including here at Clark.
But a major part of our digital strategy is the idea of “know me,” which means putting the needs of the user first and helping her do what she came to accomplish. If we’ve done our jobs well, she’ll have her needs met then become engaged with Clark in a deeper way—or decide that Clark isn’t for her and move on.
This is where Acquia Lift comes into play for us. We felt that it would help us deliver a better experience to each person who comes to the Clark website. We want to learn about a person’s interests so we can share relevant content with her and better connect the digital experience to the in-person experience. In short, we want to help people do the things they came to our site to do without getting in their way.
One important consideration for us in choosing Acquia Lift was that it will be entirely integrated into the CMS, rather than requiring us to buy separate pieces of software for specific purposes that aren’t included in a traditional CMS. For instance, I’m particularly interested in A/B testing, and with most other CMS’s we would have had to buy another product, implement it and hope it worked well with our CMS. Lift takes some of that complexity out of the process.
This will be Clark University's first experience with Drupal. Why did the institution choose Drupal for this critical project?
It’s not just our first experience with Drupal, it’s our first experience with a CMS, so it was an enormously important decision for us. We went through an exhaustive process to identify the right CMS solution for Clark. That included an RFP, a dozen or more in-person meetings with a variety of vendors, a deep dive into the various types of functionality, a thorough comparison of open source providers (like Drupal) versus proprietary solutions, an evaluation of our current technical landscape and how a CMS might fit into it, and, most importantly, a deep discussion about what we’re trying to accomplish with the digital strategy and which product could help us achieve our goals.
It was frankly a much harder and more complicated process than any of us anticipated because the CMS marketplace has evolved to include functionality that would “traditionally” (by which I mean just a few years ago) have only been found in marketing automation solutions, personalization providers or customer relationship management software. So sorting through that tangle took some real time and effort; we were learning as we went.
We ultimately chose Drupal (and Acquia as a hosting and support partner) for a few reasons:
1. Drupal looks like a great CMS. Our first job in this process was to find a strong content management system that would improve the Clark digital experience at the most basic (and important!) level. From what we’ve seen so far (we haven’t implemented or started using it yet), we think Drupal fits the bill.
2. We like the Drupal/Acquia model. It combines the flexibility and affordability of an open source CMS platform with the benefits of an enterprise software support model through Acquia.
3. We like that it offers an integrated experience. Given all that we’re trying to accomplish, we may have needed multiple products, which would have meant multiple RFPs, negotiations, contracts, implementations, data sources and potential fail points. Drupal and Acquia will hopefully allow us to streamline all of that.
4. We really like the personalization potential. Each year higher ed gets more and more competitive for the same students, and we believe that one way to identify and attract the right students to Clark is to give them a compelling, interesting, fun and very personal experience with us. We hope that Drupal and Acquia Lift will help us do that.
Matt Cyr is the Director of Content Marketing at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. He is responsible for the university’s primary website, its social media presence and content strategy. Matt recently led Clark through a process to identify a content management system that resulted in the selection of Drupal as a CMS and Acquia as a hosting and support partner.