Target Audience is back!
This month, the Associate Vice President of Digital Marketing at Eduvantis Emily McMahon spoke with us about her expert industry insights, advice for emerging marketing leaders, and deep love for Star Trek.
Emily McMahon's Marketing Insights and Advice for Emerging Leaders
How did you become the Associate Vice President of Digital Marketing at Eduvantis?
Totally on accident! I say that sort of seriously and sort of as a joke, but I actually started my career riding horses professionally after college, and then took a wandering road to where I am now.
I started riding horses then fell in love with Chicago, moved to Chicago, and started my sort of “professional” professional career in political consulting.
I worked for a consulting firm, one of the only firms in the state that worked both sides of the aisle, and focused strongly on digital marketing there, mostly for municipalities and doing all of their outbound communications and things like that.
Looking back, it was a really great grounding in getting a feel for how to connect with different audiences and cater our message to the target and all of those pieces of marketing strategy.
Then I made the shift into higher education, spent some time at a place called TCS Education System, which was really a lightning rod of learning for me. [I] did a lot of paid digital strategy there and SEO, then shifted to a director role at Illinois State University, where I was the director of marketing and recruitment for the college of nursing there.
That was a really awesome experience; just building a brand, getting to sort of see behind the wheels of higher education and get that enrollment management lens. That eventually then led me to Eduvantis, where I started as the director of SEO, and then, almost a year ago now, moved into the AVP of digital marketing position.
Helping universities connect with students and achieve their goals, it's a lot of fun!
What would you say is the biggest difference between marketing for politics and for education?
Obviously, the outcomes are different, so I think in every industry and every marketing challenge you start with, “What's the goal? What's the thing you're trying to drive towards?” And in politics, that's often, at the end of the day, votes, right? You're looking for support and votes.
It's a similar game though, in that, you know, both of those areas, and maybe this is marketing everywhere, the job is to sort of shift people's worldview a little bit on issues in politics. In higher education, it's really about perception of an institution, perception of value, affinity, and ultimately choice of that institution.
So similar challenges, different tactics, different outcomes.
What are the recent marketing industry updates that will have an impact on your work?
As I'm sure everyone knows, it's been a wild two years in marketing, in the world in general.
One of the things that we're thinking about a lot right now is, just recently Google announced that they will be making privacy updates similar to the Apple privacy updates that hit last year that ultimately wiped $232 billion off of Facebook's market cap. So I think, looking forward, thinking especially about paid digital strategy [and] how that's going to change that ecosystem, change the way that we think about how we're doing those things and striving towards our goals.
I don't know that anyone has any real answers to that yet beyond, you know, it really means that you have to go back to really sound advertising strategy and understanding your market, understanding your value proposition, and communicating that clearly to the public, to your audience.
But that's what makes digital marketing fun! It's a bit of the wild, wild west and that's what I love about it.
Privacy issues have been a common answer to that question.
As a person, as a consumer, I love it! I know that this is a challenge for what I do for a living, but I really like it.
I think it’s a good challenge for all of us. When you can’t draw a circle around a singular individual, it means you have to think more holistically about your marketing strategy, including the full funnel, which is what we should be doing anyway.
What advice do you have for emerging marketing leaders?
That’s a really great question. As my career has evolved, my answer to that question has evolved.
I think, reflecting back, the thing that is most important is understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and putting yourself in a position to be successful.
What I mean by that is, we all have strengths and weaknesses. I certainly have some! And I communicate really openly with my team about those areas so we can build a team and build up an environment where we can all, through synergy, be most successful.
I think the teams that are most successful are the ones where the sum of all of you is greater than the individual output of any one of you. That starts by really understanding what you're good at, what you're not, what you enjoy, what you don't, and making sure that the opportunities you grab onto feed those areas where you can be successful.
What is one of the coolest pieces of marketing you’ve seen recently?
So I have two answers for this one!
I loved the Kia EV6 commercial from the Superbowl with the robot dog. It’s really classic, just pulls on the heartstrings, sort of analogy between the robot dog and the Kia. I liked that one a lot.
I also think, and I don't know if you follow Slim Jim on Instagram, but anyone who doesn't should check them out. They have this fascinating platform. Honestly, it feels like it's run by like a 12-year-old boy. They’re the “Long Boi Gang.” They have 1.4 million followers on Insta and it's just all memes! They're a meme page, putting out hilarious content around Slim Jims and people get so into it.
It's a really fascinating play and, I'm not going to lie, I started following them like two years ago because a fellow marketer pointed out that what they were doing was just so weird and awesome.
And I've eaten more Slim Jims since then, so it's working, I guess.
Work Jargon, Women Entrepreneurs, and Communicating Value
What’s your least favorite work lingo? Are there any you like?
I don't know that I have anything I like, or that I particularly despise. One that is on my radar right now is the “quick connect.”
Eduvantis is a fully remote firm, which is super great, but the shift to the Zoom environment means that you can just, “Pop in for a quick connect!” But that quick connect is never actually quick, right?
It’s something we need to solve as a world right now. When you have that availability perception, it makes it really hard to block out chunks of your day to get things done, so I’ve been thinking about that one a lot lately.
What do you follow on social media for inspiration?
For inspiration, I follow a lot of female leaders and entrepreneurs.
When I did my MBA back at Illinois State, my research focus was women in leadership and the challenges around perceptions of power and perceptions of knowledge and credibility and all of those things that women face in leadership positions.
Men have their own challenges; women have their own challenges. It’s different. So I follow a lot of female entrepreneurs and leaders across a variety of platforms. And then, obviously, friends and family – I like that piece of social media.
How would you describe your job to your grandparents?
That's a really difficult question. My honest answer is I probably would just laugh and say, “Oh, I'm in marketing” and we leave it there.
But if I was really trying to explain it, I think what we do is still the essence of what marketing is, right? We try to communicate the value of a thing to people who might not understand that value. And today there's a lot of different tools for doing that: social media, paid digital, search engine optimization. There's all of the technical pieces of how we do that, but when you boil it down, that really still is the essence of what we do.
We communicate value to a variety of stakeholders, striving towards a goal.
I just dropped some more jargon with that stakeholders word!
Shepherds, Star Trek, and Old-School Hip-Hop
What would your job have been in the 18th century (1701-1800)?
I mean, if we’re being honest, I would have been some sort of housewife or milkmaid type scenario. I often think about that because I’m so thankful I was not in that era, I would not have done well. I’m decently opinionated and pretty outspoken sometimes and that doesn’t bode well for women in that era.
I don't know if you had to do this in middle school where they had you take a professional aptitude test and they assigned you a profession; I got shepherd when I took the test! I didn’t know that even back then in the early 2000s that shepherd was a career option you could still have, but that’s what it said.
It fits with the things that I like; I like being outside, I like taking care of things, ya know? So maybe a shepherd.
Which fictional workplace would you love to work in?
I’m going to show my nerd cards here – I would want to work on the Enterprise from Star Trek.
What would you want to do on the Enterprise?
I think First Officer. I'm a really strong right-hand man, so First Officer. They get to go on the fun missions cause they're a little bit more expendable than the captain, you know? So there’s definitely some danger to it and so, yeah, I think that would be my answer.
I have seen every episode of Star Trek ever created. That is a fun fact about me. My dad was really into it when we were growing up and I grew up way out in the country in Wisconsin. We only had one TV station most of my youth, and the only two shows my parents said were kid-appropriate were Star Trek and M.A.S.H.
I’m not sure that M.A.S.H. was actually, ya know, small child-appropriate, but we grew up watching a lot of Star Trek and M.A.S.H.
Besides the Star Trek theme, what is your pump-up song?
I’m a big music person in general – I’ll start a playlist and then just beat that playlist forever, so I don’t know that I have one song…
I’m a big old-school rap fan. Tupac, Biggie, Dre, NWA – that’s my go-to if I need to get an amped-up playlist.
We all have our professional face and then our other face. Mine has Trek Nerd and old-school hip-hop.