Hey everyone. Thanks for tuning into The Teachers' Lounge, HubSpot's podcast for the Education Partner Program. I'm Isaac Moche, your host for the podcast. Today, we'll be talking to Lin Humphrey, Assistant Professor at Florida International University. Welcome Lin.
Hi there. Thanks for having me.
Great to have you in the Teachers' Lounge today. We've been working together for, gosh, more than a year. I think you were teaching with the certifications before this program even existed.
We were. You had rolled it out about the same time that I was teaching the first class with it.
You have really been a trailblazer with certifications in the classroom. I think that comes from your background in industry and your passion for applied learning. I'm really looking forward to having you share your thoughts with the community.
Thanks for the opportunity.
Tell our audience a little bit about yourself, your background and, of course, what you do at Florida International University.
We could probably say that I'm on my third career. I started out in sales actually. I did pharmaceutical sales early in my career, but my goal had always been to go into marketing. This was about the same time that digital marketing was taking off. Nobody was doing it well. It was during the initial bubble in the early 2000s. I got to do a position where there was internet marketing, there was retail development and video production. That really struck my passion with digital. I also held positions with American Express working on online crews and package vacations.
I worked with a now defunct digital agency called imc². I survived seven rounds of layoffs that they had during the downturn of the economy. I saw the agency go from 550 to 200. I really decided that I wanted to go into academia and do research because there was a gap in teaching digital and in researching digital.
What was it like going through all those rounds of layoffs and how has that informed the way that you teach and what you're passionate about researching?
When I see a white file box, which is what HR would bring in, I literally start to sweat. What it allows me to do is in the classroom, I can inform students on the pros and cons of agency life versus being client side, the risks and rewards of being on the agency side. I spend a lot of time counseling students, "Yes, you may know PhotoShop. Yes, you may have these very specific skills, but let's reposition you as a strategy type role. Instead of doing the work, let's have you directing the work and directing the thinking. That has been very successful."
That's just so interesting. I didn't realize that was part of your past.
For my whole career, I've been an educator because you have to educate upper management on the importance of digital, why digital's important related to traditional media. Now that we're getting closer to a 360 view of the customer, why investments in marketing technology really matter. Now that we have social media, where there's so much discussion on what's the ROI, there's just education at all levels. I tell my students that they will be educators as well. It's one of the reasons why I like service learning or applied learning opportunities because they have to start educating and explaining their points of view and taking a strong point of view.
For those in our audience who maybe aren't familiar with that concept of applied learning, do you mind just giving us a really quick overview of what the term is and maybe how you think about it?
I think of my class in three levels. In the lecture, they learn about what's the latest thinking, how digital marketing ties to what's being done out there in agencies and in the corporate world. For the skills themselves, I use certifications and materials from the best thinkers out there. Then they have to apply those skills through what we call service learning. That's where we partner with local businesses or local nonprofits to apply those skills.
What I have done the last three semesters has been a concept where we take on a non profit or a startup and I put a page limit. They have to come up with a recommendation in four pages plus supplementary material. If you can't convince them in four pages, you're not going to convince them.
Do you explain that stack, so to speak, to the students?
I do. One of the things I do right upfront is I tell them that, "Your class and your learning will be anchored in two concepts overlaid." One is integrated marketing communication, the long-term process of persuading consumers through a number of promotional and persuasion methods and the customer journey. We're no longer necessarily just thinking about a funnel. We're thinking about how do we support the consumer with the right message at the right time in the right dose when the consumer wants to do what they want to do.
Do you ever get pushback for integrating certifications into your classroom either from the students or from the administration or from your peers?
No, I think there has been a new emphasis on having outside sources that can demonstrate somebody's knowledge. The example I used and that I was told at my last school was think about Microsoft Excel. Everybody says Microsoft Excel - and Excel, that's the joke, right? Everyone's got that on their resume.
But they don't have the certification. If you ask them to do something advanced, they're going to be looking up at the health files. It's just really powerful to say, "I'm certified by HubSpot. I'm certified by Google for AdWords," versus, "I got an A minus on exam 2." It's a very different scenario. It's much more compelling to say, "I'm certified."
What do you think are those new proficiencies for the student that's graduating?
If they're wanting to do digital marketing, at a minimum, they've got to have a working knowledge of Google Analytics. I say that because I actually asked Adobe, "What do you need? What should I be telling students to learn for Adobe Marketing Cloud?" They said, "Well, they should really know Google Analytics." They were actually pushing towards the competitor package, which makes sense. Once you know one analytics package, it transfers over. When I think about what HubSpot has, I really like the thinking on the inbound marketing. If you ask students at the beginning of a digital marketing class, they likely think they're going to talk about web design and pretty websites and experiences versus empowering the consumer to what they want to do and encouraging them to take a specific path or branch on the customer journey. I think that's really good from a thinking standpoint.
Email is one of those things where when I did your certification, if you'd asked me if email was still valuable, I would have said no. My thinking is completely different because as I really dug in, you guys reinforced the value of email marketing. eMarketer still says it's the number one valuable tactic. I wrote the business plan for one of my companies' email marketing programs. I think you do a really nice job of explaining why that's still valuable. I'm always going to include the content marketing certification. When I did a tweet chat not too long ago during one of our off weeks ... I teach a hybrid course. I asked what was their favorite thing so far and it had been the content marketing content.
Do you think it's easy with these certifications coming out, with them becoming more comprehensive, to fall into this trap ... ? Maybe you don't think it's a trap, where people say that certifications are the new degree.
I graduated in the 90s from college and went off to graduate school and did an MBA. When I got out if you had a marketing degree, you could get a job. Now the last few years has been, "Well, now you need to have some leadership on your resume." That was the other element. Then it was study abroad. Then it was internship. There were all these little components that were coming together. The challenge is that all these resumes have study abroad, internships, good coursework. How do you really get that relevant experience unless you had an internship at a digital agency?
Let's be honest, how many internships really give you really robust experience in a lot of different areas? Typically not. You're a support role. You're getting some learning, but it's probably in a certain swim lane. This just allows you to say, "I've taken the classes. I've done the leadership. I've done the internships. Here are the industry bodies that say I had this knowledge." Selfishly, from a faculty perspective, it is pretty straightforward to grade these things.
What I liked about working through the education program with you guys is being able to see who had completed their certifications right through the tool. I wish that some of the other certifications had ways to do that, but that is just a brilliant dashboard that makes grading easy. When the deadline hit, I just went through and clicked it off. Most of them had it on their resume or their LinkedIn by the next week.
What advice do you have to the creators of these certifications? You mentioned a bunch that you use. Where do they fall short?
I will tell you that being able to have master access to see performance. The way I do things is it's not that hard to get 100 on a large section of the class. If you pass the certification, I'll give you 100 on the assignment. If you don't pass by the deadline, you have to give me the percentage you got. If they don't take a screenshot on some of them, they may have to get back in touch. I have a recurring challenge with people not knowing what profile link is, and they'll send me a profile link that doesn't work. I think having easy administration, like the tool that you guys have, is really nice.
I would say having an expiration date, like you guys have and like Google has is really important. It worries me when a certification is evergreen because you know that that information is going to change. I looked at using Linda.com ... In fact, I did use Linda.com. That's Microsoft LinkedIn's education platform that they bought. They have certifications. I'm making air quotes right now. Incredible material.
They had some really good thought leaders giving them, but there was no assessment component, so they lost their value because you had Michael Becker, who used to be the head of the MMA here in the US, talking about mobile marketing, but you didn't have to take an exam at the end. I think it's important to have visibility and student performance, have an exam, have an expiration date and the content be engaging. I don't know how you get such good takes out of your educators, but they are damn good on camera. I couldn't do that.
That makes sense. I think that's all great feedback, and it leads me to my next question, which is what should professors rely on certifications to do and what shouldn't they rely on certifications to do from a teaching perspective?
Certifications can help students stand out particularly if they want to go into digital marketing. If they don't want to go into digital marketing, but they want to go into a marketing generalist position, where they're looking at the entire marketing mix, it's still great because a lot of times digital is the step child. If you can show that you have good working knowledge of digital strategy through certifications, that's great. What it does not replace is teaching what's happening in industry out there.
I will tell you the number one thing that I do to stay in touch with what's happening in industry is actually Twitter. I follow a lot of the thought leaders, a lot of the marketing technology companies. When you guys put something out, I drive your folks crazy clicking on everything and signing up. If something from Dreamforce comes out ... With Salesforce/Dreamforce ... I will watch to see what they're doing with targeting and email and AI. A five-minute video may be just enough to shock people or to get them to fall in love with marketing, where it might have been just a class that they had to take. Certifications can't keep a class current.
It's such a valuable point. You use certifications. You use Twitter. How else do you prepare students to navigate a profession that changes so rapidly to get used to that change? It's something that you've obviously lived whether it's through that downsizing or through your couple of different careers, but how do you prepare a student for that?
You can't in some cases. You couldn't have told me in college that advertising wasn't going to be sexy like Mad Men or Melrose Place. I had to live through it to realize I will never do that again. You've tried to teach them, "Here's where you can get the latest information. Here's how you can drink from a fire hose and try to stay on top of things." The people that I have seen that have done really well with their careers watched these emerging technologies, found one they were interested in and really got proficient with it and sold it to their executive management.
In that vein of getting those students prepared, do you want to talk a little bit more about the logistics of connecting those three tiers that you talked about and what it looks like to have the students certified and then doing the applied work? Those certifications are only a piece of the course. I think a lot of professors get tripped up in the actual application of connecting those pieces.
Like I said, I anchor the class in integrated marketing communications and customer journeys. The very first day, we do a customer journey and then later in the semester, they have to do another one and they start realizing how much more complex it is. I also am using ... I don't know if you're familiar with Rise of the Platform Marketer by Dempster and Lee. They're two executives with Merkle. It is one of the most concise and persuasive books on why to focus on the paid platforms. If you had a digital marketing class four or five years ago, it would have all been about community and making good content, and content is king.
Now we don't have to teach those platforms or how to make a Facebook post. We can tell them, "You've got to know how to do this," but then we can really get them into those deeper strategies. I'm pulling them through ... We look at the customer journey. I'm a big fan of Gartner's Digital Marketing Subway Map. I don't know if you've seen that. That's a great tool to guide the different modules. I'll take them down a mobile path. I'll take them down a direct response path. I'll take them down a web path. Just always anchoring back to customer journeys and IMC because those are the principles I live and die by.
How else do you feel the goalpost has changed, as someone who's been teaching this for it sounds like almost a decade now?
No. I've only been teaching since 2012. Here's the number one thing that I will say the goalpost moving is you will have to throw away a lot of your lectures every year. That's why I've been so reliant on the white papers and the quarterly reports from Merkle and Gartner research. That's where what's happening today will be. If I think back to my MBA, other than the basics and the principles, the thinking is completely outdated. I'm giving these students the tools to continue learning and exploring these technologies for themselves, but the goalpost keeps moving because the technology keeps changing. Two years ago, I was not talking about artificial intelligence or modeling audiences. It is a lot of work.
Any advice you'd give to someone who's looking to teach this for the first time or maybe things you learn the hard way and you want to say if maybe even people who are doing it and say, "Oh, keep your eye out for that"?
I will say if you really outline why you're doing it, don't just say, "We're going to do certifications," because then the students may think it's quantity over quality. Really tie your learning objectives to the certifications and then to what they can do in their career. Think always tie it to an end goal of the career. That's why I always spend a session on careers. I do a personal branding seminar. I've done it at three different schools already. Show them how they need to sell this because a lot of times, they may not be the best sales people at this stuff yet.
One of the things I'm actually telling students to do is, "Don't lead off with your education or your experience. Lead off with qualifications." Think about the fact that we're fighting human nature. On average, recruiters look at resumes for six seconds. They're less looking to fill the position, more looking to eliminate people from their stack initially. If you lead off, just think about a newspaper ad or a newspaper story. We have to have a lead or a headline. How do you use your three qualification bullet points to pull them down to the rest of the body. If you start off with digital certifications from XYZ, I want to see the rest of that. It really is make it relevant, make it timely, make it achievable, but challenging.
When you have those students take the certification in the class, you're also getting them to apply them immediately since they're also doing the service learning, it sounds like, for businesses that need it the most so that they can have a real impact, whether it's a non profit or a startup.
I actually have a different approach than having them do the entire digital marketing strategy. We worked with a group called Pink Petals this time. It's a plastic surgeon who put together a non profit for women who do not have the financial means for breast reconstruction after double mastectomies. They came in, told us about their business and what they were doing, who their customers were. A lot of times, it's telling students their primary business goal may not be recruiting customers. It may be recruiting B2B, getting donations, getting awareness in the community. Then we broke up into different tactics. They had to dive really deep into a tactic, but once you've done that, you can do it again with another tactic. I don't want to be so high above the forest that they can't implement it. I want them to really be in the weeds with a point of view and a recommendation like you would at an agency.
What's the structure then? Do you have them do the certification first, then do the client work? Are they happening concurrently? Do you change that?
The client comes in early in the semester so they can be thinking about it. Certifications are spaced out over the semester. Typically, if I'm in a digital marketing class, I might start off with the Google ones because we know those. As we're getting deeper and their thinking is refining, I would go more into content marketing and inbound marketing, where you reside. The client project is at the end. I give them a format that has, "You need to spend two thirds of a page saying why your tactic is accepted in the marketplace. Tell me who says this is valid, why. You can't put the beautiful pictures in the body. It's got to go in the appendices. It's got to be a professional document."
I have them use Mendeley, which is an incredible free tool that organizes research, will sync it across the cloud. They can make notes on it. It cites while you write. They can click a button and do their end notes. Then they have to build a compelling story and explain how they implement. Then what they present to the client onscreen has to be like a recipe. "Step one, do this. Step two ... " So that if that client actually didn't show up, they could pick up those two documents and execute.
What I've also done in some cases ... I had a student at my last faculty appointment, who was in the class, but he needed an internship for his graduation and he did an internship with a startup and executed some of the recommendations that his class put together. That was really cool seeing him see the presentations and having to execute and learn how hard it is to wrangle clients.
Have you had any success stories that you're particularly fond of of students who were able to see the fruits of this setup, where they have certifications, they have applied learning and it's really helped them hit the ground running on their career?
Yeah, actually I do. Her name is Madeline Clark, and she started at HubSpot this week. She had a lot of opportunities, but she fell in love with you guys. She knew day one this week when she emailed me that it was all worth it. When you hear that, that's fantastic. I had another student who ... I shouldn't say just another student. I would say I had four or five my last semester at Ithaca that came to me and more or less wanted me to have a prescription pad to tell them what they wanted to do with their careers, what certifications should they go off and do. Those are the success stories. When you teach them the resources that are out there and how they can keep themselves current ... I wasn't even teaching a class that had certifications that semester. I was just jumping up and down about that.
That's your victory, right? You've given them a spark for a self-directed learning that's going to serve them for the rest of their career. It's amazing to hear.
One thing I also want to say is kudos to you and kudos to some of the other folks out in the community like Karen Freberg, who have really self organized to put together resource sharing. Because this is the Wild West, just like it was in the industry 20 years ago, having a community that you can come to and say, "Hey, how do you do this?", having a podcast where we can share our ideas and what's worked and what hasn't worked or what we haven't even touched because we're scared of it, I think that's really important. So much of academia ... We hear so much about publish or perish and cut throat. I would say that the digital marketing folks, they are the rock stars and a strong community. Kudos to you and to all the folks that have self organized to put together a really supportive group.
The community is only as strong as the people that are engaged in it. I think what a better way to sum this up than just to say thank you for coming on and sharing the successes and the failures and really the logistical blueprint of how certifications fit into your course. It is something that is tremendously intimidating, but I think you made it real. You gave people some actionable things that they can run with.
Thank you for being such a champion for us. I wish that the other companies would clone you and use what you guys are doing as a model for education.
I think they'll catch on soon enough. To wrap up, I just want to say thanks again folks for listening. This has been the Teachers' Lounge, HubSpot's podcast for the Education Partner Program. The Education Partner Program provides colleges and university professors with everything they need to teach leading courses in marketing, sales, entrepreneurship and communications. That's software, resources and a community of professors all for free. Until next time, folks.
Lin Humphrey, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Marketing. His research focuses on digital marketing, social media brand community, and social media influencers. He coauthored Fostering Brand Community Through Social Media, which was published by Business Expert Press. In addition to his academic work in digital marketing, he has nearly two decades in industry, with corporate marketing & eCommerce roles with Carnival Cruise Line and American Express. He also managed client relationships at a ICE Enterprise and a Forrester Wave-ranked digital agency, imc2. HIs clients included Norwegian Cruise Line, USAA, Delta SkyMiles MasterCard, American Express, Carnival SeaMiles MasterCard, and Omni Hotels & Resorts. He is a subject matter expert in the cruise industry, and he’s appeared in USA Today, public radio’s Marketplace, Huffington Post, Seatrade Cruise Review, Travel Weekly, and Cruise Week.