A Conversation with Sharmin Attaran, PhD at Bryant University

  • Sharmin Attaran - Crop

    Sharmin Attaran, PhD

    Associate Professor of Marketing, Bryant University

Hi Sharmin! Tell us about what’s going on at Bryant University and the learning goals you’ve set for your students. 

We recently launched a Digital Marketing Concentration at Bryant University. It’s a multidisciplinary concentration which includes marketing, analytics and communications courses.  Students who complete a concentration in digital marketing will be able to: 

  • Define what digital marketing is, the various channels within which it operates and its role in marketing strategy.
  • Identify target audiences through online market research to create original digital content to meet organizational goals.
  • Launch effective social media and digital marketing campaigns across internet-based platforms.
  • Distinguish between the functions of digital communication channels and software to select those appropriate for the needs of the organization and end users. 
  • Quantitatively evaluate digital marketing strategies and tactics and use the data to inform future marketing decisions and track marketing effectiveness.

They achieve these learning objectives throughout the course using a real-world client project and obtain a series of industry recognized certifications. 

That sounds great! So, applied learning is part of the DNA of this project. Can you tell us a bit more about that, specifically the client project? 

In both the intro and advanced digital marketing course, student teams are paired with individual clients (from small- and medium-sized enterprises to nonprofits) to create a digital marketing strategy that meets the company’s goals and objectives. 

After completing an interview with the company and an audit of the company, they begin developing a strategy that they will implement throughout the semester. Upon approval, they implement (paid social ads, SEM, post on their social media channels, adjust their websites, write content, etc.), manage, and analyze a digital marketing strategy live across various digital channels and platforms. By the end of the class, students have a better understanding of how different digital marketing channels drive users to a website and convert those users based on a targeted call-to-actions (CTAs) like lead generation sign-up, email sign-up, or ecommerce checkout, among many other options. 

Throughout this project, students learn how to provide recommendations based on data, not on hypotheticals, which provides a richer experience to both the students and the clients. Furthermore, students learn essential skills on how to build relationships with and communicate with clients of all types, something not often learned in an undergraduate setting.

That sounds like a lot of work to organize! What are some of the typical assignments throughout the course? 

Some fun assignments include detective market research via social listening campaigns (such a powerful tool) and implementing an employee engagement strategy (which many companies don’t take advantage of). In addition, we create and launch paid social advertising on platforms such as Facebook, using various client objectives, then monitor and analyze key marketing metrics to provide weekly report updates on their progress and inform strategies based on these metrics. Running actual paid ads is so fun,  and students love watching their strategic moves unfold in real time!

You mentioned the learning goals, but concretely, what does that look like for the student? What have previous students gotten out of the class? 

Upon completion of this client project, students walk away with a comprehensive understanding of how to work with clients to develop, implement and manage a digital marketing strategy across various channels and platforms. 

Students have moved on to obtain leadership roles in digital marketing in major companies or start their own agency or consulting firms. Perhaps the hardest part has been managing multiple clients, all with different needs, wants and resources, each semester. For example, we are working with 13 clients across 3 sections of the course!

Typically, professors use simulations. But, these projects are about implementation of strategies, so our recommendations aren’t based on pure hypotheticals. After all of the work that the students do, we can say to a client: “This is not only what we think you should do, but we tried it, and based on our results, this is actually what you should do”.

What Certifications do you assign throughout the concentration? 

We assign: 

  • Google Ads Certification
  • Google Analytics Certification
  • Hubspot SEO Certification
  • Hubspot Social Media Certification
  • Hubspot Content Marketing Certification
  • Hootsuite Social Media Certification
  • Hubspot Inbound Marketing Certification

Can you talk a bit more about the Google Ad Grants Challenge? 

Google gives up to a $10,000 USD monthly budget for 4 weeks to run Google advertisements for international non-profits. We just got paired with ours, an international nonprofit that provides mentorship for students from underprivileged communities and helps them get into Ivy League Schools. 

At Bryant, we split students into groups of four to work on the Ad Grants Challenge. We find that this is a unique opportunity for students to obtain real-world experience creating and executing online marketing campaigns for real nonprofits. This global academic program supports digital skill development and drives positive change around the world. Upon completion of this program, students are able to discuss online marketing and media planning, collaborate effectively in a professional group setting, and explain concepts like clickthrough rate (CTR), landing page experience, campaign optimization, and conversion tracking. In addition, they can discuss the benefits of targeting advertising to a select audience and illustrate how technical and cultural factors affect the success of an online advertising campaign. Of course, they also become Google Ads Certified.

Here is Sharmin’s recently published book: The Little Black Book of Social Media (Attaran, Sharmin & Boyer, Stefanie )