May 2 2019

How Code and Theory Transformed MIT Sloan School's Digital Presence

Interview with Matt Chmiel, Associate Creative Strategy Director at Code and Theory via AdForum

Why, now more than ever, leaders in higher education should rethink the way in which they engage with digital and position themselves as brands not simply universities.

Why is digital transformation particularly important to institutions of higher learning?

We are entering into a new kind of era for big education where the confluence of many disparate online/web/interactive systems and 15 years of digital growth and expansion has led to a disjointed, disorganized, disconnected landscape that waters down a school’s core values. This is typical of monolithic organizations, in industries like legal and banking, who have struggled to modernize their online presence to make it user-friendly and visually appealing to external audiences as well as intuitive, flexible and scalable to internal audiences.

What have universities historically done as it relates to their online presence?

Originally, the idea of a university website was intended to serve as a “digital brochure” for prospective students. The fact is that students that want to attend the school will go to the site regardless to get the information they need, and it's important for the school to make it easy and intuitive for that. However, there are other audiences that need to be served and can be served by an interactive, adaptive and aware platform.

Is a day of reckoning coming for organizations in this scenario?

It’s already happened. Once marketers of higher education schools realize their digital presence provides immense value to alumni, current students, faculty, and staff through digital transformation, they must make sense of what’s been done prior. To explain: over time, changes were made to a university’s digital experience because it was relatively cheap, and there were no kind of limits on the amount of output. More specifically, these different platforms served different purposes with different teams on different cloud bases, without a unifying design language, unifying taxonomy, or cross-platform information architecture. All of these need to be standardized and reimagined under one platform to usher the school into a new era of digital growth.

Related to this, you’ve done work with MIT Sloan School of Business. Can you talk about that effort?

MIT Sloan tapped our agency to transform their digital experience and strengthen the school’s brand, cementing its perception as a leading-edge business organization. MIT Sloan is one of the most important idea factories for management innovation in the world, and has been for over 100 years. We're talking about the same organization that invented modern finance, and from a digital marketing POV, the question becomes, “what are they inventing today?” And how can we show that the university is fiercely relevant to what is happening in the world of business, commerce and culture? Our work included a full-scale replatforming which included consolidating 20+ departments operating on 16+ different kinds of content management systems, and introducing common language and visuals that represent the MIT Sloan experience.

As you note, digital transformation is more than just a new website. What else did you address when digitally transforming MIT Sloan School of Business?

A major challenge was the diversity of the audiences this unified platform needed to address. From alumni to students, and even journalists, each group held a different level of literacy and understanding of the subject matter and the content. We needed to address the challenge of making sure each segment felt spoken to and spoken for, while maintaining the integrity of their needs. The site needed to be relevant to each constituency at all stages of their journeys, providing relevant content at the right moments. Further, personalization was important. Personalization is an optimal means of addressing the needs of so many audiences, and MIT Sloan tasked Code and Theory to approach personalization in an innovative way. Driving personalization was inherently difficult considering the number of audiences–It would have to be user-generated, making for a non-passive approach to personalization.

What else would you say was a particular challenge in this effort?

Perhaps not difficult, but internal culture is an important consideration when it comes to any digital transformation. An organization like MIT Sloan involves many different people and disparate expectations on the forthcoming “big change.” In this scenario it’s critical to balance expectations on timing and deliverables, balanced by the need to complete a sturdy, scalable platform that is built for future phases and future developments–essentially a scalable new platform. Once everyone gets on the same page, the real work is done smoothly and efficiently.

What made MIT Sloan a good client?

A single expression of MIT Sloan itself is a monumental creative, technical and administrative challenge. They came to us with the energy and ambition to meet the challenge, which was really inspiring for us. We tapped into that energy and gave them the tools to enter into a thrilling new era of digital transformation.