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Educating The Market

David Cumberbatch is chief marketing officer at ACT, the non-profit education organization that is set to launch an ambitious rebranding effort.

Holmes Report

David Cumberbatch is chief marketing officer at ACT, the non-profit education organization that is set to launch an ambitious rebranding effort this week.

Cumberbatch, who previously held roles at Microsoft and Procter & Gamble, joined ACT last year, after spending the previous four years in the education sector. In the interview below, he discusses the importance of repositioning ACT to change the way the organization is perceived, and explains why digital media is set to revolutionise education in America.

Do you feel you have changed the marketing strategy, since joining ACT?

In a significant way, led by our CEO Jon Whitmore. What he asked me to do is really take his vision and make it come alive. We’ve worked extensively to conduct research. The marketing was non-existent - the approach was to drop a research paper or two every year. But the commercial side was really drifting - yet you have these world-class offerings in the market.

The story was struggling - no one understood the story. By researching three sectors - K12, post-secondary, and career - we found that most of the American public has no idea that ACT has been studying the workplace for 25 years. ACT has studied over 25,000 jobs, representing 91 percent of all jobs in America. Why does no one know about this?

In the last year, what I’ve been working on is this broader story - we’re a leader in K12 assessment, a leader in post-secondary assessment, and now a leader in career entry assessment. There’s no company in America that has that triple threat. What we’ve been working on really hard is bringing that story to market.

That story will be launched through the media, website, industry and trade marketing. America needs a connected system of competency skills assessment now. So that employers who are sitting on the sidelines with millions of jobs can hire in confidence.

How does ACT need to change the way it is perceived?

I would like ACT to be known. That’s the first thing. A lot of people hear ACT and they think of the test. What we want to be known for is the company that helps you achieve your potential. You're moving from a test company to an insight company. The analogy I use is Nielsen or IBM - they were known for the device. In the future we want to be known for the benefits of the device. The insights that help you unlock your potential. So you look at ACT very differently.

Why did you move into the education space?

It was a combination of the work competencies. After a few years at Microsoft and P&G, I had strong competency in marketing with a digital angle. I really was passionate about where digital and bricks and mortar collide. I really gravitated towards education - it was an opportunity to leverage all of those for-profit competencies to really be a pied piper for a new way of doing things. There is going to be significant change in US education in the next three to four years.

How much of a role is digital playing in that change?

Digital education is going to be a dramatic piece of that. The only parts that won’t be digital are the parts that aren’t ready. Within the next two years we pass a critical point where we have 50 to 60 percent of US schools prepared to receive digital. Every aspect of K12 and post-secondary education will be dramatically impacted by digital. What does that look like? Will there still be a campus? I’m not sure.

How does that impact ACT?

In a big way. Over a quarter of American students don’t make it out of high school. Over half who enrol in colleges and universities don’t make it out with a degree. The remediation rate is approaching 40 percent. There’s a real crisis in the system. It is so broken and there is so much need to change. Digital allows us to accelerate the response to that need.

A good example is social media, to embrace and connect with students through Facebook, LinkedIn and other means so they can share their success stories with others. And putting ACT in a position to influence that - raising the importance of competency and test scores, so you inform decisions about when to enrol in college.

If you look at Facebook and LinkedIn, social media is moving from an era of hanging out and chatting to an era where folks are getting utility out of their social connections. Utility from social is going to be a big part of ACT’s strategy going forward. The typical guidance counselor ratio used to be one to 100 students. In recent years that’s moved to one to 300 and we hear it is approaching one to 600.

Through the power of social and digital, we believe that students will be able to get counselling and advice and focus more on students that aren’t just in the top ten and bottom ten. 

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