Higher Ed Marketing Blog

Building Brand Engagement for Colleges and Universities

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I recently had the pleasure of speaking with an industry pioneer in customer and brand engagement, Amanda Slavin, about Hubspot’s Education Partner Program. But Slavin is a person who wears many hats. In addition to being a co-founder of CatalystCreativ, she is also the creator of an engagement framework named “The Seventh Level”, which is taught to students all over the world through the learning platform CatalystU.

If you’d like, you can listen to our conversation in podcast form here:

Ian Evenstar: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Higher Ed Happy Hour. This is Ian from UNINCORPORATED. As the intro mentioned, I'm here with Amanda Slavin of CatalystCreativ. Today, we'll be discussing HubSpot's Educational Partner Program as well as Amanda's engagement framework, The Seventh Level, which is taught to students all over the world through her learning platform, CatalystU. I'm excited to hear from Amanda on her ways to help educators build engagement for their programs and produce meaningful, lasting, and personal connections with students. Amanda, welcome to the show.

Amanda Slavin: Thanks so much for having me. I'm always so honored to talk to educators. I think they're the superheroes of our time.

IE: Thank you. Speaking of superheroes, getting on the name of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, that's not an easy thing to pull off. Pretty prestigious. How was that?

AS: It was pretty interesting. I'll say it like that, only because I think what ends up happening with these lists is you end up being really public in terms of your accomplishments and then you end up getting connected to all these individuals that reach out to you, and you end up getting a lot of authority and validation. But it also trips you up a little bit where you start to think like, oh, I need to be on more lists and I should be on the cover of. What happened with that Forbes 30 Under 30, it was one of the first years actually that it was released, so there were very few of us that were chosen.

I remember, for each like section, there was a person that was chosen for the front, like the front header, where they had a big photo shoot, and I wasn't that person. In my mind, I was like, "Well, I wasn't that person. Maybe I should have been that person." Then I had to take a minute and say to myself, "I'm super grateful for this opportunity and it doesn't make or break my career. I still have to continue to do great work for myself and prove myself." Yes, it was awesome, it was amazing, I was super excited about it, but it also just, it set me straight, I think, in the perspective of what was important and how I had to continue my journey as an entrepreneur.

IE: Yeah, yeah, exactly. It sets the bar high and then it's easy to get caught up in that. A little moment to take a back step. That's awesome. Well, congratulations on that. It's a prestigious title nonetheless. Let's tackle the first topic which is a little bit of an orientation around HubSpot's Education Partner Program. For those of us who haven't heard of it, or maybe worked within that platform, what can you tell us about this program?

AS: I'm going to just give a tiny bit of context of myself on why the HubSpot Education Partnership Program, that's a mouthful, was even intriguing to me. I have a master's in curriculum and instruction, and I really, and I can talk way more about this later, but I focused on study engagement and creating a way to measure engagement. I then ended up creating my company CatalystCreativ 10 years ago, using that framework, to be able to think differently about how we're connecting with customers, engaging those customers.

I applied it in the classroom and then I applied it with brands all over the world. HubSpot ended up being one of those brands. So, I joined as an advisory board member for HubSpot. As I was taking that framework, taking my actual thesis for my master's years, like I want to say 14 years ago, I was turning it into a book. What the HubSpot team and I discussed, was kind of the overall HubSpot team, it wasn't the EPP team just yet, was how could we really make the most of my advisory role and my position?

I met the Education Partnership Program, which I was not really familiar you're with, and just backtracking one step, HubSpot is an inbound tool. They pretty much invented actually inbound marketing, which is really adding value to your customer, creating a relationship with your customer. So, it's not just outbound looking for sales, but building that relationship so that they then come to you and want to then work with you.

They take that software, the tools that they offer to, that are paid tools, and they offer it to, I want to say more than 1,500 professors all over the world, completely for free. The reason why they do that is those professors actually then allow for their students in their class to also utilize those tools for free, to learn how to use those tools so that they can then, when they graduate, go to jobs all over the world, this is now 1,500 professors times, let's just say 30 students, they're going into. So you could think about how many students had access to these tools in terms of HubSpot. What I said to them is I had already created a course with them, taking my framework, my framework that I wrote my master's on, it's called The Seventh Level, there are seven levels of engagement, and turned it into a HubSpot academy course.

HubSpot also has this entire academy. HubSpot is this unbelievable brand that all they do is think about, how can we benefit the lives of our customers? HubSpot Academy is all these free courses that they have. I did one. I did really well I started speaking at their events. They have these events called Inbound. I said, "Why don't we just take this, take my book that I'm writing, and let's release it in partnership with the Education Partnership Program. I will give talks and lectures to students and to professors."

"I'll work with the professors on professional development. I'll teach them about the levels. Also, we'll have these students leverage the levels as it pertains to utilizing HubSpot." We then ended up taking it, this framework and turning it into a really, really big curriculum, which I could talk about later if you're interested, but the whole point of again, this EPP program is for HubSpot to offer their tools to students all over the world so that they can understand how to deepen their relationship with their customer whether they're being entrepreneurial within that classroom and they're starting jobs or they're consultants, and also post-graduation when they get a job.

IE: Awesome. If I heard you correctly, you were actually consulting with and hearing from professors in the field as you were putting together this program. I guess at that time when things were just still kind of in the initial stages, what were you hearing from professors? Like what was lacking in their current marketing sales or business curriculum?

AS: Yeah, we worked with ... I worked internally with, his name was Jordan Ames, and he built this entire program with me. We interviewed quite a few professors to figure out what would be interesting to them. And they said they really wanted hands-on application. Now, again, it was particularly around HubSpot, but in general, around teaching their students how they could apply any skill really, to businesses and to jobs, and help, a lot of the professors were saying they wanted to help their students get jobs and give them, equip them with the skills that would help them do so.

When we were thinking about taking this book and this framework and turning it into something that professors could teach their students and could share with their students and could learn from themselves, we really wanted to make it very application-based, very business oriented so that when students left that class, they could go to jobs and interviews and say, this is how I will improve your business based on what I've learned in this class. So, yeah, super application-based, super business-oriented, very skills-based, setting individuals up to be able to be really in the job market.

IE: And aside from, I guess, career-focused as like a learning outcome or result of this, is there a way that this also helps students with success maybe as part of their educational experience before they graduate?

AS: So, yes, I think a lot of the students, and I've worked with one of them. One of our main partners, well, is Howard University. So, they've taught this to their MBA students as well as to their marketing students. A lot of the classes that really dove deep with this robust curriculum were MBA students because it is so much work to do this very deep dive curriculum and as it pertains to what we did again, as a business case study.

But what we then ended up doing with HubSpot was we took that very robust curriculum we developed together and we built out smaller tools. So, we did a social media audit using the engagement framework. We did just a series of lectures using the engagement framework and also interactive sessions with the students using the engagement framework so they could get to know each other better. A lot of the students reached out to me after, and it really changed the way that I think that they were thinking about what they were learning in the first place.

I think sometimes the problem, I mentioned I have a master's in education. I never studied marketing. I did it 15 years ago. There weren't a lot of entrepreneurs out there. There weren't a lot of marketing jobs out there. There weren't really social media. There weren't a lot of these things that we today now just take for granted in terms of jobs and opportunities. When I was really working with these students, I think that marketing, the word marketing, PR, communications, ends up being very disconnected from the understanding of what this actually means and why it matters, and this is why it's important, and this is how I'm going to use it. What this really taught them was I think it gave them the intention behind what they were learning. And it also gave them a new way of applying ... It's all application-based, right? It's not just about getting a job. It's about applying it to every aspect of your life, whether you're interacting with other students, whether you are ... You could actually use, I've taught students how to use this engagement framework in getting a job.

In the actual interview process, how do you think differently about how you're engaging with the person interviewing you? What level are they connecting with you and how can you increase that level of engagement so that you can get that job? Once you know, this, my book, the framework, the seven levels, it's really about deepening your relationship with anyone and everyone, and so once you actually know the levels, you can use it on your own marriage, you can use it to date people.

I think that it really impacted them, not only once they got the job, but to actually get the job in the first place, and even beforehand, why it mattered in terms of the context of what they were studying.

IE: I see. So, you're going to apply this to a dating application is what you're saying. It could be.

AS: I did advise once. I advised a bunch of startups, about 20 startups, and one of the startups is a dating app. I actually did use the levels in terms of, and the whole book is broken out into When Harry Met Sally because I just started to really think through, how can I show what it looks like, for a relationship to go from level all the way to the seventh level? It's so difficult in a work setting or even with an external customer. But a relationship, it's easy. The When Harry Met Sally movie literally goes from one to seven and it can be applied to, yes, to dating.

IE: Yeah, that's great. One of the things you called out there was that you have business case studies built into the Seven Levels curriculum, and there's some practical understanding of these, maybe more broad theoretical concepts that you study, say in business school or in part of your marketing curriculum. What are some of the case studies, or how did you develop those case studies and bring those into your curriculum?

AS: Yeah, so if there was a linear path, it was like, got my masters, wrote my thesis, then applied it for years to test it. Tested it to see how it worked, the framework itself, then wrote the book, created a course with HubSpot, built a curriculum, and then turned it into a full learning platform ourselves. That's kind of the ... I'd like to be able to create that roadmap for everyone listening. But the actual curriculum that we developed with HubSpot, we took these levels, and the whole point of the levels is it can be applied to anything and everything.

The seventh level's defined as literate thinking. It's when your personal values and beliefs align. When you think of students going to a university, I was on the board of trustees of a small university, and also I went to Yukon, which is not a small university. But when you think about why students choose a university, they're really looking at, does this check? Yes. Does this check certain boxes? I would say that's a lower level, like level five. I'm not going to get into all the levels today, but does this resonate with me? Does this identify with me? Can I see myself there? Can I wear the Husky sweatshirt and paint my face blue when I'm going to the basketball games?

That's that highest level of engagement. It's I want to be a part of this and I want this to be a part of me forever. That's that highest level of engagement. When we did it with HubSpot was we took those seven levels and we, as I mentioned, applied it to, how to use the HubSpot tools. There are so many tools within HubSpot. There's email marketing, there's social media monitoring, customer listening and insights, there's website tools. I really wanted to create the context for when and how to use those tools as it pertains to a business.

We took Coachella again, Jordan was a big fan of Coachella, and then we ended up doing Essence Fest as well, and we applied ... This was pre-COVID when events were different than now. I think now they're probably at a lower level of engagement. And we went through the entire business. At each level, we talked about, where are your customers? How can you really identify how to utilize the HubSpot tools to make sure that you are continuing that relationship with that customer? So, increasing engagement with that customer. Then we actually assess the students on, okay, now use the tools.

Now let's assess your success with these tools and so on and so on for each and every single level. That was a fairly, again, very, very robust curriculum. We then realized that's amazing, but that requires a professor that's super committed and passionate about teaching their students how to utilize HubSpot as well as the levels themselves. It requires a lot of hand-holding in a lot of ways, and it requires the students to be really, really passionate about the work.

We wanted to take that and simplify it a bit more. So, we then built CatalystU. Tho those case studies and that business roadmap is a bit more simplified, I'm going to stop here because I answered your question already.

 

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IE: And we want to talk about CatalystU as well, so we're kind of getting there. Thank you for laying out that linear roadmap. I think it's helpful to see the trajectory of your education, your experience, and then how you've gone forward and built things along the way. This curriculum, the Seventh Level framework, just to remind everyone, all seven levels, is available through HubSpot's EPP, and it's completely free, correct?

AS: Yes. We could provide the link, it's catalystu.com/hubspot that talks all about the partnership offers, all of the free resources, and free downloads. HubSpot's link is I think maybe 35 extra words than that, but yes, all of this is completely free.

IE: Awesome. Yeah. There's also, has maybe a tracking code, which you don't want to have to remember. Just go there, that'll be a lot easier. I love the fact how you laid this out of bringing this curriculum into your class, but thinking about senior administrators, maybe educators, how could they use it, maybe not as part of their curriculum, but how else could they apply The Seventh Level framework?

AS: Yeah. I will say as a part of that, that catalystu.com/hubspot, we also have a social media audit that I mentioned, which is, and a course, in addition to all of this, so even if they just wanted to watch the course or use the social media template, or the whole entire point, and I've given quite a bit of talk about this as well, which are also on the site, is to make this as accessible as possible. And for teachers, and for brands, and for people all over the world to think more intentionally about the way that we're talking to each other and connecting with each other.

Now I'll kind of parlay to professors more specifically. With CatalystU, the whole intention with CatalystU was to express that entrepreneurship is a mindset, not a job title. I think that we've glorified entrepreneurship over the past 15 years to, or 15, 20 years to be people on the cover of Forbes and Fast Company, and Inc, and they've raised hundreds of billions of dollars, but I think that we all have to now think like an entrepreneur because we're getting into a very new world that requires for people to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers for us to, again, work in remote environments where we're not being watched all the time, or we're not being told what to do all of the time.

So, we need to set ourselves up for success. And also, as professors and hybrid environments when our students have a lot of things going on in their lives, even more than before to connect with our customers, in this case, professors to students. CatalystU is a course that really teaches individuals how to think more entrepreneurial, how to think more creatively, how to utilize these understandings of marketing, engagement, of creative thinking to connect with their customers more deeply.

I'll just use a university as an example. If it was a university, so I guess, actually before I go into anything, what do you feel ... What is a professor's biggest hurdle? What would success look like for a professor?

IE: Well, I think, at its basic level, just connecting with students and getting them to engage with the material like that, especially in an online curriculum, right? That's the hardest thing. People have their cameras turned off. You have very little participation. It almost feels like forced fun.

AS: Yes. Okay. Rather than me even talk about the course and talk about this and there are simple things. I give a lot of talks digitally, and I think I'm just going to briefly touch upon the levels because I think professors will start to see where their students are falling into these levels. And if they just actually know these levels exist and they start to think about where is my student within these levels? And they start to think, what can I do to improve that relationship with them? Versus just blanket statements, my students are not engaged. That's the main problem, right?

That's the main issue, is that we bucket everyone in these categories of, okay, our students are not engaged or they're engaged, but that's not the way that the world works. With these levels, there are these seven levels. They break out into three buckets, which is the HubSpot's flywheel. I can go over it within two minutes. The bottom three levels are all around attracting your customer. Think about this in terms of earning your students' trust. The first level is disengagement, when they're avoiding or idol from the task at hand.

This is if they don't show up for class, maybe if they don't do the homework. They're truly disengaged. They're not doing something that you're asking. They're not even showing up. They're not responsive. They're not showing up. Level two is unsystematic engagements when they're confused by the messaging. Now, this might look similar to disengagement, but there's a different reason for this. Oftentimes, at level one, it's because you're talking to them in the wrong places, in the wrong times, or you might be even speaking to the wrong person, maybe they don't use email and you keep emailing them.

Or maybe you're sending information to their home address but they haven't been home because they've been traveling because they get to come to the classroom everywhere. At level two, it's about the messaging. So, what are you actually saying to the student? How much information are you sharing with them? Now, I'm not going to keep going, but you could just see how I could give examples all day long. I am going to keep going with the levels. Level three is frustrated engagements when you want to engage with your student but they're distracted.

At each level, the point is identifying what's going on, what are things that I could do to improve this relationship, and then testing out those things. Those are just the bottom three levels. Again, I think I could go maybe 30 more seconds with the top four if you stick with me.

Once you've earned the trust of your customer, your student, then you could start to interact and engage with them. The problem is teachers, as leaders, like everyone, want our customers to jump from level one to the seventh level. They're disengaged, they're avoiding or idol from the task at hand too, we are obsessed with the material. We want to only do this material. But in order to get them there, we have to actually really take them through as a step-by-step process. In my book, I actually talk about experiences I had with students when they were at a lower level of engagement and how I reached them at that level. I didn't throw them to the higher levels. I reached them at that level and I slowly pulled them up, so that way it was sustainable.

Once you can earn their trust, then level four is instruction-dependent engagement. It's instruction-based engagement, a simple call to action, instruction-based. I'm asking someone to do something and they're doing it. This is when you're starting to ask your students questions. Now, on a virtual call, it's really, really hard to get people to ask questions, to respond to questions. That's a higher level of engagement. These are simple calls to action. What I always do with my interactive video calls, especially with students, is I do ask them to do a prompt in the beginning.

I ask every single student on the chat to give me one word of how they're feeling today. Or I literally, I just did this with a very big company yesterday of people that didn't know each other, I asked them to turn their cameras on for this section. And I ask them a question, what was their first job? I also asked, "What did you want to be when you were eight years old?" I do you that to students, I don't care what the question is, and I don't also care if the cameras are on the whole time, but in the beginning, I want your camera on and I want to hear from you too, so I can build a relationship with you.

It's a simple question and a simple call to action and a simple response. That's level four. Then we can get to five, self-regulated interest, when you're piquing someone's interest, getting them excited. These are incentives. This is extra credit. Maybe it's, again, higher points. Like you could get a few points on your test score if you do X, Y, and Z if you show up for class. These are things that are going to get them excited, but you also can't jump here. Once you've done all this work, and you could do this every single class, by the way.

You could say, "Okay, how am I creating a simple call to action? How am I incentivizing and getting them excited?" Then you can get to these higher levels of engagement, six and seven. Six is critical engagement. It's when you want to inspire someone to set goals, to make a difference. This is when you can start. I, throughout an hour presentation with digital class, I do the levels. I know that they're coming disengaged. They don't know who I am. They don't know why I'm there. They have a million things on their mind. And I slowly take them through the process. Then I start asking for volunteers. At six, I start saying, "Now I'm going to let you decide, who's talking. Now I'm going to let you decide.

I don't care if it's silent. I will sit in silence until someone talks. That's a higher level of engagement. By the end, I tend to then really kind of go one step further, where I'm saying, "I'm totally available for you. I'm fully supportive of you." Then I do a reaction round actually, which is then also a higher level where everyone in the group, now, this is not with 500 students, right? This is a smaller lecture, but I then do a reaction where everyone gets to share what they're feeling and thinking, and then I really make myself available. I am very, very specific on who was passionate, who was committed, who was interested, and how can I make sure to show up for those individuals, and continue to build this kind of more wide relationship with the rest.

But I never want to forget about those higher level and engaged customer students, because they can drop along the way. You want to keep them engaged because they're going to actually help the rest of the class become engaged. That was a very long-winded response. But I like using the levels in practice because I think it's way easier to wrap your head around than if I were just talking about it in theory.

IE: Yes. What I heard, a couple of takeaways, one is you broke down the entry points of engagement at each level. You made it very easy to access the question, increase the response, get everyone engaged. And of course, it's not going to work, like you say, with a hundred, upwards of a hundred people in a lecture. But in the smaller size setting, you can actually do that. I also heard, and this was a pretty interesting takeaway for me, was you can go one to seven, all levels, in the span of a class, but you can also think about that nurturing cycle over the course of an entire semester.

The micro one to seven, as well as the macro one to seven engagement. Now, you haven't used the word nurturing. My question on the follow-up here is the inbound methodology, what I know of it, is it involves nurturing people through, say awareness all the way through to a decision, and then delight. Are your seven levels also built around this idea of nurturing people through those seven levels?

AS: The methodology was developed in an education setting and then was applied and tested in a marketing setting. Also, again, we created these seven levels, these buckets, attract, engage, and delight. I would say absolutely, but that was not the intention of the framework. The intention of the framework was to assess and understand what it looked like for students to learn and connect with material in the class, and how we can deepen that relationship for those students. The word nurturing, I mean, ironically again, I'm a mom.

I think it's actually a word that we use most often for children, but now we use it for customer engagement, which is why I think there are so many similarities between being a teacher and being a marketer. But I do think absolutely, it's around those top two levels. What I always tell companies and anyone is again, never forget about those top two customers and allocate resources, financial resources, team members, really make sure that you're personalizing and communicating with those customers in a completely different way.

And that you're making sure that those customers feel seen, heard, and loved very differently than at these lower levels of engagement. It's not about discount codes. It's not about extra credit. It's about making sure that ... I had teachers that, in my past, that I ... There was just one teacher, I'm just going to give a quick example, I couldn't stand math, I moved three times in high school. I really wasn't the best student. I liked to talk on the phone. I was at the seventh level with gossiping and talking on the phone way more than I was with education.

When I moved the third time, I wasn't popular anymore and no one knew me. I started to really connect with learning because of the two teachers. They really looked out for me in this new school. I couldn't stand math. I was so bad at it. And this one teacher just really saw something in me and she kept pushing me around algebra and I became ... I would not get below a hundred. I had an A++ in her class. And it wasn't that I was at the seventh level. I don't think I was at the seventh level with algebra but really became at the seventh level with her.

She saw something in me, she connected with, me and she continued to nurture that relationship with me. So, yes, absolutely, at the higher levels, it's about nurturing, but I think it's in all industries, not just marketing.

IE: Yeah. Well said. Now, I wanted to touch upon the higher levels just a little bit further because the holy grail of brand engagement is to get someone to the higher level and then have them advocate on behalf of the brand, advocate on behalf of the university or the program, or in this case, on behalf of the professor and the courses that they teach. Is there specific kind of rules of engagement that you follow at the highest level, or maybe a simpler question is, how do you bring those brand advocates in your classroom, the highest level of engaged students, how do you kind of leverage them or put them to work within that classroom setting?

AS: Yes. I mean, that's so fun. Literally, in my presentations, I call it the holy grail of engagement is the seventh level. So, I love that you just said that. Even though, CatalystU, this is exactly, at each level, we teach about, how are you connecting with your customer. At the highest level, it's about, how are you making sure you're utilizing these customers in a way that's helping you grow but also helping them feel like they're a part of the story? They want to refer quote-unquote business to you. They want to communicate about how you've impacted their lives. But if you don't set them up for success on how to do so, that's really limiting your relationship with them.

With students, I think, and I don't want to act like I know everything about this industry because I don't, and I respect people within their industries, and I respect teachers again, more than anyone else on earth. When I say things, they might not be exactly right, but I'm still going to say them. I think as it pertains to students, I know that there's Rate My Professor. I know that there's also, obviously again, professors want students to sign up for their classes.

That's extremely important. I would ask, what are some actions that you can, without, let me think through this, without asking a student to go on Rate My Professor, because that's definitely a lower level of engagement, it's more so asking the student and saying like, "I enjoyed this so much and I appreciate you so much and I want to actually talk about the work that we've done together. I want to showcase you. I want to profile you. I want to tell my students what you're up to. Is that okay with you?"

"I want to introduce you to other potential students. I want to utilize you as an advocate because this has just been such an inspiring opportunity for me." Rather than I think plugging a student into already existing tools that might shortchange the relationship, and this is not every student, there are going to be only a few students, I would start to think about, how can I make these students feel really a part of my growth and my success by having them advocate for me in a really personal way. Again, I think, it's so difficult, right? I know TikTok now, teachers are becoming famous and have their own TikTok channel.

If you have a TikTok channel professor, if you have a LinkedIn profile, then maybe you want to share a story about a student and about what they're up to, and you want to do an interview with them. So, it's about how are you actually making that student feel special and using your voice as a platform for them, which in turn makes them feel like they want to do the same thing for you.

IE: Wow. That's great. That's really good. You're advocating for the notion of a student ambassador, but you're also advocating for the notion that you can leverage your own, offer your own platform to help them feel like they're actually a part of the story, that they're helping contribute to the long-term success. That's wonderful.

AS: Yeah. They're the hero of the story. They are the hero. Again, at these lower levels, it's, what's in it for them? I understand it's also what's in it for you. You want more Rate Your Professor ratings. But I think you'll naturally get that by looking out at the highest level for your "customers or students" and making them feel seen, heard, loved, and received.

IE: Yeah. I don't know if every professor has their eye necessarily on a popularity score. They're probably more interested in that core problem, which is to get higher levels of engagement across the entire curriculum and across the entire class.

As we kind of look to close here, let's make sure we've given enough attention and space to the CatalystU learning platform. One thing I was curious about because there are a lot of learning platforms out there, is how does this one differentiates from others?

AS: When we were thinking, okay, I'm going to talk briefly about how I started my company 10 years ago and how it relates to this question. When I started CatalystCreativ, I started it with my business partner who actually passed away a year ago. His name was Tony Hsieh, and he was the CEO of Zappos. And he really believed deeply in changing the way that you think about customer service and corporate culture, and really your relationship with your customer. That was something that I also cared deeply about. It just happened to be again, as a teacher and then in hospitality. When we came together with my other co-founder, Robert Fowler, we wanted to create a business that did that, really changed the way that people thought about connecting with their customers.

We started in downtown Las Vegas. He took $350 million that was from an Amazon's acquisition, started to build a city, and our job was to find entrepreneurs from all over the world and come give talks for free, workshops for free to the public. Think of it like Ted Talks, but totally free every single month, twice a month for two and a half years. It was exhausting. We brought Simon Sinek and we brought the founder of Huawei and the founder of Sweetgreen and the founder of Warby Parker, and all these major startups really before they were anything.

Sweetgreen had one location and now they way more, and they were on stages in construction trailers. What we ended up realizing was, again, we were kind of at the beginning of this bubbling of entrepreneurship, and we were seeing these top teachers, teaching, we called it ROI, a ripple of impact. It wasn't just a return on investment. They were spreading impact. They were spreading inspiration to people in the audience that then thought, oh, I can do this too. So, that was really the origin of the business.

When we started thinking about CatalystU, we thought, okay, there are a lot of learning platforms out there, but there's not a lot of learning platforms that understand this methodology of engagement or teaching this nuanced approach because everyone's using engagement now. Schools are freaking out about engagement. Businesses are freaking out about engagement with the great resignation. No one really understands what that means. So, how do we use it as the bedrock of the foundation of learning, starting with myself as a professor, but then, a teacher, I'm not a professor, but then, how do we take those entrepreneurs, take these individuals that are creating things in the world and actually plug them into the levels?

Have them talk about all the things they're great at. When you go on this platform, you can learn from them, whether it's marketing communications at level two or social media, digital engagement level four, you're really having this entire foundation of success when it comes to the level. That's the big difference is that it's not just a bunch of people teaching a bunch of random things. It's rooted in a methodology that helps rewire or your brain on the importance of building a slow, sustainable relationship with a person versus rushing them from disengaged to engaged.

IE: That's incredible. Thank you. And I love the focal point, right? I don't think you ... I've personally never heard anything that has a platform with such variety and yet one singular focal point. That's really powerful. Also, ROI being a ripple of impact, that's a gem. We're going to hold onto that. If there's one maybe misconception when it to engagement, brand engagement, student engagement, customer engagement, what is that misconception? You mentioned the hero, and I know Donald Miller and the work that I've done with him, he would say, every brand tries to position itself as the hero, and they miss the fact that it's the customer or the student that's the hero. Yep. So, what's the misconception that you would like to share?

AS: Yeah. And Donald Miller is absolutely genius. I very much feel like he was a teacher also in his past life, but he was an author, so it's pretty amazing. Anyway, I've said it a few times, but engagement is not binary. We can't keep thinking that, and I guess, there's two things I will build off of, engagement is not binary and it's not the person who's disengaged fault that they're disengaged. I think we have to start taking, the person that's trying to engage someone, particularly the teacher, has to take more responsibility, or the brand, the company, versus just saying, "Well, they don't understand. Or they're bored or they're distracted."

We have to say, "Where are they? How can I access them? How can I do better? How can I improve? How can I test and iterate based on what I think is going to improve, and how do I continue to build that relationship?" By having those seven levels, it's not as daunting because you're not saying, "Oh my God, I have to take this person who's disengaged, I have no idea why or how, and move them to engaged." It's saying, "Okay, they're one of the seven levels. I'm going to figure out which one, and I'm going to get them to the next level. Now I'm there. I'm going to get them to the next level," and so on and so on. "And once they're at the highest level, I'm going to keep them at that level." Those two misconceptions together, I think could empower people to think differently about connecting with each other.

IE: Excellent. Okay. My follow-up question to this is, now that I'm convinced that I need to buy in and learn more, what's the next step? What is your primary CTA for that professor, that senior administrator that's listening right now?

AS: I mean, such a great question. I would want them to take the CatalystU course. I would want them to take it with a grain of salt knowing that it might not be exactly about students, but it's going to help them think about what their students are interested in and it's going to help them understand who their students want to be and how their students want to be in their jobs. I think it's going to make them think more entrepreneurial. So, it will get them thinking in a completely different way. It will also get them feeling less, again, less ... They'll feel more empowered, they'll feel less disempowered, I was going to say. I would say take the catalystu.com course. I do think, and also, and if that's too much of a ... You could buy the book, the seventh level, but I still want them to take the course. That's the main CTA.

IE: Love it. I know there are a lot of listeners that are going to take you up on that, including myself, because admittedly, I haven't read the book or taken the course yet, but I am convinced that we all need to. So, thank you for your time today. It was an absolute delight. I could speak with you for hours, and hopefully, I'll have a chance to go surfing with your husband, who I understand is also an avid surfer. So, thank you, Amanda.


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