Author Archive

Seven things I wish I had known when I started the IMC program

May 1, 2014

It’s hard to believe that I started this journey to get my Master’s Degree three and a half years ago and it’s about to end in less than two weeks! I have learned A LOT in the last 3.5 years — about marketing yes, but also about endurance, time management, writing, research, and myself. Some of these lessons I picked up early on, and others only more recently. But all of them are things I wish I had learned a bit sooner. So here it is. For all of you who are just getting started in the program (and even those of you who have been with it a little while), here are seven (because five was too few and ten was too many) things I wish I had known when I started the IMC program.

1. Time management takes on a whole new level in the IMC program. No matter how good you think you are at time management, you will find yourself hitting that submit button with only seconds to spare at least once per semester. At first I thought maybe it was just me. But then I started connecting with some of my classmates offline and found out I wasn’t alone! Even the most dedicated and disciplined of classmates has had a week or two (or 9) when they have found themselves working feverishly on Monday night only to click that upload button at 11:54 p.m. I don’t recommend doing this a lot (I personally have had way too many close calls), but cut yourself some slack if it happens every once in a while. And know that Murphy’s Law will prevail and those assignments that you think won’t be such a big deal will end up taking you twice as long to get done! So try and start early as often as you can to save yourself the stress.

Calvin and Hobbs on procrastination

We all find ourselves hitting the submit button at 11:54 at one time or another.

2. Quality sources make all the difference! As I progressed through the program I learned from each professor which trade publications and sources they favored for quality information when doing research. Some of these I subscribed to early-on and used throughout the course, others I only discovered late in the game and I wish I had thought of them sooner. So, here are a few that I recommend you sign-up for now: AdAge, AdWeek, PR Week, DM News, Pew Research, and MarketingProfs. I also highly recommend you take advantage of the online library databases for accessing journals and competitor/industry information. They’re free and they will give you information you will not find in a Google search. I’m sure there are more that classmates can recommend, but those are the gold standards that have helped me through many a discussion board post and weekly paper!

3. INTEGRATE is awesome. Seriously. You should go! At least once. I almost didn’t go last year and changed my mind at the last minute and I’m so glad I did. Not only were there some great sessions, but it was the first chance I had to meet classmates and professors in person and see the WVU campus. It made me feel so much more connected to the program. I only wish I had gone sooner.

Evernote on an iPad

Evernote helps me work on school work from any place or device.

4. Empower yourself to be mobile. I think I was about 3 semesters into the program when I read a blog post by Kevin that talked about some of his favorite tools that helped him find success in the IMC program. It was the first time I had ever heard of Evernote. It has since become one of my favorite go-to programs for school, work and personal life. Using a tool like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote allows you to save your research, and even write your discussion board posts or papers in one place, but access it from any device. So whether you’re in your office at your desk, sitting on the couch at home with your iPad, or even on your phone while waiting for your kids to finish their piano lessons, you can sneak in a little work and pick right back where you left off at the next opportune moment.

5. Every professor is different. It’s true. No matter how consistent the program is (and trust me, it’s pretty darn consistent compared to others I know about), or how standardized the syllabus, each professor is going to communicate differently and grade differently. They are human, after all! Yet for some reason I’ve seen a lot of classmates get very upset by this fact. Were your undergrad professors all the same? I highly doubt it. I know mine weren’t. You will have favorites and some that kick-your-butt! And there may not be consensus on this by your classmates…so just because your friend said they loved Professor so-and-so doesn’t mean you will. All I can say is accept this fact now and it will save you a lot of disappointment and frustration down the road. For my part (and I have nothing to gain by saying this since I’m pretty much done with the program), I found all of my professors to be reasonable and fair.

6. Connect with classmates outside of Blackboard. It wasn’t until very recently that I got invited to a Facebook Group for IMC students, that was created by a classmate (and is not officially affiliated with the IMC program). This has been one of the best discoveries of the last 3 years because it has allowed me to “meet” people I’ve never had class with, ask for suggestions, tips and recommendations relating to certain classes, share ideas, commiserate about our lack of a life on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, and just in general talk…you know that thing you did in the hallways when you were in undergrad? The stories that got shared around the lunch table or in the lobby of your dorm room? That stuff is missing when you’re in an online program. But thanks to social media there are ways to connect with colleagues outside of class. Whether it’s through Facebook, LinkedIn or even email, I highly recommend you get connected to other students outside of the Blackboard classroom! In fact if you’re interested in joining the Facebook group let me know!

7. At some point you will want to quit. OK, maybe this won’t happen to everyone, but I know that a good majority of the people I’ve met through the program have contemplated it at least once before they finish. And some even do quit…for a semester or two. Whether your personal life changes, your work life gets too hectic, or you just plain need a break, at some point you may find yourself wondering – “Can I really keep doing this?” The answer is YES! Yes, you can, even if you have to take a break — don’t give up! You will be so glad when you cross that finish line.

Instagram launches first paid image to mixed reviews

November 6, 2013

Last Friday Instagram ran its first sponsored image, an ad for a Michael Kors watch, and received mixed reviews. The ad featured a high-quality image of a gold watch next to a plate of macaroons and has received over 229 thousand likes and over 1,700 comments — many of which are not particularly positive.

Michael Kors Instagram ad

Instagram first announced its move to start showing “sponsored” images and videos on its blog last month, letting U.S. users know that they may start to see “occasional” ads in their feed. “Seeing photos and videos from brands you don’t follow will be new, so we’ll start slow,” wrote Instagram. “We’ll focus on delivering a small number of beautiful, high-quality photos and videos from a handful of brands that are already great members of the Instagram community.” The move to start offering sponsored posts is not terribly surprising considering Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, started pushing sponsored posts to user feeds last year.

While many of the comments for the Michael Kors image are negative, it’s likely they are from non-followers given the two most common complaints are seeing a “sponsored” image in their feed and seeing an image for a luxury brand.

According to AdAge, there are nine other brands that Instagram has lined up to produce ads, including Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Burberry, General Electric, Levi’s, Lexus, Macy’s, PayPal and Starwood.

Time will tell if Instagram users start to become generally accepting of the unsolicited images in their feed, however, it’s unlikely Instagram would abandon the idea given the potential growth this could bring for Facebook’s mobile revenue. After all, complaints about sponsored posts in the Facebook news feed didn’t stop them!

What do you think about Instagram’s new foray into paid images?

Why I’m glad I started the IMC program in January

October 8, 2013

I had toyed with the idea of going back to school off-and-on for three years before I first heard about the WVU IMC program. I remember it was a Friday afternoon in early August of 2010 that I sat at a Panera sipping iced tea and attended an informational session online. I thought “if this is an indication of what the learning experience will be like, I am sold.” That was the beginning of this crazy journey that I am now close to finishing.

One of the first thoughts I had after finding out about the IMC program was, “how soon can I start?” While I knew deep-down that this program would be the right choice for me, I was worried that since it was already August I’d have to wait a whole year to start. I was excited to learn in the informational session that the IMC program accepted new students in both the early fall and early spring terms. A January start? That would be perfect. It gave me time to get my application submitted, plan for how I would pay my tuition and just enough time to get used to the idea, without losing the excitement and momentum I felt.

On a Monday morning in early January of 2011 I logged-in to IMC-610 for the first time (I was so excited I couldn’t even wait till the evening to log-in). I had already received my orientation manual and new student packet, so I was ready to try out the Blackboard system and get familiarized with how everything worked. I was excited to see a video “welcome message” from my professor. Getting to see and hear her really helped take away some of the anonymity that can come with online interaction. Then I got to post my introduction and read introductory posts from all of my classmates…to be honest I felt like I got to know more about my “virtual classmates” through our online posts and conversations than I did about most of my classmates in undergrad whom I saw every week.

Professor Creely welcome message

I was greeted with a video welcome message from Professor Creely on the first day I logged-in to IMC 610.

While it was not intentional that I started the program in January, instead of the more “traditional” start date of August, I’m so glad that the timing worked out the way it did. Having three school-aged children, late August/early September is always a very hectic time, quickly followed by the holidays. Being able to get my kids settled into a new school year, enjoy the holidays with family and mentally prepare myself for the long journey I was about to take really made a difference.

The last 2-plus years have been an amazing journey. I will start my final course on a Monday in early January 2014…a bit of a full circle moment I think. I’ll follow-up that final course with my Capstone project and, hopefully, don that cap and gown in May.

If you are thinking about enrolling in the IMC program for early Spring 2014, I highly encourage you to just do it! January is a great time to start…a new year filled with new beginnings. And once you start, you’ll be glad you didn’t wait!

Do You Need a Break From School?

July 22, 2013

I recently received an email from a prospective IMC student asking me whether I recommended taking classes year-round or taking a semester off. This was also a popular topic of discussion at the 2013 Integrate Conference, as every prospective or new student wants to know “how long will it really take me to get my IMC degree?” Of course there is no easy answer. How long you take to complete the program is a personal decision and what has worked for one student might not work for others.

Keep Calm It's Almost Summer Break

Sometimes taking a semester off can help you return to school with more energy and excitement.

As for me, when I first decided to enroll in the IMC program I was determined to take 1 class every semester, without a break, so I could finish up in just 2.5 years. This seemed to be very doable and the idea of finishing up as quickly as possibly appealed to me. Then I completed my first two semesters and reality set-in. Already juggling the roles of wife and mother along with a demanding marketing job, I realized that not taking a break was going to lead to burn-out very quickly. So, I took the summer semester off my first year. I struggled with the decision, knowing it would prolong my time in school. But being able to spend more time with my family for those three months, without worrying about homework assignments or discussion board posts was wonderful! I re-discovered what it was like to read a book for pleasure, and cuddle with my husband on the couch in the evenings without a laptop. Not only was it nice to have the break, but when the fall semester started that August I felt ready, even excited to begin school again.

After that first year I decided finishing the program with balance in my life was more important that finishing it as quickly as possible. So I made the decision to take off at least one semester every year and give myself, and my family, that break. Yes, this means it’s taking me 3.5 years, instead of 2.5 to finish, but as I like to say to people when they ask how long I’ve been in school “it’s a marathon, not a sprint!”

If you are a prospective IMC student, or even a current student struggling with the idea of taking a semester off, I encourage you to look at your life and ask yourself what you think you can realistically handle. Don’t compare yourself to other students, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you aren’t able to stick with your original plans. In the end, it’s about crossing that finish line; and no awards are given for being the fastest in this marathon.

Integrate 2013 Day Two ptched (no that’s not a typo)

June 2, 2013

Here is a fantastic re-cap of day two of the Integrate 2013 conference created by Dr. Karen Freberg (who presented the break-out session Digital Storytelling in Crisis Communications). This was created using ptch – a visual storytelling app that was just introduced to me today by Dr. Freberg. Hope you enjoy as much as I did! 


Coca-Cola and brand love

June 1, 2013

Day two of Integrate 2013 opened with a key note session led by Scott Cuppari, Global Marketing Manager for Coca-Cola Freestyle, who also happens to be a WVU IMC program alum, discussing brand love. So what exactly is brand love and why is it important? Cuppari says that creating brand love is creating loyalty beyond reason. He named four principles of brand love:

                1. Love is a verb

                2. Love cuts across (the noise)

                3. Love comes from fusion

                4. Love is a journey

Brand love drives value. It protects the brand’s future, lowers the cost of programs and extensions, reduces sensitivity, and “breaks the tie”. When consumers are making purchase decisions brand love will make price point less of a deciding factor.

And what better example of a company who knows how to create brand love than Coke? Coke has been ranked the number one brand by Interbrand for 13 years running. It’s easy to see why when you take a look at some of their more recent marketing examples, which Cuppari shared with the group today.

Cuppari shared that Coke’s formula for success is creating content that’s “liquid and linked,” with three areas of focus: Stories, Spread and Value. Stories are the content, experiences, and conversations. Spread is the liquidity of the content; and Value refers to how the content should be linked to everything we do, or have value to us. Coke’s advertising and marketing focuses on telling stories and positioning the Coke brand as a key character in those stories, but not the only character. They are using real people and real situations and that’s what makes the content so relateable and engaging. I’ll even admit to getting a little verklempt watching a few of the clips Cuppari shared today.


Lastly, Coke is using multiple channels to share their content and stories, and they are going to the channels where the consumers are. Cuppari stressed the importance of leveraging mobile technology for storytelling by sharing these stats with us: 74% of people would give up alcohol before they’d give up their mobile phone. Fifty-five percent would forgo caffeine, and 33% would give up sex. Yep, that’s one-third folks!


To close, I have to share my favorite part of the morning, which actually happened on Twitter before and after the official presentation. As a life-long, die-hard Diet Coke consumer and fan, this just made my day:


Twitter conversation with @ScottCuppari just made my day.

If you attended Integrate today, what were your favorite take-aways from Cuppari’s session?

Integrate 2013 Day One: Technology has changed everything

May 31, 2013

Technology has changed everything. That seemed to be the theme of day one of the IMC Integrate 2013 conference. And what better example than the IMC program itself? I’ve been a WVU IMC student for 2.5 years and today was the first day I set foot on the WVU Campus. (Of course, it took me an extra 30 minutes, a few wrong turns — including turning the wrong way on a one-way street — before my feet actually touched the ground, but that’s a story for another blog post) Technology has changed the way we learn, the way we interact, the way we communicate, and the way we live our lives.


Fellow student blogger, Julie Long has already posted a great re-cap of the opening session, which featured some fantastic real examples of how West Virginia University is using technology to advance their marketing. I’ll focus this post on the two breakouts I attended: 1. Emerging Media for Branding and Career Success, and 2. Love, Lies and Deception: Social Media Ethics – What You Need to Know. Social media was definitely the hot topic of the day!


In Emerging Media for Branding and Career Success Professors Dawn Edmiston and Rachael Post talked about the importance of establishing your own brand. Or should I say, the importance of being in control of your brand, because, like it or not, a brand is being created for you thanks to social networking whether you realize it or not. So you best be in charge of this brand image or it could get ugly! A few tips from the speakers that I found particularly valuable:

  1. Set-up a Google Alert for your name
  2. Personalize your LinkedIn url and make sure you’ve achieved 100% on your profile
  3. Create your own digital content that represents you and your personal brand image
  4. Plug-in to online tribes
  5. Create a profile on


In breakout session number two Professor Joe Barnes gave us a ton of examples of how social and digital media have changed the world of communication. A few even scared me a bit, like the video game released 1 week after the Boston Marathon, simulating the events. Or the Hyundai ix35 suicide commercial. Professor Barnes showed us, through these real-world case studies, not only how social media is impacting the world but also the importance of social media ethics. A few of his tips for protecting your company:

  1. Have a social media policy. If you don’t have one or don’t know where to start, there’s a great template at
  2. Be sure to stay up-to-date on social media law. The law is still catching up to the technology and constantly evolving. One way to stay on top of these changes is to set-up a Google alert. Professor Barnes also recommend the JD Supra Law News. They have a newsletter just for social media law!
  3. Be careful about the data you share…especially via mobile apps. Remember that there are no general privacy laws that cover mobile apps and every time you (or your kids) download an app or a game on a mobile device information is being collected and stored.
  4. And my favorite bit of advice: “Don’t lie to your mom!” This bit actually comes from Andy Sernovitz, who is the author of Word of Mouth Marketing. But, as a mom and a digital marketer, I think this is the best advice I’ve heard all year.


Of course, this is just a snippet of the insight and information gleaned from today. But now I’m off to the networking reception to meet some more classmates and professors! Let’s hope I don’t turn the wrong way down any one-way streets this time!

Marketing Messages Across Geographies and Cultures

March 11, 2013

I recently had the good fortune to be sent on a business trip to Sydney, Australia. Following my long days in the office I would often come back to the hotel and, after finishing homework for IMC 615, put my feet up and watch a little local television. I was amused to see the commercials for familiar brands with either different names or different positioning from those in the U.S.

Hungry Jack's logo

Hungry Jack’s, the brand name of the Burger King franchise in Australia and New Zealand.

Having already taken Multicultural Marketing as one of my electives I have studied how a singular brand message does not resonate with different cultures in the same way. Often this means a company markets different messages, or even products, to audiences in different geographies or cultural groups. Sometimes an entirely different name is required in order to differentiate in the local market, such as the example of Burger King. When they decided to expand operations into Australia they found out the name was already trademarked by a take-out restaurant in Adelaide, so they use the brand Hungry Jack’s. Interestingly, this name is derived from Hungry Jack, because it was already trademarked by Burger King’s parent company, Pillsbury, as a pancake mix brand in the U.S.

Even though the name is different, the brand is still clearly Burger King to this American. Everything from the logo, to the use of product names like Whopper, align with the Burger King brand. Watch the below commercial and decide for yourself:

Other times it is the message that is changed to resonate more with local culture or traditions. I was taken off guard when I first saw the below commercial for while in Sydney. I thought maybe it was a Saturday Night Live spoof at first, but later realized that Australians have a pretty good acceptance and sense of humor about the country’s beginnings as a destination for convicts and criminals. In fact, some of Australia’s most notable historic figures came to the country originally as prisoners. Once I had that understanding this ad for didn’t seem quite so satirical. Still, I do get a chuckle out of the tag line “find your convict ancestors at!”

These are just two examples of the localization of well-known brands and marketing messages I saw while traveling in Australia. What examples have you seen in your travels?

P.S. – If this type of subject interests you, I encourage you to consider adding IMC  622 – Multicultural Marketing to your list of electives.

Are targeted ads an invasion of privacy or an improved browsing experience?

January 2, 2013

I just recently finished taking IMC – 642 – Web Metrics and SEO. One of the topics that came up in class discussion was the use of targeted advertising. So I got a chuckle when right before Christmas I made an online purchase from the retailer Harry & David and now every time I log in to Facebook or browse certain other websites, like My Yahoo, I see ads for Harry & David.

Harry and David Facebook ad

While their ads are a bit ill-timed (I already made my purchase) and I personally think it would make more sense for Harry & David to try and target their ads to customers who came to their website and didn’t make a purchase, it really doesn’t bother me to see them, I just simply ignore them. However, I found it interesting when this topic was raised in our class discussion that there are a lot people who feel differently. In fact a recent Pew Survey reported that 68% of online consumers are not thrilled with targeted advertising. “While a majority of every demographic group says they are not okay with online targeted advertising, younger internet users and those in the lowest income households are more likely than others to view the practice favorably,” explains Pew researchers and report authors Kristen Purcell, Joanna Brenner and Lee Rainie. “Yet, even among those groups, almost six in ten say they are not okay with targeted ads because they do not like having their online behavior tracked and analyzed” (2012, pg. 23).

Pew Survey Targeted Advertising

It seems that part of the aversion to having browsing behavior tracked and used for personalized advertising is that most users don’t know how to control their internet privacy settings. Pew reported that 62% of internet users do not know how to limit the information that is collected about them from websites. You can view the full report here.

Perhaps my viewpoint is tainted because, as I’ve already written on here, I’m an online marketer at heart, so I appreciate any new technology that will allow me to drive more qualified sales leads to my company’s website. As a consumer I also don’t mind the targeted ads because if I’ve been shopping for, let’s say a telescope (this is a real life recent example) and after going to two or three online retailers to compare models and pricing I start to see ads popping up for other telescopes, it is certainly going to catch my attention and may actually help shorten my search. While I get the argument that some consumers don’t want Google or other companies to decide what content they see, my feeling is if they are making my life easier and saving me time, I’m all for it.  After all I’d rather start seeing ads that are relevant to me than one more ad for a dating site or Viagra!

What do you think? Are targeted ads an invasion of privacy and taking away your freedom as an online consumer, or do they improve the browsing experience?

P.S. Before I forget, I highly recommend IMC – 642 for anyone involved in online marketing! The class is very hand’s on and structured in such a way that whether you enter knowing a little or a lot about analytics and SEO you will be challenged without being overwhelmed, and you’ll ultimately walk away with a much greater knowledge base and skill set.

What does the DNA of an online marketer look like?

December 10, 2012

Greetings fellow IMC students and blog readers! My name is Jelise Ballon and I am thrilled to say out loud that I am officially half-way through the IMC program! The first half of this journey has been one part excitement, two parts knowledge, and a healthy dose of endurance. But I have to say I am learning a lot — professionally and personally — and I’m excited to start the second half of this journey and take you along for the ride.

Now, a little bit about me. I live just outside the town of Winchester,VA which is the self-proclaimed Apple Capital of the World! We are best-known for our beautiful scenery (located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains), for being the birth place of Patsy Cline, a key location during the Civil War (it is said that control of the town changed 72 times between the Union and Confederacy), and for the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, which draws over 200,000 spectators to Winchester the first weekend in May each year.


The Patsy Cline house in Winchester, VA

Apple Capital of the World

Winchester, VA – Apple Capital of the World

Mario Lopez in the Apple Blossom parade

Mario Lopez was the Grand Marshal for the Apple Blossom feature parade earlier this year.

Having grown up in the suburbs of Washington, DC I really love living in the country and I think Winchester is one of the best places to raise a family. Speaking of which, my husband David and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary earlier this year. We have three kids, Hannah – 9, and twins, Daniel and Olivia – 7. I tell my kids often that they are so lucky to live where we do, to which they either stare at me blankly or roll their eyes.


A recent family photo, which was taken at a local dairy farm. I love the access to so much local agriculture in Winchester.

I did my undergraduate studies at Appalachian State University and majored in Communications.  If you’ve read my profile then you already know that the App State mascot is also the Mountaineer, so I like to tell people I can only attend schools where the mascot is a bearded man carrying firearms.


The Appalachian Sate mountaineer mascot, named Yosef.

WVU Mountaineer

The WVU Mountaineer

In my professional life I work for a $5 billion, global IT company as their global online marketing manager. This basically means I manage a network of about 30 websites across six different continents. I really love being part of a global company and getting to work with people all over the world. In fact most of my team resides in South Africa, which means I keep some pretty odd hours. Most days begin with a 6 a.m. conference call, and occasionally they end with a midnight call. But on the positive side I get to work from home, often in my pajamas.

I believe myself to be an online marketer at heart. Although my family has no idea what I do – seriously, just the other week at our Thanksgiving meal I quizzed my family members and asked them to tell me what it is they think I do.  I got everything from “you build websites” (yeah, like 15 years ago) to “ aren’t you the head of marketing?” (umm thanks for the promotion, but no). The only one who got it right was my cousin’s fiancé and she’s not even technically family yet (another of the many reasons why you rock, Jessica)!

But I digress. I really do feel like online marketing is a part of my DNA. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way implying I’m an expert on anything! In fact I’m pretty much humbled on a weekly basis with how much I don’t know and all that I should be doing better/faster/smarter in my job. What I mean when I say online marketing is part of my DNA is that it infiltrates most of my thought process and decision making in every aspect of my life.  I think in Facebook status updates. As soon as my kids say something funny I start mentally doing to the math to see if I can get it down to 160 characters. I scan QR codes at stores and restaurants just so I can evaluate if the destination is mobile-friendly. I email companies back to point out the typos in the eDMs they sent me. And, perhaps most embarrassing of all, after I post a blog update to my tiny old blog with only one follower (thanks mom-in-law), I check the analytics hourly to see how many people have read it.

Online marketer's DNA

The DNA of an online marketer

Perhaps it is my love of online marketing that led me to choose an online grad program. Or maybe it’s being accustomed to working remotely and at odd hours. Possibly it’s the fact that I’m a working mom trying to juggle career, family and school. Between you and me, I’m pretty sure it’s a little bit of all three that has made the IMC program such a good fit for me. I look forward to the second half of this crazy journey and sharing some of it with all of you.