Inside USD

Season of Giving: Students Create Websites for Local Businesses

Thursday, December 19, 2013

‘Tis the season to give and to receive and USD students did both though a class in Digital Marketing & Social Media this fall. Students divided into teams and designed and pitched plans for new websites and social media to five up-and-coming businesses in San Diego.

“This class provided a fantastic opportunity to get real world experience in digital marketing and social media,” said Garrett Bradbury ’14, (pictured, right) whose team project was chosen by Co-Merge, which provides members with access to professional office space, conference rooms and event space.

“Having the opportunity to consult for a real business while applying skills and techniques learned in class made for the optimal learning experience and I feel more confident and prepared to begin working in the field,” said Bradbury, a business administration major. Other students on his team included Danielle Lisle, Melissa Sieben and Molly Sinclair.

“Getting to talk directly to a client and making her ideas come to life was probably my favorite experience,” said Cinzia DiCicco ’14, a psychology major with a marketing minor. “I learned so many things” from the class taught by Justine Rapp, assistant professor of marketing.

DiCicco’s team which also included Mackinzie Pooley, Jordan Seto and Ali Herweck, successfully pitched their project to Lety’s Natural Beauty, a maker of all natural, hand-made body scrubs.

“Her original website was all black and hot pink, which was causing a disconnect between her product and brand image that reflected the ‘natural’ feel of  her products,” DiCicco explained. “We decided to go for bright colors, incorporating the hot pink of Lety’s logo along with green, yellow, and orange, as well.”

Bradbury’s team tried to consider a design that would fit Co-Merge’s business model of serving many different clients and situations. “We used a very simple layout that allows whoever is visiting the site to get the information they desire with a single click. While on the one hand, the site is straightforward, it also flows in a story-like way, which keeps the visitor on the website and which is what the client wants.”

To create the projects, students used Zesty, a cloud-based collaboration tool for websites, produced by Variable Action, a San Diego-based software company that creates cloud-based projects to empower people digitally.

Zesty, which has search engine optimization integrated into its core, provides a shared portal for both the client and the marketer to work on together. “It allows clients to jump into their websites and make on-the-spot changes, while the digital marketer can focus on external campaigns,” said Randy Appuzo, Variable Action’s CEO and co-founder. “For students, Zesty is a great gateway into the digital world of professionally built websites, which typically require a level of programming ability to create,” he said.

“Working with independent businesses at an early stage gives students an insight into what it takes to create a business from the ground up. Watching an entrepreneur grow and struggle through process is invaluable and cannot be found in a textbook,” he added.

Firms participating  in the class included the Green Startup Institute, which will focus on a “lean green startup” process, using some of the best techniques coming out of Silicon Valley to help new businesses succeed. “It was an excellent deal for our company,” said founder and CEO Kathleen Connell.

The former NASA employee said she particularly appreciated hearing what “young people” thought about marketing and social media. Her company chose the presentation from Team Two but will be using ideas from all three teams. The students also reinforced that she needs to be “more active” on social media, pointing out new sites such as Snapchat where she can promote her firm.

While the new website still needs a little tweaking, “it’s given me a great foundation I will be able to use,” Connell said and “saved me months and months (of work) and many thousands of dollars.”

Rapp, who created the class when she came to USD last year, said she’s also been pleased with the results. “It is wonderful to watch my students take ownership and accountability over their work in the classroom and to practice their skills as young professionals as they prepare for their careers post graduation.”

– Liz Harman

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