WMU marketing students help Kalamazoo airport with digital makeover

When Dr. Scott Cowley, assistant professor of marketing, was planning to fly out of the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, he saw a problem—their website was outdated, loaded with unnecessary information, and he could see that it had been hacked. “The airport is the first experience some people have with Kalamazoo, and the website didn’t make a good first impression,” says Cowley. “I love this airport from the experience perspective—it’s a great airport, but the website made me think ‘you are going to hate this.’ ”

Cowley likes to involve students in his advanced digital marketing course with experiential projects that are meaningful and impactful, so he knew he had a golden opportunity on his hands. Helping the airport with its digital presence would not only benefit the organization and Western Michigan University students, but would also make a positive impact on the Kalamazoo community.

Getting involved with AZO

When Cowley contacted the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, he found that a website revamp was already on their agenda, but the airport staff were unsure of where to start. “When we began to really focus on our website, all we knew was that it needed to be upgraded,” says Eric Bjorkman, assistant director of operations and maintenance. “It looked like a page out of the ‘90s. We also knew the organization of the tabs and the presentation of the pages needed to be addressed.” The airport administration staff was hoping the students would provide fresh ideas that could be used as they moved forward with the website redesign.

Step one: Collect and analyze data

The first thing the Western Michigan University team recommended was for the airport to begin collecting website analytics data. Analytics is critical in digital marketing, and at the time, the airport had no way of knowing how their website was being used or by whom. With a free installation of Google Analytics, students were able to see who was visiting the website, where website traffic was coming from, and how visitors use the site. The class broke into teams to process the data and conduct additional market research like video user testing.

Some of the information uncovered through the students’ analyses was surprising to both Cowley and the airport staff. For example, students found that half of the website visitors are viewing the site on a mobile device, even though no mobile version was offered at the time, and that 90 percent of website users only look at two pages. These and other findings helped the teams solidify what was important to focus on for the redesign. Additionally, for the administration team, the need for an upgrade was validated when the class discovered the website was visited more frequently than anyone expected, even with the outdated appearance.

Step two: Package recommendations

At the end of the project, the teams visited the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport to present their recommendations. Bjorkman was pleased with the results of the project. “I think our expectations were exceeded when all was said and done. We were very impressed, not only with the professionalism of the class presentations, but also with the ideas that were brought to the table. This class really helped give us a legitimate direction to move forward with redesigning our website,” he says. “Without their help, this process would have lasted a lot longer, and we probably would not have been able to come up with the best end product.”

Moving forward

The airport staff referenced the ideas and research provided by students as they moved forward with the website reconstruction. The airport contracted a website developer to help with the redesign, and many of the students’ recommendations were incorporated into the new site.

The project not only benefited the airport and the Kalamazoo community, but the students found the experience to be valuable as well. “This project is an amazing example of the kinds of hands-on projects we do in the Haworth College of Business that are so beneficial to our education,” says Rachel Quesnelle, marketing student at Western Michigan University. “A book can tell you what goes into this kind of project, but nothing compares to actually doing the work.” The skills learned in this class carry through to any marketing career, and the experience provides the groundwork for any digital marketing projects the students may encounter in their careers.