One of the top challenges higher ed marketers face is how to stand out.
Watch a college sporting event on TV. When the network shows the ad spot for each university involved, it’s usually hard to distinguish between the two schools, other than the colors and the mascot (unless you’re the ubiquitous “Wildcats” like my alma mater, Northwestern – then it’s just the colors!).
Beautiful shots of campus, claims of “world class faculty,” and the obligatory scenes of the science lab, the dance performance and the students gathered in the quad...
Reese’s even parodied this brilliantly with an ad for their fake “Reese’s University,” which was a jumping off point for an educational session at last November’s AMA Higher Ed Symposium.
Ryan Riess (no relation to the peanut butter cups) of The Hershey Company teamed up with his colleague Kristen Riggs and Ethan Braden, VP of Global Marketing for Purdue University on a panel discussion moderated by Bill Faust of Oologie to unpack the idea of differentiation in higher education.
The overarching theme was storytelling. What is your institution’s unique story? Every institution has one. Tell it in your branding. Avoid generic platitudes – if everyone else can tout the same selling points, they’re not part of your unique story.
Braden’s team at Purdue began their process by investigating, “What’s the vibe at Purdue?” To understand the unique story from the perspective of their specific students, it all starts there. From that they came up with the guiding principle of “Persistent Innovation Together.”
To attract students that would fit that vibe, they built out their system of technical high schools and online degree programs to create the infrastructure for that type of human being to be part of it.
Nowhere in this approach is a list of majors, faculty pedigree or class size data. It all comes down to: “Is the essence of this university a good fit for you as a person?”
In Purdue’s latest ad spot (good luck keeping your eyes dry watching it), they implicitly ask the viewer, “Do you see yourself as the hero of this story?” We can more easily forgive the science lab, dance performance and quad hangout scenes because they serve the specific story being told.
That is the challenge all higher ed marketers face: to tell their unique story in a way that attracts the specific human beings who can see themselves as the hero of that story. Oh, and do it at scale. Not an easy task!
One way Doubletake helps colleges and universities tell their authentic stories is through our impactful 3-Touch Mailer Program. Designed specifically to help reduce labor for busy higher ed marketing staff, it’s a direct mail campaign that builds excitement with three successive branded merchandise touch points.
Use it to engage and intrigue prospective students, congratulate accepted students, and welcome enrolled students. If you experience the “silo effect” at your institution, which we’ve written about, this program also bridges the missions of multiple departments:
o Touch 1 - Generates initial interest/Marketing
o Touch 1 - Entices campus visits/Enrollment
o Touch 2 - Congratulates accepted students/Admissions
o Touch 2 - Increases yield/Enrollment
o Touch 3 - Limits melt/Enrollment
o Touch 3 - Fosters campus community/Student Affairs
Check out our post with more top takeaways from AMA Higher Ed 2022!