The 2013 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Ed: All You Need Is Love


The 2013 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Ed: All You Need Is Love

Nov 19, 2013By mstoner_staff

All you need is love. (Okay, you need more than that, but I think we can agree that love is really important.)

Love was everywhere at last week’s 2013 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in Boston, where approximately 1,100 higher ed marketers, enrollment management officers, development staff, and many others gathered to talk about the marketing of higher education. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a conference where I’ve heard the word “love” as frequently as I did last week.

The love came through in several themes that emerged from the three-day symposium:

Emotional branding.

Love has not always been evident in higher ed marketing. Higher ed leaders have been more comfortable talking about the functional aspects of the brand — the number of tenured faculty, the shiny new science building, the small class sizes — than about the emotional benefits. But we were reminded over and over again that people generally don’t make decisions based on rational thought. And the advertising we were shown in a number of the keynotes brought this idea home, as our eyes welled up during commercials for Pampers and Southern New Hampshire University (which probably don’t get mentioned in the same sentence very often.) Memorable, effective advertising appeals to both our rational and emotional sides.

If there’s any doubt about the power of emotion in college choice, think back to your own experience. What do you remember about your visit to the school you ultimately chose? The number of books in the library? The average SAT score? If you’re like me, you remember a feeling. A feeling of belonging.


As we were reminded over and over again this week, humans respond to and remember stories. We heard very powerful stories of success (Paul LeBlanc telling us about Southern New Hampshire University) and of bumps in the road (Jason Simon telling us about the University of California logo implosion). We heard long stories (Jelly Helms’ story of Frank Borman’s trip to the moon on Apollo 8) and short stories (Mary Baglivo’s video of the Miller High Life one-second ad).

Again, think back to your own experience. What do you remember from childhood? One of my earliest memories is of my mother reading me The Little Engine That Could. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

Stories help us make sense of the world. Stories stick.

Cross-functional collaboration.

Silos are common in higher ed institutions. But we heard many examples of institutions where people are finding new ways of collaborating to achieve institutional goals. Kenn Elmore, the dean of students at Boston University, talked about the strong partnership between marketing and student affairs at BU. And Chad Warren from the University of Dayton talked about the collaboration between marketing and advancement on Dayton’s recent crowd-funding campaign.

With declining budgets, and (in some cases) declining staff, higher ed folks are recognizing that they must reach across divisions, agree to shared objectives, and partner together to deliver great results.

For those of you who were unable to attend this year’s event, we hope to see you next November in Austin, where the love will continue!

Higher education branding doesn’t have to be difficult. By understanding the unique dynamics — and the potential pitfalls that can arise – you can create a process that ensures that you get buy-in for a compelling brand positioning that will capture the unique story of your institution.

Want to learn more? We recently published a white paper that explores the specific challenges of higher education branding and gives you strategies for clearing the most common hurdles.