In the past two years, we’ve seen publishers such as BuzzFeed and Vox Media make moves toward distributed content to reach audiences directly — producing stories for connected networks like Facebook and Snapchat —rather than trying to attract audiences to their own websites. Sponsored story volume has increased across industries, allowing trusted sources to flex expertise while promoting their brand. In addition, UBER’s ride-share service and retail outfits such as the Nike Store blend digital and physical experience, allowing multiple interactions that build brand equity and keep audiences engaged.
College and university marketing groups can take advantage of distributed content, sponsored stories, and blended user experiences to influence their audiences.
Experiences can be presented across channels, media types, physical products, and even physical spaces — without fragmenting your story.
We recommend that you audit your existing marketing content alongside your customer service touch points and develop an integrated communications plan that speaks to prospective students directly.
Here are five ways to connect seamlessly with your audiences to deliver an integrated brand experience:
As an in-house designer at Columbia College Chicago for the better part of a decade, I coveted those big, expensive projects that showcased the school with beautiful images and alumni achievements. Viewbooks, president’s reports and the college website — many of my colleagues considered these products to be the pinnacle of branding for the college. But, at the same time, my team designed a far greater number of projects that more directly influenced the perception of the school and contributed to the experience of visiting and attending a creative college.
Creative services collaborated with admission marketing, the office of campus environment, and student affairs to design spaces on campus that reinforced the creative and inspirational atmosphere and contributed to students’ comfort, sense of safety, and the college’s reliability. From the way-finding that directed students and visitors around campus to the postcard that clarified financial aid instructions, we tried to build a cohesive brand experience. By design, everything was to be connected to everything else.
Most college marketers know that they’re selling the experience of attending their institution as much as they’re selling the degree itself and the potential for career success. It’s true that classroom atmosphere, student services, and great facilities contribute to student satisfaction and retention. But many universities miss the mark in providing great customer experiences for prospective students.
In the attempt to draw new students into the fold, university marketers need to first provide prospective students with relevant content, packaged consistently across distributed media channels and direct marketing efforts. Make sure everything you create reflects a singular vision. Beyond visual identity and story, however, your services need to back up the hype. From admission recruiters to financial aid counselors and faculty advisors — make sure they are ambassadors of the brand, reinforcing core messages and providing memorable positive experiences.
When prospective students and parents want to interact with your institution, you need to be there. Personalize the experience. Know every student and make sure they know you know them. Know their preferences, their history, and their individual goals. The more you can anticipate their needs, the better you can serve them.
There is no tension between print and digital. In fact, there is opportunity to engage seamlessly and meaningfully in a variety of contexts, playing to each medium’s strength and purpose. You need the same group of people contributing design and stories to print, digital, environment, and customer services in order to consistently and repeatedly reinforce brand experience. One or two breaks in continuity for prospective students can potentially result in a loss of trust or confidence. Design and refine the journey that students take — from the first point of contact through graduation and beyond, every experience matters.
Within your organization, nurture a culture that values relationships and collaboration. A shared vision of customer service, marketing and brand across offices is the first step toward convenient, seamless and relevant experiences for your audiences. Share market knowledge and data among area experts, play nicely, and meet regularly to make decisions on content, design, placement and planning. If you live your brand values, they will show up in interactions with customers.
For your prospective students, reflect their perspective in your brand and find ways to fit into their daily lives.
Most importantly, let your prospective students engage and shape your brand. Provide opportunities — like photo competitions, a virtual “shark tank” product pitch, or code demo day for example — where they can contribute to the culture and thereby internalize it, making the decision to apply inevitable.
References and additional reading:
Ben Bilow Creative Director Creative success comes from digging in, getting messy, and making stuff. As a kid in St. Louis, my interest in skateboarding and rock & roll music shaped my work ethic — be resourceful, build community, share. We invented our own fun, designing rock posters and building half-pipes — tearing them down and doing it again.