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Some wear it as a badge of honor -- a sign of grittiness, ingenuity and humility. Others find it to be a troubling edict from leadership, or an inescapable reality for many institutions of higher education.

“We have to do more with less.”

It’s a challenging sentiment in the way it puts emphasis on volume and activity rather than on quality and strategic value. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

There are very real reasons to ask this question -- reasons that are amplified by the growing resource constraints many institutions are (or may soon be) facing. For the marketer, it’s critical to understand how and why your institution allocates its resources the way it does. What you do matters more than what you say.

Just Follow the Money

There’s no better place to start to understand what an organization truly values than to look at how it spends its money. Too often the claims colleges and universities make in their marketing aren’t backed up by a corresponding percentage of spending. Selling a transformative residential experience becomes much more difficult if a significant fraction of students is asked to live in decrepit, just-barely-functional res halls that stay behind administrative office upgrades on the deferred maintenance list. Yes, there are plenty of reasons that might make sense in what is an undeniably complicated thing, but the message it sends and what it says about a brand and its values may prove problematic. Staffing levels, funded initiatives, departmental and divisional budgets all tell a story about what matters most to an institution. When expectations don’t line up with resource levels, the brand suffers.

Oh, Behave

But resources are more than just dollars. Time and attention also speak volumes. A project that commands the attention of a number of the highest-paid, most senior staff in an organization has immediate gravity, regardless of its strategic value to an institution or benefit to key constituencies, like prospective students and their families. On the other hand, projects and initiatives that suffer from a lack of attention and support get ignored, even if there’s potential for great resonance with the audiences most valuable to an institution’s strategic goals and, for marketers, ways to differentiate backed by action and substance.

With Great Power …

Despite the frustrating revelations that may emerge from a close look at the distance between saying and doing, marketers have a remarkable opportunity to lead by example. Wherever you sit in an organization, consider the story you tell about what’s important to you and to the organization through what you’re doing. Live the brand through your work, and align priorities and activities that you can, recognizing that some responsibilities, even if they are not in the least bit strategic, can’t be jettisoned easily. The more extensive your leadership responsibility, the more residual impact your behavior can have. Know that others will interpret what you do as guidance for what they do. Take full advantage of that to shape expectations and close the gap between what you say the brand is and what the brand actually is.

I Am Once Again Asking for Your Financial Support

In the complex beast that is higher education, there are plenty of places well beyond the jurisdiction of marketers. In those places, brand alignment may only come through influencing others’ priorities, which might require a good bit of lobbying for change. Don’t give up on the things that matter, and make the case for those adjustments that map directly to the strategic goals of the institution and the brand you market. You might be surprised how effective simply pointing out a gap between funding, staffing and time investments can be when you bring a simple solution to the table that changes the narrative.

Authenticity is at the core of integrated marketing, and there’s no better way to showcase your brand across every touchpoint of an institution than making sure you’re walking the talk. As you do this, you might find that sometimes, less is more.

Tim Jones is the chief communications and integrated marketing officer at Beloit College in Wisconsin.