Managing Your Brand with Innovative Content

Joel Pattison shares examples of innovative ways institutions use content to reveal their brands.

April 19, 2016

“Brand management” is a simple phrase that obscures a great deal of complexity. Why is brand management so complicated? In part, because brand is what you stand for in the minds of the people you wish to reach, influence, and move to action. In other words, you’re managing something that exists inside the heads of individual people.

That’s no simple task; effectively shaping people’s perceptions about your brand requires a variety of strategies and tactics. A deliberate approach to your content is one way to make sure you’re communicating the right brand messages, to the right audiences, at the right times. Let’s look beyond some of the usual content strategies and dive into four examples of innovative ways education institutions use content to reveal their brands.

Loyola Marymount University: Degree Programs Front and Center

One of the first questions prospective students ask about an institution is “Do they have my major?” You have an opportunity to educate and influence website visitors while presenting them with an answer to this question. Loyola Marymount University created a “degree finder” which is both functional (searchable, sortable, etc.), and an excellent source of brand-based content. Visitors can browse programs, read descriptions, and view photography without ever leaving the program finder page. LMU communicates the breadth, depth, and quality of it’s academic programs in the same space it uses to answer visitors’ most common question.

Colorado State University: Reddit

Focusing on a specific area of academic strength or faculty expertise is often part of university brand platforms. Those of us in the marketing field understand the challenge of finding truly interesting, concise content to convey this kind of expertise. Colorado State University solved this problem by highlighting prominent faculty research through a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). Professor Temple Grandin, a world-renowned animal research expert and autism advocate, participated in an AMA garnering over 800 questions in 2014. The University heavily promoted the AMA before and after the event on its website and social channels. Using social media to actively engage audiences around faculty expertise is novel — and a highly effective way to influence people’s perceptions about the strength and value of an institution’s research.

University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA): Information Architecture

Information architecture (IA) and the resulting navigation pathways get visitors from where they are on your website to the content they wish to find. But navigation pathways can also show visitors things you’d like them to notice (and be influenced by) along the way. UNCSA uses navigation labels to communicate fundamental facts about the institution — namely the topics they teach and the different levels of instruction they offer. Prior to their most recent website redesign, audiences sometimes expressed confusion about whether UNCSA was a high school, a college, or a graduate school. The global navigation of uncsa.edu instantly communicates these different education levels to website visitors and clarifies the institution’s market position (while simultaneously creating a highly navigable site).

University of Michigan College of Engineering: Mobile Application

Effective brand management isn’t just about changing people’s impression of your brand — it’s also about keeping your brand “top-of-mind.” The University of Michigan’s College of Engineering created the “Michigan One Cool Thing” app featuring one interesting piece of scientific or engineering news from anywhere in the world, everyday. By providing one intriguing piece of content each day (and using the app’s push notification to alert users when a new item becomes available), the College of Engineering integrates itself into the daily lives of prospective students, parents and alumni and ensures the brand will remain at the forefront of people’s minds.

Content is a powerful way to influence people’s perceptions of your brand, and unconventional or innovative content strategies are particularly effective at breaking through the noise and reaching the audiences you care most about. Once you’ve finished the hard work of defining your brand position, spend time developing an original content strategy so you can begin educating people about your brand in the real world.

Joel Pattison is director of strategy at mStoner Inc. He helps clients navigate the intersection of content, design and technology to create something great.


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