More Thoughts About Engaging a Community

Experienced marketers in higher ed, 76 percent of whom have led a brand strategy project at their institution, offer some thoughts about engaging their communities in developing and rolling a brand strategy.

May 25, 2015

Last week, I wrote about the value of engaging a campus community in developing a brand strategy and marketing a university. 

As a followup, I thought it might be interesting to review what the marketing leaders we surveyed earlier this year had to say about their experiences in engaging their communities when developing and rolling a brand strategy. These are very experienced people — 76 percent of them have led a brand strategy project at their institution.

I looked at the open-ended responses to three questions: “What worked well with the brand strategy project?” “What would you do differently if you had to do it all over again?” and “What were your frustrations?” [All responses were offered anonymously.]

Here are some themes that emerged.

Many believe that engaging in deep conversations with internal stakeholders allow people across an institution to clarify what is unique about its approach and programs and what distinguishes the education it offers. Engaging with internal audiences helps to uncover those distinctions, which are essential in developing an authentic and effective brand and may help an institution weather current the crisis in higher ed.

One person noted, “[The] discovery process led to greater clarity on strengths of the institution; distinctive characteristics were identified and incorporated effectively into comprehensive integrated marketing campaign.”

Not engaging deeply enough is a mistake: one person noted that the next time, she’d “focus on the hard questions... what will we do that will set us apart from others. We can't just be the best vanilla ice cream and survive — we need to find a niche market and audience we can really serve well.”

While these conversations take time, not one person indicated they weren’t  worthwhile. Instead, ongoing conversations can help to build trust and awareness.

A respondent observed, “Our steering committee benefited SO MUCH from the conversations we had over the course of a year -- they came out of the project with a deeper understanding of communications and a willingness to engage in a way that we hadn't seen before. If I had known that we would have achieved THAT, I would have tried to find a way to include more people in those conversations, or to ask our steering committee members to speak to their departments throughout the project so that more people could have benefited from the process. By the end of the project, our steering committee were the project's best advocates. I would have loved to have even MORE people (particularly faculty!) take that journey too.”

That comment suggests the need for consistent reinforcement and communication with colleagues over time, which leads to a more successful brand strategy implementation. In fact, a regret voiced by a number of respondents to our survey is a variation on the theme of not spending enough time doing the work it takes to bring colleagues on board. One respondent observed: “[I would] Spend more time on developing internal communication tools — videos, presentations etc. to future [communicate] the idea of the total brand. We have since done this over the past 3 years to broaden the internal mindset of what brand is and how to us it.”

The message is clear: engagement is essential, from the start through the launch of brand strategy or an institutional marketing campaign and well beyond. Yes, it takes time, but the conversations can’t end if you want to be successful.

Do you have examples of how effective engagement with you community helped to create a marketing campaign or roll out a brand strategy at your institution?


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