What’s So Funny About Unity, Focus and Understanding?

If you're looking to "market better," find the answers to three important questions.

December 22, 2015

For the last 15 years, I’ve been directly involved in marketing for small colleges. While my primary focus is admissions marketing, I am frequently involved in other marketing activities on my campus — such as developing institutional positioning, redesigning websites and other marketing materials, and promoting individual departments and programs. And in my role, I constantly hear “We need to market better” as the key motivation behind almost every new effort.

And, I confess: I still am not exactly sure what “market better” means. But I’m pretty sure that, for many people, “better marketing” equals the magical marketing trifecta.

When people on a college campus are brought together to develop and support a cause (any cause!), it seems they immediately want three things that broadcast what they are doing. This trifecta for success involves:

  1. A logo
  2. A four-color, tri-fold brochure
  3. A webpage

Now, the savvier folks out there want a social media strategy, which usually translates to having a 20-something manage a Facebook page and Twitter handle.

The trifecta can bring unity, focus and understanding of a shared purpose and are essential ingredients to telling a story, no matter how long or short. Unfortunately, too often these same three elements — plus the social media plan for an enhanced trifecta — are perceived to be the foundation for college marketing.

There’s an essential step before “marketing better.” The real reason for marketing is to motivate the audience to do something.

I don’t want to be dismissive of sincere efforts to wordsmith a brochure or webpage, improve a message, or inform the public. But before you request that logo, brochure and webpage, ask yourself the following three questions. Without clear answers your marketing trifecta is essentially worthless.

What do you want people to do? I know this might seem simplistic, but it is the question when it comes to marketing. So think carefully: You want to get people to do what, exactly. Do you want students to visit, apply or choose your college? Do you want alumni and friends to attend events, give money or recommend students to your college?

Who are the people you want to move to act? Are you trying to reach prospective students, current students, parents, college counselors, teachers, coaches, board members, college presidents or peers? Knowing those you want to reach is needed before any word-smithing, designing, PMS color choices or eye-popping photography. You’ll write, design, and package differently if your target audience is prospective teens or college presidents.

What are the best ways to get in front of those people you want to move to action? If you think anyone is just waiting around to open mail or email from you, or Google whatever you are marketing, you are going to be very unhappy. You need to think about the most effective ways to reach your audience, and then target, target, target.

So, before setting out on a quest for a new logo, brochure and webpage (and social media strategy), take time out to think about the people you are trying to influence, and what it is you want them to do. If you really want to market better, work with the team of marketing professionals on your campus to answer the key questions above before you do anything else. If all you are trying to do is share your group’s good intentions, just send everyone on your mailing list a dollar bill with a smiley face drawn on it.

W. Kent Barnds is the executive vice president and vice president of enrollment, communication & planning at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.


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