Lately I’ve been trying to make time to watch more TED talks as a way to glean inspiration or new ideas. I usually find at least one or two valuable takeaways from each 12- to 15-minute talk I view.
But sometimes I see a talk that reminds me of something I thought I already knew, but that in the busyness of life I had somehow forgotten.
That was the case with Life lessons from an ad man, an engaging, entertaining and enlightening TED talk by Rory Sutherland of the Ogilvy Group. (The entire video is embedded at the bottom of this post, and it’s worth the 16 minutes or so of your time to watch it, especially if you’re in the business of managing perceptions.)
Sutherland, an effective ad man, reminded me about why I do what I do in higher education. At the 2:55 mark of his talk, he puts higher ed branding, PR and marketing into perspective:
The point is that education doesn’t actually work by teaching you things. It actually works by giving you the impression that you’ve had a very good education, which gives you an insane sense of unwarranted self-confidence, which then makes you very, very successful in later life. …
But, actually, the point of placebo education is interesting. How many problems of life can be solved actually by tinkering with perception, rather than that tedious, hardworking and messy business of actually trying to change reality?
Sutherland is exaggerating, but he has a point.
Those of us who work in higher ed marketing, PR, branding and communications help people solve problems by tinkering with perception. We really do. The essence of building an institutional brand is to add intangible value to the reality that is a college education. And by doing so, we make the intangible tangible.
Making the intangible tangible. That’s what we do, on our best days. Or as Harry Beckwith said, brand-building, brand-managing and marketing is about Selling the Invisible. By doing so, we add value to that thing we sell: an education.
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Here’s Sutherland’s talk. I encourage you to watch the whole thing.