The 2014 version of CASE’s Annual Conference on Marketing and Branding is now one for the books. It was a terrific experience for me, both as a presenter and as an attendee. I picked up a lot of great ideas and gleaned many insights from my co-presenters and from other attendees. I could share dozens of takeaways, but it’s Friday, and I’m sticking with the theme. So here are five takeaways from the conference:
- We’re all a work in progress. During Thursday afternoon’s faculty panel Q&A, one of the conference attendees said it seemed like we presenters were all “on the Starship Enterprise” from Star Trek while she was “driving the yabba dabba do car” from The Flintstones. That’s one of the challenges about attending these types of conferences: We hear about best practices in branding or major marketing successes, or we hear about an organizational structure that sounds more functional than our own, and we end up with some cognitive dissonance — inspired by what might be possible but also gripped by a sense of dread about the realities we face back on campus. What we don’t often hear from presenters are the challenges they faced to develop a mature marketing program or launch a brand refresh. Or the challenges they continue to face on those and a dozen other fronts. None of us has discovered the perfect approach, and we continue to face obstacles on our road to creating the Ultimate Higher Ed Brand. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re all a work in progress.
- Strategy and story are both important. During the conference, we (presenters and attendees) talked a lot about taking a strategic approach to branding and marketing. And we talked a lot about the importance of storytelling to cut through the marketing clutter so that our brands stand out. But the critical takeaway for me is the idea of strategic storytelling. Developing a core brand is crucial. Presenter Jason Simon called it “the scaffold” on which we build all of the other elements that help us present our brand — the visual identity, the messaging, the PR effort, the storytelling. Without a strategy, storytelling can become fuzzy and non-cohesive. Without storytelling, a brand strategy can become cold and lifeless. We need both.
- Focus. Focus. Focus. The key to building a strong brand is focusing on what differentiates our institutions from the rest of the herd. It’s that simple. And that challenging. Related to focus is the ability to…
- Simplify. Understand the essence of your brand — or your story, your message, etc. — and simplify to the point that you can easily explain only what needs to be shared. As Charlie Melichar put it earlier today, “Don’t tell me how the clock works. Just tell me the time.” In other words, don’t bog the audience down in non-essential details.
- Don’t skimp on research — but realize you can do a lot in-house. We shared a lot of examples of market research that various institutions used to inform their marketing initiatives or to measure perceptions of their brand. If you’re short on budget, find ways to conduct research in-house with some of your constituent group. It might not be the best, most scientific research, but it beats no research at all. Armed with data, you will be better positioned to advocate for your branding and marketing to your institution’s leadership.
Who else has a takeaway to share? Please post it in the comments.
P.S. – Karine Joly is also looking for input from conference-goers at her conference site to give next year’s attendees a sense of what to expect.