The advertising and marketing industry news site AdAge has named its 2017 marketers of the year. Tito’s Handmade Vodka came out on top, thanks to becoming the top-selling spirits variety in U.S. stores in 2017. Ad Age’s annual Marketers of the Year list “recognizes companies that, with insightful and inventive strategies, have conquered categories, forged fresh paths and resonated with consumers regardless of budget. ”
That regardless of budget line is an important takeaway for higher ed marketers who want to learn from some of these top brands. Because as we all know, higher ed marketing budgets pale in comparison to most companies on the AdAge list — companies like Samsung, Hulu, Amazon and even Panera, which, with a minuscule marketing budget that “hovers around $100 million,” managed to make the list.
How these firms approach marketing their products is a varied as the sectors that make the list. Tito’s still uses old-school approaches like billboards and has never run a TV ad in its 20-year history. Nintendo relied on its Super Mario character to wage a gaming-industry comeback with a new product (Switch). Hulu rivaled Amazon and Netflix in the streaming services wars with “The Handmaid’s Tale” and a heavy social media push. And Spotify leveraged the tacit endorsement of President Barack Obama to create a new “president of playlists” job description.
What lessons can higher ed learn from these examples? Maybe that billboards DO work (most colleges need little convincing to spend money on billboards, at least in my state), or that iconic characters associated with your brand — a mascot, perhaps? — could help sell a new academic offering. Or maybe taking a playful approach to references from the highly visible third parties — maybe not a commander in chief, but someone with strong name recognition — could help elevate your brand.