IMC Intuition

Thinking out loud about all things IMC

AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, last day

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Three last super sessions:

The Boston University Annual Report – The big surprise is that they only print 500 because you can’t put video in print – so they glue a thumb drive in the print to take the reader directly to the website.  How cool is that?

Higher Education Under Attack:  Why doesn’t anyone like us? Donald Heller, MSU,

The #1 reason the public does not trust higher-ed is the increase in tuition prices, up an average 182% in 30 years for 4 year private, not-for-profit institutions.  When compared to other goods and services, higher-ed costs are rising at a faster pace.  80% of students are enrolled in public or community colleges.  In the last 20 years, states have severely cut aid to public schools, but enrollment increased.

We’ve done a poor job of communicating average sticker and net tuition price.  The “Student loan bubble” analogies emerged drawn from housing bubble when total student loan debt passed $1 trillion.  Reasonable borrowing is still a good investment; college graduates continue to earn more money over time than workers without a degree. What to do?

  • Promote net prices, not sticker prices
  • Reiterate that college is still a good investment on average
  • Emphasize the importance of making good choices
  • Hammer away at best practices for degree attainment
  • Emphasize the economic development benefits for communities that support higher-ed

Spanning silos – U of CA building an Integrated University Brand
U of C snapshot:  10 world class campuses, 3 DOE labs, huge research shools, 60 Nobel prize winners; 235,000 students.

The team’s mission was to elevate the brand; people want integrated solutions; siloed brands lack clarity.The team recognized many obstacles including budget, resource misallocation, marketing management competence is diffused throughout multiple departments, and all of the problems we all deal with in higher ed.

UC, like most brands was built through strong positioning in traditional advertising & PR.  Today brands are built by customers through their experience and emotional attachment; big brands like Disney can control the customer experience through their customer service operations.  A university brand experience is quite messy by comparison, because any department can randomly affect the student experience with virtually no control by the marketing group.

The group knew that trying to force solutions as the brand police was not going to work.  Here is the process they identified as their keys to success:

  1. Commitment from the top
  2. Resources to invole key player to probe relevant issues, to provide thinking time
  3. A Big Idea
  4. Balance
  5. You have to be ready to be a change agent

Then came the Crisis:  An executive pay scandal rocked the UC system, resulting in the loss of public trust.  The team was ready.  They worked with the leadership and suggested a strategy with a singular goal:  Tell the real UC story, in a real way.

Technically, this is a PR campaign.  The team started with extensive research that revealed that the people of California had no idea of the contributions of the University of California, no wonder they questioned why their tax dollars were going to support this institution.

The job of the Integrated Marketing unit was to provide leadership, support to the  individual department communications with final authority on messaging and visual identity.

The Onward campaign was created:
Twitter hash tag:#onwardca

Lesson learned:  You have to inspire organic adoption of the brand rather than forcing solutions; They built a flexible model that could scale and be adapted for all 10 campuses. It’s been a great conference, but exhausting.  Looking forward to the trip home.


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