Recently a marketing consultant visited our campus and reported that the “branding” trend is over. I interpreted this to mean that 1) I can cross personal branding off my “to do” list, and 2) our campus can eliminate its struggling branding committee.
Oh, don’t cancel the committee meetings yet. The new trend reportedly is…authenticity. Say what? At first I was irked to think that authenticity was being commandeered as a marketing trend. Then I said to myself, “It’s about time.”
I probably should have seen it coming. Domino’s, for one, has gone “authentic.” Its commercials show customers condemning the old product—bland sauce, crust like cardboard–with corporate execs committing to addressing these issues. Okay, so maybe I’ll give their pizza another try.
I recently visited a campus that I’d been reading about in journals and hearing about at conferences. With its spectacular Web site, this institution is obviously working to craft an image of quality and innovation. This university is motivated to get out of the shadows of a better-recognized sister institution. However, the “truth” isn’t quite the image the campus is projecting, at least not yet. What I experienced, though, is that this campus is unique and wonderful in its own right. Students love it because of what it is—not because of what it’s seeking to become.
We owe our students authenticity. And, in fact, the students on our campus, and probably yours, know very well what we’re about (regardless of our brochures and Web sites). Students like our park-like setting, size, and non-party atmosphere. They say they enrolled here for the “three T’s”: trees (we’re surrounded by an arboretum), toilets (all residences have private bathrooms), and tunnels (our academic buildings are connected by concourses). Sometimes they’ll add a fourth T: teachers. Faculty and administrators cringe at students’ descriptions. I would, too, if I didn’t also know that our students are receiving a high-quality education at an affordable price. Try representing all of that with a brand.
A colleague of mine once described our state’s residents as “hardworking, family-centered, traditional, obedient, accepting: that is, not expecting too much, and not being too disappointed when not too much happens.” Perhaps this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is anchored in truth. Our campus, perhaps not surprisingly, reflects our state. It’s a comfortable, safe place with solid students who are involved, who don’t get bothered by much, and who ultimately want decent-paying careers. We can connect best with prospective students by giving them a genuine, multi-dimensional perspective of our campus. They will decide whether it’s a good fit.
Has your department or campus defined its “brand”? If so, how has it impacted your institution? In light of budget cuts and declining enrollments, is your campus looking into changing its identity or changing how it represents its identity?
[With all this said, our community does enjoy a bit of a national reputation, built around a certain professional football team. But even the team is considered by many to be “authentic” (or more authentic than most). Community members (the team is owned by the community) shun diva-like behavior. Still, we’re a polite and forgiving people who will give a hero’s welcome to our misguided former quarterback, when he returns home to retire his number.]