22 Nov

CASE Indiana: Can colleges brand?

Elizabeth Scarborough, CEO of SimpsonScarborough, keynoted the recent CASE Indiana conference on 11.11.11 at Ball State.  A dynamic speaker, Scarborough told us “Why Colleges Can’t Brand.”  According to her, higher ed institutions can’t brand because:

  1. Every time we say “brand,” people think we are talking about our logo.  (Rather, it’s the sum total of all associations with the brand – good, bad, and ugly.)
  2. Everyone wants their own logo and tagline.  (This chips away at the strength of the brand.)
  3. Brands are built by what you do, not what you say.
  4. We are afraid or unwilling to differentiate.  (Many faculty and staff think that “excellence” is their brand.  Everyone claims excellence, but how are you excellent in your own way?  What is “your way?”  Developing a strong brand is as much about what you’re not as what you are.)
  5. We don’t have the right data.  (When conducting research, do not ask superficial marketing questions.)
  6. We have to integrate within a decentralized environment.  (Follow these two principles: differentiate and integrate.)
  7. Most people on our campus think the marketing department is an internal Kinko’s.  (Not that print is dead, but a silver bullet simply doesn’t exist.  We need lots of different ways to communicate with our target audiences.  Determine this not by asking them, but by monitoring their behavior.)
  8. Our campus thinks a brochure is the problem to every marketing problem.  (This limits our ability to strategically market.  We need to position ourselves as a “strategic marketing innovation center.”  If you’re in the following predicament – “we don’t have any time to plan because we haven’t done any planning” – commit to breaking this vicious cycle and give yourself time to plan.)
  9. We are only investing five dollars in marketing.  (We must make a case – by creating urgency – for investing in brand management.)
  10. Deep down, faculty wished that we didn’t have to market our institutions at all.

Despite her presentation title, Scarborough concluded that colleges can indeed brand.  She praised American University and Gustavus Adolphus College as examples of distinctively articulated brands.

The waning public perception of higher education makes branding even more important, Scarborough said.  We must all communicate the value of our institutions.

Mark your calendar for the CASE Indiana spring conference – Friday, April 13, 2012, at Ivy Tech Community College-Central Indiana.  Neal Raisman, author of The Power of Retention and Embrace the Oxymoron: Customer Service in Higher Education, will keynote.


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