The VPM Blog

Why so serious? Levity v Brand Politics

Posted by Don Crow on Jan 21, 2013 5:51:57 AM

Admittedly, most Universities and non-profits don’t think of themselves as “brands.” And compared to Apple and Coca-Cola, they’re probably right.

But let’s accept a universal and broad definition of brand as, “the ‘name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.’”

In the world of higher education, what separates a potential student’s perception of Stanford from the University of Georgia? The most recognizable features are name, design, symbols, reputation and traditions….all components of branding.

Agreed? Or at least agree to disagree? Let’s please move on then.

Your alums consider you a brand. They’re the most emotionally invested constituent you have – even more so than your current students, faculty or administrators. You’ve fulfilled a purpose for them (degree), and provided them with 4 (or more years) of experience which will be the benchmark for all future success or failure.

The parents of your alums and current students, are similarly invested in you and dare we say, “consider you a brand.”

Your faculty and staff? You’re a brand in the same respect that NFL teams call the League a brand. They each need one another, although the success of the Baltimore Ravens depends less on the public’s perception of the NFL than the reverse. Sound familiar?

Incoming students from now until the end of the internet will be increasingly in love with themselves and eager to share their good, bad and ugly moments on campus.

They are mobile (as in tablets and smartphones), social (as in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and as a result, always online. And all of that connectedness and sharing makes them feel more special than ever.

Which leads to the question, “Just what is your University’s brand online?”

Maybe you’ve paid a PR or Marketing firm to determine what that is for you. Maybe your boss has defined it for your department. Maybe too, the President or Chancellor of the University has said, “this is who we are.”

But, in today’s hyper-connected, world-of-mouth marketing, over-sharing festival – your brand is defined by the perceptions, posts and experiences (shared via rich media) of your fans, friends and students. You have no doubt spent some time determining what’s the best way to engage with your constituents via Facebook, Twitter and other platforms? You’ve probably also been told by someone in Communications and Marketing that ______ University is too conservative for that type of post.

If you are beginning, muddling through, or completing a branding workshop or exercise, I hope you’ve realized what makes your brand social has to involve a combination of:

  • Appeals to individual interests or needs
  • Access to exclusivity, or answers ‘What’s In It For Me?
  • Tickles the funny-bone

The best brands online typically execute on all three. Some of them focus exclusively on being ridiculous. Take a look at Old Spice, Charmin and Whole Foods Market – they cover the spectrum on social and are rewarded handsomely with sales and engagement.

These are brands whose offering to the public is but one of many. Any common themes?

The message these brands have is simple: If you’re going to be social, you’ve got to meet your audience on their level.

Old Spice would have surely remained “Old” in the eyes of consumers had they not connected with a new generation of consumers online.

Charmin takes a not-always-appropriate-for-the-dinner-table topic and makes it a funny, shareable and likeable experience. Again, Charmin is a brand that has been around for a long time but they adapted to the consumer where it made sense: twitter.

Whole Foods Market makes a consistent and well rewarded effort to inform, giving out deals and yes, entertain their fans on Facebook.

What about one of your peers?

Our friends who run amongst the Longhorns at the University of Texas have a good grasp via published guidelines, "We think social media simply provides fun and creative ways to interact with people you might not otherwise hear from with more traditional tools."

Boom! Oh wait, that’s Oklahoma. Sorry. Looking for a couple of more? We've done that research here at VPM for you already: Social Strategy Playbook and a Case Study on Admissions and Social Media.

So my respectful advice for Higher Education is:

“If you’re going to engage on Social, then you've got to meet your audience in the middle. Preserve your tradition, your ivy and your cardigans for traditional media. Use Social to delight your fans and show your personality – you do have one, right?”

Author: is Founder & CEO at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media
assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative
Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team
chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a
mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.

Topics: higher education, Social Media

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