Posts Tagged ‘college marketing’

Branding Disorder

July 2, 2008

Thanks to John Moore at Brand Autopsy, my next summer book will be Obsessive Branding Disorder, by Lucas Conley. I always love to read stuff that validates my personal philosophies! Here are a couple of quotes from the Fast Company essay that spawned the book:

A brand is a result, not a tactic. One cannot go about branding an organization or a product or a service; the organization, product, or service is what creates the brand. (italics mine). In a brilliant twist, the experts have bottled an end and sold it as a means. (emphasis mine).

Lucas sees a connection between the decline in advertising and the rise of branding as a business religion. He points to a 14% drop in Madison Avenue employment from 2000 to 2005. I think it’s more likely that both are symptoms — there is correlation but not necessarily a causal connection.

In my view, the rise of branding with its focus on “being understood” and “knowing who you are” comes from the increasingly narcissistic mood of the culture. And that in turn might be flowing from the trends which have conspired to make “one” — the self — into the ultimate economic unit.

Whatever the cause, we agree on the results: the advertising world focuses on “what we say” and “how we say it”. But the reality is that true branding, minus the hype, is really just “what the business does.” Conley cites Jiffy mix, Disney, and Apple as his examples of strong brands that are strong because of their product, not their advertising. And my personal favorite, In-N-Out Burger:

The $310 million In-N-Out Burger chain, another iconic brand that rarely advertises or speaks to the press, has been putting the rest of the fast-food industry to shame for years. McDonald’s spent an estimated $1.5 billion on branding efforts last year, producing little more than one day’s worth of sales more per store than In-N-Out. Have you ever met anyone who’s had an In-N-Out Burger who doesn’t believe it’s one of the best burgers they’ve ever had? Meanwhile, just who, exactly, is really “lovin’ it”?

For colleges, the message is clear: focus on the delivery of a transformational education experience in keeping with the traditions and values of the school. And in the marketing area, focus on authentic portrayals of how real students are actually experiencing that transformative time in their lives. In that way the authentic brand for that college will emerge. And the branding techniques that are so faddishly au courant, can be left to the McDonalds’ of the world to obsess on.

Postscript on another great summer read:

Today it seems normative for members of a family, company, team, or band to find the current of success more rewarding when they wade into the deep waters alone. Fame and fortune are easier to manage solo, without the vulnerability and accountability of team participation. Using music as a metaphor, it’s easy to think of examples from my generation: the Beatles; Peter Cetera; Michael Jackson; Paul Simon; Enya. Of course, the ones whose sound was defined by the team brand, rather than individual stars, are also noteworthy: the Beach Boys; the Rolling Stones.

A great book about the difficulties yet rewards of team-building is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni.

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Lovemarks are for alumni

November 1, 2007

Here’s my take on how to apply lovemarks theory to college admissions or advancement. The X and Y axes increase in value as you go up and to the right. ORK’s Lovemarks diagramIf a college does promotions, creates buzz, projects hipness, starts fads, engages in window-dressing, etc., the students who respond will be showing love in the Saatchi sense: commitment without logical basis.

On the other hand, if the college emphasizes reasons, traditions, points of distinction… all the logical basis for selecting one school over another, and staking its brand claims on particular areas of excellence … then it would be building respect, or brand identity, in its prospects. In admissions marketing, the reality is that both approaches are probably necessary. Some students decide on the basis of a feeling, and some make spreadsheets and weigh the facts. Each college knows what it wants to hang its hat on — the traditions and values and facts, or the post-modernistic ethos that resonates with a certain mind-set. Using the principle of different strokes for different folks, build respect for your distinctives and traditions, while at the same time fostering buzz, Facebook networks, emotional tie-ins to various interest groups.

For alumni, the reality of your school experience is your ticket to a lovemark. In four years, a lovemark can develop. Every graduate who feels they got their money’s worth, they came of age, they met the love of their life, they were challenged beyond measure, or made life-long friends … will graduate with a loyalty that goes well beyond reason, and can guarantee the stability of the institution for years to come.

Lovemarks and College branding

November 1, 2007

Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi has championed the idea of lovemarks as the ultimate level of brand loyalty. Think Apple or Harley-Davidson. His definition is “Loyalty beyond Reason.” With a brand, there is high respect. With a fad, there is high love but low respect. With a lovemark, there is high respect AND high love.

To Roberts, love here means three things: mystery, sensuality, and intimacy… sounds like eros, and Madison Avenue certainly knows how to incorporate sex if they can. But mystery is the word Saatchi likes to use to describe the stories, metaphors, and symbolism of the brand. It adds complexity and compelling drama to the personality of the brand.

Sensuality refers to the multiple ways the brand communicates with its target. And intimacy describes each customer’s amount of empathy or passion or commitment to the brand.

And here is where I think lovemarks and colleges naturally collide: because the bottom line for a lovemark as defined by its inventors is this:

“Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a lovemark away and people will protest its absence.”

I don’t think very many colleges can expect incoming students to reach that kind of loyalty or commitment during the admissions process. The fact is students have lots of choices and they’ll matriculate wherever they feel drawn at the moment.

I’d suggest that colleges really do develop a lovemark with their students over the course of four years. Most alumni WOULD protest if their alma-mater were taken away. Once they’ve invested their lives there, they have loyalty beyond reason. Which of course is the leverage that makes fundraising possible.

For admissions marketing, I think the reality is more reserved. Except for perhaps full-pay legacy students, a college will not often be able to be a true lovemark for its prospectives.