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A sea of sameness. This is how most education institutions end up positioning themselves:
- Expert faculty.
- Ideal location.
- Great facilities.
- Multidisciplinary approach.
- Global alumni network.
- Experiential learning.
- Students who really want to change the world for the better.
These features and benefits are important, but they are not a brand.
Chances are, you already know that. And chances are, you face the challenge of helping other people to understand this. (We’ll come back to this in a moment.)
A sea of sameness. This is how most education institutions approach their website.
- Consider the homepage, for example. Most institutions use some variation of the following seven items: header, carousel or drone video, four calls to action, three news items, three events items, three people profiles, and a fat footer.
Most homepages could be any institution’s homepage.
Do you feel this “sea of sameness” pain about your own brand or website? Here are three scenarios all too familiar to education marketing professionals:
- Maybe you launched your site after a long research and branding project, which led to a lengthy print viewbook project, and finally the need to translate to your digital properties. But because print was the priority, by the time you’re ready to tackle all things digital … there’s little energy, budget, or momentum left over. Target audiences are left with a disjointed experience as messaging and creative vary widely from one medium to the next.
- Maybe you needed to tackle your site before you were able to complete your branding project — which meant you were struggling for ways to differentiate yourself and regressed, by committee, to the universal college and university norms.
- Maybe you were pressured to have a site that looks and feels just like your competitors’ sites. Too often one school or college site is visually compared with a peer or aspirant institution’s site. This leads to directives like, “Do something different … as long as it looks like so-and-so.”
Undifferentiated brand positioning and undifferentiated website: That’s a bad place to be in.
How can you take a different path now? We offer three ideas:
- Take a values-based approach to your brand.
Most colleges and universities tend to focus on translating the features they offer into benefits that matter to their audiences. That approach, however, makes meaningful differentiation very difficult. A values-based approach to branding follows a different path — one in which you identify the core values and ideals that define your institution and you build your brand on them.
Why is this effective? Because as human beings, we are driven consciously and subconsciously by our values. We gravitate toward brands that reflect those values. Values-based positioning encourages an emotional connection that is essential to engaging the people you are trying to reach.
A good branding project will have three initial phases: research, strategy, and concept creation. The same goes for any good website project. Most institutions will hire one firm for a branding project and a different firm to launch their website, likely because they want the best of breed for each project. The net effect, however, is a total of 18 to 24 months from the discovery phase of a brand project to the launch of a website, with many of your stakeholders sitting through two sets of meetings in which many of the same questions get asked.
What if it could be different — the same research, strategy, and concept phases serving both brand platform and website? What if we could save money and time with teams working in close collaboration so that your brand platform finds beautiful expression through your website in a process that takes you from brand research to launch in 13 to 14 months?
- Digital first.
The issue we’ve seen so many times with a viewbook-first approach to brand expression is this: A printed viewbook yields an incomplete solution. Fonts that look great on a printed page may not have a graceful companion font for the web. Color palettes may not be accessible. Images shot for print will not work as well on digital channels. Because digital has more immediate impact and reach than print, focusing your attention there first just makes sense in today’s world. And basing your site strategy on well-articulated brand positioning helps you to move away from having a site that sounds and looks like the sites of your competitors.
A different path is not the easy path. Gaining buy-in from leadership, finding the right partners to help you execute on a brand-to-website process, and rallying a campus community around this work will take vision, dedication, and a touch of fearlessness. It’s a path worth the work.
For most senior marketing leaders, that path starts with gaining buy-in.
Whether it’s the board of trustees, the president and her cabinet, or the campus community, getting leadership to understand and buy into the time and resources necessary for a branding initiative and website redesign done right can feel like an overwhelming, uphill battle. Crafting the pitch is one of your most important first steps.
Download mStoner’s on demand presentation, Pitch Perfect: How to Gain Internal Buy-In. We will arm you with the tools — the data, stories, presentation approach and techniques — you’ll need to build and deliver a persuasive pitch to your decision-makers.