Branding Insights from College Road Trips

February 24, 2014

By Bill Duggan

I’ve been on a number of college visits recently, as I have triplet daughters who are now juniors in high school.  These visits have provided some insights relevant to brand marketers.

First off, after visiting a few schools, everything starts to bleed together. All the schools have a low student/teacher ratio. They all take security seriously and have a “blue light” system. They all claim diversity – and all have literature, of course, with that diverse group of students on a grassy quad under a tree. Blah, blah, blah. Few stand out.

One school that did stand out was NYU. From the very beginning of the admissions presentation, NYU presented itself as, “The Global Network University.” NYU has campuses in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi – where students can attend for all four years. Alternatively, students who enroll in the New York City campus have the opportunity to spend a year or semester abroad.  Yes, lots of schools have semester abroad programs.  But NYU did a great job in differentiating itself in a cluttered and competitive category.  Marketers please take note – especially those in financial services and automotive.

Another insight has to do with the importance of employees as brand ambassadors.  Whether it’s the call center operator, the store clerk, or the hotel chamber maid, employees are often the face of the brand to consumers. During the college tours, the brand ambassadors were (a) the admissions office rep giving the hour information session presentation in an auditorium and (b) the student leading the campus tour.  More than almost any other factor, my kids formed opinions of schools based on these interactions.  We still joke about the student tour leader who began by saying, “I have class in an hour, so we need to be done by then.” That made us all feel unimportant to the student and that school. Marketers (and colleges) need to understand that every touch point is a branding opportunity … or missed opportunity.

Interestingly, some schools are realizing the importance of branding.  Northwestern University recently named Mary Baglivo vice president for global marketing and chief marketing officer. Previously, Mary was Chairman and CEO, Americas, for Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide.

I look forward to additional branding insights this coming week, this time from practitioners, at the ANA Brand Masters Conference.

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