The WSJ ran a story about the trend to hire marketing departments in response to the new competition. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444233104577591171686709792.html Ok, sure, but don’t you need first to think about how your product might be different or special? At the moment, we are all pretty much offering the same 4-year 120 degrees with the same majors. What’s to market? “We’re the same, only better!?” This is an opportunity to start a new conversation about both value and distinctiveness. Maybe your dorms are better or your rock wall is higher, but our students learn job skills, or have a broader education, or maybe our programs are three years or five years, or more geared to our local population? The marketing teams will have a hard time until we start to think more carefully about our individual value.

I’m actually for marketing here. I think it is a chance to tell folks about what you do, but i think that generic branding is pointless. It will work for state U pride–“be true to your state.” And let’s be honest, most schools already have a marketing department–it is called an athletics program, and it works.

When you win, applications go up. (When Georgetown won the NCAA Basketball tournaments, it got a huge boost in applications, but so did George washington U and George Mason U. Think about it.

If we are really going to put new labels on our cans, we had better stop and think about what is IN the can. This can be a good thing. Let’s think about what we do that is distinctive, but let’s also make sure we DELIVER as promised. What’s in your can?

  1. H Reply
    Marketing is much more than, to use your terms, the label on the can. Effective marketing can only be done when institutional marketers have a seat at the table to discuss how might the product need to be changed to have more impact in the marketplace. This happens daily in marketing departments outside of higher education. We fall in the trap, in higher ed, of separating the product and the marketing in a way that misunderstands the foundational purpose of marketing. Breaking down thie silos and acknowledging that each of us at an imstitution has valuable input in the product development is the secret sauce to success. Continuing with the silo mentality, "we had better stop and think what is in the can" and "marketing teams will have a hard time until we start to think more carefully about our individual value" will take us further no more. Working together without the us vs. them mentality is a good first step.
    • José Bowen Reply
      I totally agree. There has to be conversation that integrates mission, audience and marketing. This, however, is a pretty radical idea. As a faculty member, I recognize my own desire to be "left alone to teach what I want to teach and how I want to teach it--just bring me students." It is a very different starting place for higher ed (but routine for other organizations) to say: what does the market need and what is unique about what we might provide? How might we better fill a local niche (rather than all trying to be just a little more like Harvard...) Many of us have been lucky enough to try at least and replicate the model we remember fondly from our own years as a student (especially graduate school), but I don't think the market, the states or the public is going to allow that much longer.
  2. H Reply
    How about we ask ourselves these questions: What do our students need? What do we know they need? and How do we provide it in a way that is relevant and engaging to them in this moment? I agree, it seems to be a pretty radical idea, but, one worth working for. Cultivating an environment where professional staff and faculty respect each other and understand that the different perspectives are valuable in solving the problem is something that I hope to achieve at my institution. Focusing on the problem, not who is the one that ultimately "owns" solving it should be the mission. Bit by bit, it's happening. It's even happening here in these blog comments. Ultimately, it takes patience, dedication and (most of all) a love and commitment to the institution (or higher ed in general). It's less about running a successful business and more about being human and working together toward a common goal.

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