January 19

The Million Dollar Question: Our Aspirational Branding Follow-Up


by | Jan 19, 2023 | Branding, Featured, Podcast

A while back, we spoke with Shauna Davis and Mary Laphen Pope from the Lumina Foundation about their aspirational branding Million Dollar Community College Challenge. 

The purpose of the challenge was to raise awareness of the idea that education marketing can be both practical and inspirational. 

I really believe in their idea of aspirational branding, as it can motivate prospective students to not only enroll at your school (practical), but to get passionate about their educational journey.

This passion not only can bring more students in the door, it also creates better student outcomes as students are more likely to stick it out when achieving their goals becomes difficult.

In this episode of the Higher Ed Marketing podcast, Shauna and Mary return along with Dr. Angel Reyna, President of Madera Community College – the proud winners of Lumina’s Million Dollar Community College Challenge.

What is the Million Dollar Community Challenge?

At the top of the conversation, I asked Shauna and Mary to remind us about the Million Dollar Community Challenge. 

What is it? And what was it supposed to do? 

Community colleges, now more than ever, need a new way to connect with our community. With that in mind, we challenged community colleges across the country to tell us how they would use a million dollars to transform their brand building and marketing efforts to connect with today’s students. 

This wasn’t a million dollars to do a one-time big advertising campaign or billboard campaign, which is important. What we were looking for here was to work with the [participating] schools to think about how they can transform their brand building efforts to connect with their adult students in more of an evergreen way.

This is an important shift in the way a school thinks about its marketing strategy. 

Too many colleges and universities think of marketing as a string of one-off campaigns. 

A better way to look at education marketing is as a unified marketing strategy executed over a series of marketing campaigns across multiple channels. 

One of the best ways to unify your marketing efforts is through crafting an aspirational branding message. 

What is it ultimately that your school inspires students to do?

While every student will have their own story to tell, what is the common story they all share? 

To get a front-row seat of some of the best moments of the ten finalists in the Million Dollar Community Challenge, take a look at this YouTube video.

Madera Community College Grant-winning Video

Want to watch the winning video? Here it is!

What’s amazing about this commercial is that Madera didn’t hire a film crew. 

This was an entirely student produced film. 

That’s important because you can see how powerful video content can be, even on a shoestring budget.

But there are more benefits than just saving money, as Dr. Reyna shares with us here:

It was a student that filmed another student. Anytime you can center your students—and they’re leading this effort—it exemplifies the work we are doing not only with the person that was centered in the video, but also the one that captured that moment.

What I hear Dr. Reyna saying here is that operating on a shoestring budget can be a blessing in disguise. 

This winning video not only “centered” the student being featured in the video on the aspirational branding of Madera Community College, but it also helped the students shooting the video see their aspirational branding as well.

Together, the Madera students were discovering the unique mission and values of Madera and helping others to discover it as well.

Shauna and Mary obviously appreciated the video, as it was the winner of the contest. 

During our conversation, they told us what they liked about it. 

We did not give any colleges the resources to [produce the videos they submitted]. 

The real charge there was [to] convey [their message] to students as [the] audience—you’re not speaking to Lumina Foundation, you’re speaking to your community, right? 

Can you convey your college’s promise to adult students? 

Madera’s video really brought to life the spirit of what they were conveying in the application. They talked about creating a visceral sense of belonging. They talked about pride in the community. 

They talked about their community and who attends their college. They talked about this idea of creating spaces and places as well as generational transformation. 

When you watch their video, you see that personified.

From all of us at Caylor Solutions, we wish Madera Community College and all of the Million Dollar Community College Challenge contestants all the very best!

To hear what Madera plans to do with the million dollars, be sure to listen to the full episode.  

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Shauna Davis, Mary Pope, and Dr. Angel Reyna to get even more insights into:

  • Madera Community College’s reaction to winning the challenge
  • Lumina’s top-10 candidate selection process
  • Madera’s immediate branding and marketing goals post-challenge

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