One of the biggest elephants in the room is how higher ed marketers are often tasked with selling a less than desirable product, a poor university offering.
No matter how good of a marketer you are, it’s hard to sell prospective students on an education with a tuition that keeps going up.
It’s not easy to convince students to enroll when your institution won’t open up for fear of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Years of experience can’t give you what you need to market a school who’s executive board, staff, and faculty are not committed to speaking out on behalf of your education brand.
To do successful higher ed marketing, you’ve got to have a good product you can get behind.
There are no easy solutions to this problem, but Purdue University has done an incredible job over the years of distinguishing their university offering.
So we had a conversation on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast with Ethan Braden, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Purdue University.
He provided some insights on what’s made Purdue so successful as a brand, and how that’s empowered their marketing team to make some incredible leaps forward.
The Importance of an Exceptional University Offering
The four P’s of marketing are the Product, Price, Place, and Promotion of any good or service. Of course, the first P really matters in consumer marketing, but it also matters in higher ed marketing.Click to tweet
It takes an enormous effort but Ethan shares with us that crafting an exceptional university offering is the foundation of a successful marketing program.
The number one [reason we’re seeing success] is we’ve got a tremendous product. We start with an amazing product with amazing support from our board of trustees, President Mitch Daniels on down.
Start with the product.
It’s living our brand — “Persistent Innovation Together” — [through projects like] the data mine that’s taking students from all of our 13 colleges into a learning, living community no matter their major, and making them “data fluent.” [They become] data scientists working together from fashion to pharmacy and everything in between.
Another initiative is the Polytechnic High School. When we weren’t seeing underrepresented minority [URM] students coming to Purdue with the fervor and the frequency that we wanted, we went out and built our own high schools. Three of them are now in the state of Indiana.
They’re a pathway for students that were usually underserved by traditional high school and underrepresented in higher education. Only 40 students came to us from that first graduating class. But that’s four times what we were getting from the entire Indianapolis Public School System previously!
So it’s that commitment to persistently running in when others run out. A commitment to innovation, a commitment to value, and doing it together.
Becoming the Chief Storyteller
Another critical ingredient to crafting an exceptional university offering is to have a unified effort across the organization in regards to messaging.
This means that the marketing department has to make the shift from being the short-order cook to being the main chef.
In other words, your higher ed marketing team has got to go beyond taking project orders to becoming the leader in how every department on campus tells your brand’s story.
Our [university marketing team] of 70 people has really pivoted from being the driven on campus, [always taking orders to make] posters, flyers, [and other marketing collateral], to the driver.
What that’s meant in 2020 – 2021 is [that we] really pivoted to be the chief storyteller. [We now feel] that we’re a driver of inspiration, prosperity, and growth at Purdue University by deliberately positioning, promoting, and protecting our brand.
This spreads beyond the central marketing organization to our 13 colleges [who are the homes for our] 300 other marketers, communicators, and graphic designers that we see across campus. [We want them to communicate with their audiences] not necessarily “on brand,” but “in character.” [The goal is to] share those stories in a unified fashion, localizing to the college, but still under the umbrella of Purdue University.
When we tell that story, we want to be on the same song sheet. Everyone gets their verse, but we’re going to sing the chorus together.
It Starts with Us in the Higher Ed Marketing Team
This kind of unity among the various departments on campus is not easy to achieve.
But it makes all the difference in the world!
I really believe that it all begins with a pivot in how the marketing team sees its role in the institution.
Are we here to provide creative services for our colleagues?
Or, are we here to lead the choir in telling our brand story well?
Once you make that shift in your team’s self-perception, you can work on “positioning, promoting, and protecting” your school’s brand across the communications of your entire organization.
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 Ethan Braden to get even more insights into:
- Fast Company’s brands that matter & the first-class marketing engine
- Scaling through the COVID-19 pandemic
- What’s next for the Purdue team
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Featured image via purdue.edu