It’s time colleges got educated on branding



What makes a college get noticed? In most cases, it’s some arbitrary list of “best colleges.” Basically, someone else decides what you are, and what you are not, and if anyone should pay attention or simply skip you and move on. So how else can a prospective student judge a college? More importantly, how else can a college breakout, stand out, and get its message out, especially if it’s not “on the list?” And the majority are not.


Now this may sound like “dirty business” in the hallowed halls of learning. Colleges are not toothpaste or potato chips to be marketed like a product. However, the truth is, it’s a very powerful way for a college to put its best foot forward, and in the process, be forced to articulate what it stands for in a very concise way. Writing 101. I learned that in college. Besides, universities are all about learning. Here’s s a chance to learn something about marketing the very school you work at.

Each college absolutely has something unique to offer.

Yet most colleges do not identify, then clearly and compellingly articulate this difference. Instead, they just regurgitate the same stuff over and over. The student teacher ratio. The library that gets quieter as you go higher. The “Harry Potter” building. The caring professors. The sense of community. Blah, blah, block it all out. I’ve heard each of these so many times. I not only own an ad agency, I also have three children, and I recently spent two years in a row touring 20-30 colleges. When I started, I wrote down everything they said, then I quickly realized they’re all saying the same crap, just listen for the one or two things that were different, if they even had any. Now my next child is a junior in high school, so I’m about to do it yet again. I beg schools across America, if you won’t have a unique point of view for the good of your college, at least do it for the poor parents and students who have to sit through 25 of these very repetitive sessions after schlepping for hours by car or plane to get there.

Having a unique pov is not easy.

Here lies the issue: each college offers so many awesome things, how can they crystalize it all into one single thought? That’s the hard part. That’s the branding, and why you need to tap experts to do it. You’ve got to dig, work, and articulate in a powerful, succinct and simple way what makes your offering different. It does NOT mean forcing each school to pick one of the 37 things that make them awesome, and tossing out the rest. It means aggregating all 37 into a packed and fertile singular thought. Aggregate not eliminate. That’s a difficult job, but not an impossible one, and well worth the effort it takes. Here are two examples from personal experience.

The Juilliard School: We worked on a strategic project and got the singular thought down to one word: Aspire. Students aspire to get accepted, they aspire to create original works of art, parents aspire to have their children go there, the college aspires to put beautiful things into the world, the faculty aspires to give birth to the next generation of artists, the alumni aspires to go forward and create even more, the donors aspire to be part of a great institution that develops the future of music, theater and dance. One word, fertile and packed with so many true and poignant meanings. Yes, people aspire to other colleges, but there is something uniquely Juilliard about that thought….some higher artistic purpose the college stands for.

Le Moyne College: One of 28 Jesuit Colleges in America, Le Moyne’s identity is driven by that distinction. Based on fundamental Jesuit principles, we created the idea: Greatness meets goodness. Greatness because the Jesuits have been some of the greatest educators since 1548. They set the highest bar, reach for heroic leadership; built on the principle of “Magis” which means more and better, and they follow the inspiring words of the founder St Ignatius Loyola who said, “go forth and set the world on fire.” However, it is a greatness always through the eyes of goodness. Never at any cost. That is not the Jesuit way. Goodness is a pov that is uniquely Le Moyne. It’s the mission of the faculty, the students, the entire college community, and the alumni. I know from first-hand experience. I am a proud graduate.

In both cases, these colleges put out to the world the unique message they want people to hear, not the outside perspective of third party critics. Not only does that help a college take their brand into their own hands and self-define, it gives those backward-walking student tour guides a few unique and interesting sound bites to say as they trip over that crack in the sidewalk.

Rob Baiocco

CCO/Co-Founder, The BAM Connection



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