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Your Brand. Be Authentic.

April 11, 2009
Jack in the Box feeds the social media beast

Jack in the Box feeds the social media beast

What does Jack in the Box have to do with building marketing strategies for higher education? This article from the LA Times last month deals with the awesome social media viral campaign for the fast food chain that launched its brand makeover. I’ve been holding onto this article for my blog. Check it out.

skittlesNext check out the Skittles “website” that asks for your age, and then gives a clear disclaimer that you’re about to enter another site that is not under their control. Click on that and you’ll go to Skittles’ Twitter site with real time comments on their brand. The LA Times article will tell you what adjustments they’ve made to this campaign.

These stories are significant lessons for higher education marketing and branding. These two major for-profit brands decided to throw caution to the wind and embrace the social media world because of the potential reward for doing so. Their gains came with setbacks. Well, setbacks for traditional marketing. Both companies sought authenticity through interaction with the social media audience. They got it, sort of. Because in social media, a brand must be authentic, but that doesn’t mean that the authenticity is reciprocated. Check out the comments.

Colleges and universities should have always been about authenticity. Whether it’s been practiced or not, it’s kind of built into every brand of higher education. We seek truth, for goodness sake.  When a university doesn’t practice it, there’s a sense of violation.

Now we understand that to be a player in social media, a college must be authentic.  The reality is greater than that.  The requirement for authenticity spills over to all forms of promotion and market engagement. The same prospective students who live in social space are also receiving your printed promotional materials, direct mail letters, telephone calls, and emails. Why authenticity?  Well, if we’re talking about traditional students, we’re talking Gen Y’ers.

Bea Fields, an author on this millennial generation, says Gen Y’ers don’t “waste time on people or companies that are not being real with them. Authentic is cool. Authentic is dorky.Authentic is hip. Authentic is truthful…So while other experts are out there giving you “tricks” to market to Gen Y, I’m here saying STOP marketing to them and START listening to them. Hang out with them. Experience life with them. Respect them.”

Sounds like the makings of a successful student affairs and residence life program. But authenticity must also be present in the classroom and in how our administrative departments relate to students. We must have authenticity in marketing higher education, in our social media marketing, traditional marketing, and in how our admissions counselors relate to their applicants.  We must be authentic to undergraduates and graduate students.  To our alumni and our donors.  Authenticity should be a core component of our brand–a value we aspire to–owned by the entire campus community.

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