Marketing Higher Education Brand Communities
My daughter graduated from UCLA last Friday. She accomplished much at UCLA, earning a B.A. in Sociology, and All American honors as a UCLA women’s soccer player. So, it was a grand day for us as we celebrated commencement.
In the midst of a joyful audience, the commencement speaker–Brad Delson, guitarist in the Grammy award-winning band, Linkin Park–hit a home run with his speech (comedy routine) which I may never forget. In a PR pickle, UCLA asked him to speak seven days before commencement after a much publicized Facebook campaign by students persuaded their first choice to back out.
Delson, a summa cum laude UCLA graduate, and philanthropist, was quoted about his experience at UCLA in the commencement publication:
From the first day, I had an amazing variety of studies. Not just the subjects I wanted to master but things I never would have known about if I hadn’t pursued a liberal arts education. The magic really happened when there was an overlap–studying something in one class and coming across it in another or, better yet, seeing it out in the real world. Those multiple connections really stick.
Just being exposed to the diversity on campus made the world more interesting. “Hey, we’re going to go hear this kind of music tonight.” Something I hadn’t been exposed to. That was just as important as the academic stuff.
My four years at UCLA were a cram course in cultural and intellectual possibility. They set me up to be successful at what I do; they helped make me an adult…Thanks, UCLA.
For those of us in higher education, such experiences are commonplace. They are a major reason why we stay in higher education. There is nothing like the experience of saying goodbye to graduating seniors we knew as freshmen. Seeing their commencement is an emotional experience for us because we’ve seen them grow before our eyes, and have been a part of that growth.
We know that such positive life-changing experiences are the result of being in an academic community. We’ve experienced it ourselves. We were a part of a college or university community in which we were challenged to think critically, get out of our comfort zone, gain new perspectives, broaden our worldview, take responsibility, make a difference, serve others, and grow up. We were challenged by professors, resident directors, academic advisors, coaches, administrators, roommates, friends, and a variety of staff with whom we interacted. In a very real way, it took a community to educate us.
In marketing higher education, we don’t need to try to create a brand community. It’s there. It’s our role as marketing and enrollment professionals in the community to assess and recognize what it is, engage it on campus and through social media, and develop strategies to communicate what it is to those interested in joining it.
Given what’s on the line for prospective students and their families with their hopes, dreams, ambitions, and finances, it’s our ethical responsibility to honestly communicate the essence of our brand community to them so that they may be able to figure out if our college or university is right for them. We do that through our branding messages and admissions counseling. That’s why we have admissions counselors, not sales people.
And that’s why it’s important to revisit commencement each year to see the joy and pride of students and their families. It reminds us of what this all is really about.