Alumni Marketing and Communications: Making a Connection to Memories
A few years ago, I was at a concert listening to music I hadn’t heard live since I was a teenager. It was great. I was listening to Barry McGuire, the raspy-voiced singer-songwriter of the 1960s anti-war movement known for his #1 song, “Eve of Destruction,” and one of a few who blazed a trail for the new Christian rock genre during the Jesus People Movement of the late 60s and early 70s.
The concert moved me. After it ended, I approached Barry and asked him if he was ever going to perform again with a couple of other early rock bands with whom he collaborated way back when. I looked forward to asking the question. The music they made influenced my life, and I was curious about the possibility of that happening.
But when I asked him the question, he became slightly animated, dismissed the idea outright, and said that was then, just a period of time in his life, and that he moved on long ago.
Huh. His answer surprised me, at least until I had a little time to think about it. He moved on, but I hadn’t. My connection to Barry McGuire was emotional, based more on my memories than the music itself.
I was reminded of this experience a few months ago, when I came across an episode of Chris Isaak’s television program that featured my favorite 1970’s music group, Chicago. The old days were all Chris wanted to talk about with the original members of the group. There were some great stories, and Chris knew that’s what his audience would want to hear. And he was right.
You see, I’m not a Chicago fan entirely. I’m more of a fan of Chicago for the period from their first album, Chicago Transit Authority, through Chicago VIII. My interests changed after that point, the group changed, and with the exception of about three songs, I don’t really know much about the group after that Chicago VIII album.
My connections to Barry McGuire and Chicago are tied to experience and memory, both of which are directly related to who I was as a person when I experienced their music.
And so it goes for how most alumni are connected to their alma mater. Their connections are frozen in time. They take little interest in their alma mater because their connections are not about what’s happening now, they’re about what happened to them when they were there so many years ago.
And what do many institutions do to try to bridge this chasm? They talk about themselves–a lot: their great programs, events, faculty and campus improvements. All good stuff, but it makes their alumni magazines essentially glossy company newsletters.
Try this instead as a part of a comprehensive marketing campaign for alumni. Listen to them, by formal survey, conversations off campus, through social media, etc. And remind them of what they loved about their alma mater. Remind them how much fun they had. Remind them how much they grew, and how their alma mater prepared them for life. Do all of this by telling alumni stories through words and pictures.
Marketing higher education effectively to alumni requires institutions to develop brand messages tailored to alumni across the generational spectrum.
Truth is, most alumni will not become active supporters of your institution. They have moved on. The alumni who support the annual fund, attend homecoming, and refer prospective students to your college have made the connection between then and now. They are grateful for what they received at their alma mater, and they want to give back.
Reinforce their support and encourage other alumni to do the same by connecting them to their emotional ties to your campus, reminding them that a new generation of student is walking the same hallways, sitting in the same lecture halls, sleeping in dorm rooms, and preparing for life just as they did years ago.