After 5 college tours in 3 days, I can tell you a lot about the best and worst of college marketing. We took our oldest on his first round of tours, and as a video and multimedia producer, I was particularly intrigued by the use (or lack) of audio-visual storytelling. One school got high marks for its all-visuals slide show supporting a dynamic speaker. He knew his material well, had gone to the school himself, and delivered lots of insightful anecdotes. He gave us some stats, too, but understood that those are easily found on websites and print materials, so he focused on painting a vivid picture of the undergraduate student experience.
At another elite school—which shall remain nameless—the presentation couldn’t have been more different. The speaker said “uh” every other word. He held on a single slide for more than 3 minutes at a time–deadly! And each slide contained text in a poor layout so that while it was very large, it was still hard to read. Of the two videos he showed, one was a fun “trying to be viral” piece focused entirely on one athlete in one very popular (nationally recognized team) sport. It was cute. But the fact that it was 50% of the content shown conveyed the message that this particular team is central to the college culture, and maybe that was the intent. The other video we saw was supposed to be more all-encompassing about the university, but clearly had no script other than “get a bunch of students to talk to the camera and edit it all together as quickly as you can.” This video was filled with poor quality shots–blown out lighting, sound you couldn’t hear– along with a terrible “corporate” repetitive music bed that made it hard to follow. The editing was poor quality, too, and a last freeze frame was on the wrong field, resulting in a weird blur on a student’s face. What this show conveyed was “we’re such a great place that we don’t really have to invest in this video because you’ll probably want to come here anyway.” Mission accomplished.
The school that impressed my son the most likely did so in part because of its emotional, effective and high quality admissions video:
The #Elon video is effective for many reasons—I won’t bore you with a film lecture—but one of them is the original music being performed by students and the thoughtful edit sequences and camera setups. This is not just a mash-up blizzard of images of the school, but a story well told, and it had its intended effect on one prospective applicant. What it told his mom is this: we respect the story enough to approach filmmaking (and its various crafts of writing, directing, editing, music composition, etc.) with creativity and professionalism, just like any other academic discipline.
A school we didn’t see, but might on our next jog north, could be University of Rochester, which took a very different but equally compelling approach to an original music composition, with this well-made admissions rap video:
My take away from this experience is this: if you are marketing yourself, whether to prospective students, customers or donors, how you tell your story matters. A well-planned and executed project—whether a speech with slides, a rap video or a documentary-style piece—will convey your passion. A poor one undermines your message.
Inside the Beltway, everyone thinks this is the first upset of its kind. Maybe in the annals of politics. But this kind of stuff happens every day to consumer brands. It happened when Tropicana tried to roll out a new look, and outraged its base consumers. It happened when New Coke forgot what Old Coke had done for the world. On the successful side of brands expanding their base, Miley Cyrus has been doing a pretty good job of transitioning from Disney Good Girl into a grown-up singer, MTV Awards twerking and all. Not that I would recommend this approach to Members of Congress.
So what lessons can a brand draw?
- Know who your “grassroots” supporters are. Even when you have dreams of national expansion, or a re-brand, be sure you are not straying too far from your core competencies.
- It’s OK to try to shift your niche or broaden your appeal, but then you have to be sure your core constituencies—whether they are voters or stockholders or parents of a school or donors and volunteers of a nonprofit—will come along for the ride. OR, that you can do without them.
- And don’t attend a big-ticket fundraiser while your volunteers and supporters are sweating in the trenches, as Eric Cantor did on election day. Your rank and file supporters/volunteers/consumers are actually part of your brand, so don’t diss them.
Amy DeLouise is a digital media producer and brand strategist.
It all starts in the field. Making sure that you have a good workflow for editing–and for managing multiple content outputs–is always a challenge. Here’s a presentation I gave at NAB with my colleague Rich Harrington that includes some of our top strategies and tools for edit prep.
The Las Vegas brand certainly includes great food. But if you’re in Vegas as I am for #NABShow, you may enjoy getting away from the big name restaurants. So here are a few tasty spots to try this week:
1. Lotus of Siam. Excellent, authentic, and seriously spicy–thai cuisine. Try te spicy prawns or the sea bass in any of the three sauces–I had the ginger sauce with mushrooms on Saturday night and it was divine.
2. Kaizon Fusion Roll. Asia fusion with interesting (and gigantic) sushi roll combinations in a low-key, hip bar atmosphere. Just across street from Hard Rock Hotel but not nearly as pricey as their famous sushi place.
3. Sen of Japan gets rave reviews and is more authentic Japanese, for purists.
4. Pamplemousse. Locals go here for special occasion, reasonably authentic French fare. Haven’t tried it myself, so give me your feedback.
5. Lindo Michoacan. A local Mexican 3-restaurant chain well regarded, including by my local friend whose wife hails from Mexico.
6. Echo and Rig Pick out your cut of steak, then have it grilled up at the restaurant next door. Talk about “on-demand” dining!
7. Piero’s. A Las Vegas institution and close to the Convention Center where we’re all living for this conference. Dinner only.
8. The only Vegas eatery on the strip that makes my list is Beijing Noodle No.9 at Caesar’s. Try the soup dumplings (they’re not IN the soup, the soup is IN the dumplings!) and a bowl of Lanzhou noodle soup.
Getting applause for your content isn’t enough. So while Facebook and YouTube likes are nice, it’s more important to know if you are engaging the right community, and causing them to change knowledge, beliefs and attitudes—the precursors to behavior change. You can use embedded polling, an online survey, a focus group or a full-blown pre/post study—anything that will give you some data to make decisions about what kind of content to create, and how to deliver it more effectively.
There are plenty of great tools out there to help you discover what motivates your audience.
www.batchgeo.com also helps you map your data–literally, on a map! (although it wouldn’t let me put US and international locations on the same map, hmm.)
Don’t forget you can also survey in person. For example, here are the results of a quick in-class survey from my workshop on Researching Your Audience for Better Content Impact this morning at #NABShow in Las Vegas. Thanks to my terrific—and, as you’ll see, geographically diverse—participants, we had a great session.
Sample size: 37
Average age: 36
US Geographic Diversity http://bit.ly/PN2gJU
Top reasons for coming to #NAB: Checking out post production technology, trans media, gear: camera, lighting and audio; digital publishing ; how to develop engaging material for internal audience; how to get more views on content; discover what production is like outside our country.
Amy DeLouise is a content producer who cares about research and speaks at major conferences and events. She tweets @brandbuzz.