Ideas, musings and inspirations.

A colleague of mine spoke a phrase several months ago that won’t stop ringing a clear and undeniable truth in my ear. After I showed him video from a flash mob brand launch, he said, “I hate that kind of fake energy.”

That bell rang again for me this week as imposter birthday greetings between dropping through my apartment door mail slot. Nice to hear from you, chiropractor I saw once and then ran from in horror. You too, hair stylist who binges a little too hard on caffeine and can’t stop her scissors from shaking. Welcome, dentist who bought one of my best friend’s once-thriving practice only to run it into the ground with incompetence. And let’s not forget you good neighbor State Farm agent who ceaselessly tries to upsell me renters insurance no matter how often I refuse.

Anyone with access to a birthdate now feels emboldened to enter your private space without so much as the courtesy of knocking; to pose as a kind of trusted, intimate friend knowing full well they’ve never once backed that gesture up with the kind of real action that might earn my permission or trust.

This strain of “fake energy” recalls recent memories of my son’s junior and senior year college search. Some glitch at College Board Data Entry Central rendered my son’s bulk mailing list name unrecognizable — replacing his first name with his mother’s last name and his last name with his middle initial C.

Every school sold at a higher education marketing conference on the idea of “personalized mailing” was now bombarding a really great prospect with expensive branded print collateral addressed to Stufft Erkel Remy C. That gesture of insincerity simply accelerated and cemented his decision to avoid any college that could not bother to learn his name.

Here’s how one higher education marketing firm makes the case:

“A personalized enrollment marketing approach is particularly effective with the current generation of prospective students. The negative stereotype is that Millennials are self-obsessed. The reality is that they want recognition. By personalizing your enrollment marketing, you are recognizing individuality and creating the impression that you are speaking directly to that student.”

Left unchecked, fake energy finds its way into nearly every higher education marketing gesture, event, piece of content and communication. It can quietly metastasize until one day, it consumes an entire college or university culture, strategy and brand. That’s when you have a really “big problem.”

In the “content is king” era, we all feel pressure each day to settle on creating the impression that we really know or care about a subject matter. Blogs wait to be fed. Print pieces run behind schedule. Who has the time, patience or discipline required for real reporting or argument construction?

And even if we chose to follow old school rules about the validity of content, do readers (let alone the Google bot) discern any difference? After all, many people think that enduring musical artists can be minted between commercials on a game show and that great film can be made without the hard work of crafting a story or script.

I hold out hope for the few remaining college presidents or vice presidents of marketing who understand the enduring attraction that story holds for the human imagination, the power of an authentic brand voice, and the scarcity of genuinely human era higher education brands.

As college communicators, we’re the final line of defense against a web of near total insincerity. Your college or university may have already been swept up in the race to the bottom — where people and institutions lose all sense of authenticity, grace or humility.

Holding the line requires tough but crucial conversations with clients rather than allowing the hard sell of fake energy to blur important strategic considerations.

Stufft Erkel Remy C — we know how much you’re waiting for that envelope of fake energy to arrive on your birthday.

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Prospects… Prospects Everywhere

College is expensive. The average cost of a four-year college degree in the United States is something like $31,374, per year. Which adds up to a whopping $125,498 by the time graduation rolls around.

I’m frugal. Which basically means that I Google everything I buy in order to find the best quality and price available. And I’m not alone. According to Adweek, 81% of shoppers conduct online research before buying.

It makes sense that prospective college students are heading online to research their top schools in order to get the best quality education for their investment. And your homepage isn’t the only place their searches are taking them.

A survey by Global Web Index found that 36% of teens and young adults ages 16-24 use social media to research brands, products or services. A similar survey by Uversity found that 68% of high school students use social media to research colleges.

So how can you maximize your social media potential?

1. Start thinking about your Instagram account as a viewbook that keeps revolving. Be thoughtful about the variety of photos you post and stick to a schedule for when to post. I recommend posting a new photo or video once every 2-3 days.

Ensure that you’re posting a melting pot of content; athletics, campus architecture, academics and some student life shots. Try be authentic and post photos of things that happened on the day you captured the photos. And most importantly, be sure to tag your photos with the appropriate location tags and hashtags to reach the most users.

Insta pros: Bucknell, Kenyon, University of Kansas, Berklee College, Darmouth

2. Your Facebook page is a place to engage with visitors. Share news, events and highlights. Encourage and facilitate conversation, and interact with alumni, parents, current students and prospects in real time.

Take advantage of the comments feature on Facebook and reply to users who ask questions. Don’t be afraid to let loose and crack a few jokes from time to time.

Facebook gurus: Susquehanna, Boston College, Dayton, University of Kentucky, University of Houston, University of California

3. Twitter is a great conversation starter and an even better news engine. The chronological nature of twitter makes it great for organizing current events. Tweet news, photos and important information.

Show your community your care by favoriting, retweeting and replying to tweets relevant to the university.

I recently tweeted “Just bought my first pair of @LulaRoe leggings. Naturally, they’re orange and maroon. #susqu” And my alma mater, Susquehanna, favorited it. #AlumniEngagment.

Tweet stars: MIT, Georgetown, Princeton, Ohio State, Indiana University

4. Consider Snapchat an informal sneak peek into the campus experience. A virtual campus tour, that happens ten seconds at a time. Every. Single. Day. Student “account take-overs” are a great way to ensure a good variety of content gets pushed to your account regularly.

Geo-filters are also an essential way to encourage community spirit! You can read more about the benefits of a great Geo-filter here.

Snaperts: UofMichigan, mitstudents, ColoradoStateU, Dukestudents

Interested in learning more about how social media can help your admission process? Let us help! We’ve got a bunch of tricks and tips up our sleeve to help you maximize your social media impact score.

This past June several Elliance team members had the pleasure of attending Web Design Day 2016. While many of the speakers presented interesting new ideas and techniques one seemed to stand out of the crowd for me, Jen Simmons’ ‘Revolutionize Your Page: Real Art Direction on the Web’. Her talk focused on upcoming web standards that will have great impact on how we design and develop web page layouts. You can watch a similar talk here.
One of the most exciting features she covered was CSS Grid Layouts.
What is a CSS Grid Layout? It is a browser native feature for making 2 dimensional grids on the web. In the past, after the introduction of CSS, we used tables to create layouts, this was followed by the use of floated elements and most recently we’ve been dabbling in flexbox.

Of course CSS Grid Layouts are not ready for production, but Chrome, Firefox, and Opera are testing this new standard that you can use today (after altering some developer settings).

Like Jen Simmons, several developers have gotten out ahead of the pack and have made wonderful guides and even books on the subject.

Here are some of my favorite:

There are CSS Grid Layout polyfills currently in development to help us in our backwards compatibility browser support when this working standard becomes fully supported.

Last week I toured the factory of a mid-sized OEM Manufacturer, and was blown away by what I saw. Robotic plasma cutters were going through huge 4-inch thick steel plates like hot knives through butter. I was told they also cut 10-inch thick plates with the same ease. Huge parts were being moved from station to station. They were being drilled, stamped, machined, folded, welded, blasted clean, assembled, powder-coated and baked. With every step, I could feel the enormity of their investment in automation. I could also see their investment in skilled workers who were keeping it all running smoothly and safely.

I was truly impressed by how this third-generation company was staying with the times and evolving with their customers’ needs. I was also very surprised by something; I learned that after all they’ve put into their business they have some excess capacity.

It turns out that there’s a significant perception gap in what new prospects think about them and what the company is truly capable of producing. Clarifying their value proposition and closing this gap has been largely left to the leadership’s ability to reach the right kinds of strategic buyers, and nurture relationships. Good, old fashioned selling.

This OEM Manufacturer is not alone. Lots of companies have made gigantic, ongoing investments in automation and workforce. They’ve taken tremendous loads of risk off their customers’ shoulders and put it onto their own, only to be left with extra capacity to fill.

It’s a shame. Things just don’t have to work this way.

Leading manufacturers like GE and Caterpillar don’t just invest in capital improvements to stay ahead; they invest in marketing too. They grow their brand’s share of mind, voice and market with integrated marketing, advertising, content, search and social strategies that get them in front of right-fit customers. What they don’t do is let their website sit there all by itself like an old phone book ad, and expect customers to find them. They use their brand and the web to reach their next level of performance.

So I’m happy to say our friends from last week’s factory tour have asked us for a proposal. We’re excited show them how we can get more strategic buyers knocking on their door. I know that given the opportunity, we will help eliminate their excess capacity problem.

It won’t cost as much as a robotic plasma cutter either.


Here’s where they’ve allocated more than 10% of their budget in 2016


Compare the marketing spend allocation in the fastest growing companies ( green ) with the slower growing companies ( blue ), and you’ll notice a startling difference in how the top performers behave. More of the faster growing companies allocate more than 10% of their budget towards creating and distributing content, trade shows and display advertising. The slower growing companies have a disproportionate number that allocate more than 10% of their budgets to email, the production of marketing collateral, search and social media.
*Source: Hubspot

higher education marketing and branding authenticity

Stop what you’re doing and take a look around. How many brands do you see? Chances are that your morning coffee, handbag, phone, car and computer all have clear logos and identifiable brands. Branding is so pervasive that the average three-year-old can identify literally hundreds of companies by their logos. Just drive past a McDonalds or Toys “ R” Us with your favorite toddler in tow as proof.

As consumers, we may not understand the complex branding process in a forensic sense, but we sure understand the power of a great branding. Without much thought, we get the essence of Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola and Google because they tell their stories with religious consistency. The payoff? We engage. We connect. We buy.

Like their corporate counterparts, colleges need to leverage strong branding in their higher education marketing initiatives. Homogenized brands that are interchangeable with hundreds of other colleges are no longer adequate.

With over 4,000 schools across the country, the explosion of online schools and courses, rising costs and shrinking pools of traditional students, colleges need distinct branding to stand out in the sea of sameness and attract “right fit” students now more than ever.

A college brand isn’t a signature color, a mascot or a tagline, but the very essence of the institution and how constituencies—parents, donors, students and alumni—interact with it. It transcends the physical campus at every touch point, online and offline and in person.

Authentic brands are built around what sets a college apart from its competitors. Is the faculty renown? Is the campus exceptional? Are the students service- oriented? Is the school invested in research or centered on a particular faith? Is it known for a specific field of study or elite and exclusive?

The rewards are great for institutions that have clarity about their brand promise and everyone—from the president on down—lives it, breathes it and owns it.

  • Better yields & retention
  • More “right fit” students
  • Bigger market share
  • Stronger relationship with alumni & donors

As competition for students escalates, higher education marketing needs to be precise and reflect the true and defining character of the institution. Now is the time to put an end to bland brands and embrace authenticity in ways that deliver real competitive advantages.

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It is a great honor for Elliance to have recently won a Hermes Creative award for our higher education marketing client New York Chiropractic College. The award was given for a series of social posts that were put together to promote their Doctor of Chiropractic program.

marketing campaign for higher education client

marketing campaign for higher ed client

social media promotion for higher ed client

higher ed marketing campaign for client

The Strategy & Results:

There was a lot of thought that went into creating these posts. Our strategy was to create a series that would tie the brand, create a story and encourage target audience engagement. This filtered through into design concepts and copy as well as micro targeting of audience on Facebook. All of this worked together to provide excellent results: increased brand awareness and reach, higher engagement on the posts and stronger Facebook page likes.

See all the other higher education marketing awards that Elliance has won for web design, blogs, social media and user experience.

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Each year Inc. magazine posts its Inc. 5000 list, which ranks the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the United States. The companies are assigned numerical positions in accordance with their growth rate over the past three years.

This renowned list celebrates innovators and opportunity-makers across 30+ industries from Advertising & Marketing to Travel.

This year, 165 of the ranked organizations, or 3.3 percent of the 5,000, were self-categorized as manufacturing companies.

Berkley, a molded fiber and custom packaging company out of Carson, California, was the highest ranked manufacturer coming in 17th place with a three-year growth rate of 9,249 percent. Key Safety Systems, ranked 4,261st, had the highest revenue of manufacturers on the list, coming in at $1.5 billion. Ranked 3,734th, Novae has been featured 11 times on the Inc. 5000 list, more than any other manufacturer.

California had the highest representation of Inc. 5000 manufacturing companies with 29 of the total 165; Florida had the second-highest concentration with 15. See the diagrams below for the complete dispersal of fastest-growing manufacturing companies by state.

Inc. 5000 Manufacturing Companies

Inc. 5000 Manufacturing Companies by State

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Snapchat is a social media super giant. With 26 million active users, over half of which are between the ages of 18 and 24, Snapchat is stealing hearts and seconds.

Snapchat is currently the most popular social media app among teens. In fact, 77% of college students are using the app at least once a day. I even have friends who claim to be “anti social media” that are using the app regularly.

Which begs the question, why aren’t more colleges and universities jumping on the snapwagon?

One of the easiest ways that colleges and universities can make their mark on Snapchat is through Snapchat’s custom, geo-targeted filters, or Geofilters.

Think of Geofilters as free billboards. Brands can work with companies like Elliance 😉 to create custom artwork that users can apply directly to the snaps they share.

There are two kinds of Geofilters, long term and short term (or as Snapchat has coined them, Community and On-Demand filters.) There are more rules and restrictions for the creation of free community filters, so I recommend that brands take advantage of the On-Demand option.

On-Demand filters can be created for special events, like freshman move-in day or commencement. They can be applied to athletic stadiums for game days, or to particular gathering places on campus just for fun. Have a special guest coming to campus? Welcome them with a custom filter. GREEK week? Celebrate it with a filter. Accepted Students Day? Filter.

Geofilters have the potential to raise brand awareness, encourage school spirit and increase student involvement on campus. Let us help you get started today.

Want more? We’ve talked about the benefits of Snapchat for higher education on Aha! before, here and here.

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For an ad lover and athlete like myself, the olympics are like super bowl, but better — I get to experience great ads for two weeks straight.

(The only difference is the advertisement restrictions that the International Olympic Committee for non-sponsors but this isn’t a blog about those rules. This is a blog about the awesomeness that has unfolded in the last few weeks.)

I’ve shared my top three from the 2016 Rio Olympics:

Bronze: Samsung

Samsung took a bit of several national anthems — the parts that talk about unity — and mixed them into one song. Stuff like this gets me every time.

Silver: Google Photos

#relatable. #toorelatable.

Gold: Nike – The Iron Nun

Nike’s UNLIMITED ads knock it out of the park, and this one is my favorite. Their ability to combine together professional athletes with 9-minute-mile schmoes like me has forever earned my brand loyalty.

I love the concept of breaking the fourth wall. And how the narrator and athletes interact. Also watch the one where the narrator loses it as the athletes do crazier and crazier things.

See ya in 2018, PyeongChang.

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I have this love for story — the hear and the tell — the feel that comes from being submersed in a good narrative.

I believe that I was born with this hunger for story, driven by a native curiosity to know and see and feel the world around me. That, paired with an unshakable desire and urgency to share with others the stories I’ve discovered, led me to pursue my career as a writer.

I’ve always loved the creative freedom that comes with writing — the instinctual aspect of the profession.

Almost instantaneously after starting my job at Elliance I began blogging — a service we perform for many of our clients, most often those in higher education, to help them expand their reach and better connect with their target audience.

As I began to write, I would find myself in the zone, really getting a good flow going in the copy and focusing on telling a brilliant story. That’s when I would hear the words that, although I have now come to value and respect, at first bred frustration: “Don’t forget the keywords.”

I quickly learned that there is a second part to writing when it comes to the world of marketing. That along with instinct must come strategy, and that the two do not need compete but must work together hand in hand to see success in any marketing campaign. It is both story and reach.

I learned the importance of creating copy that is baked with SEO. Because the truth is, you can write the most beautiful piece in the world, but what is the purpose of publishing if no one will ever see it? SEO does not hinder me as a writer, it amplifies me and those I am representing. It is a tool that gives reach, makes that blog or web page more easily searchable for key audience members, and helps bump the clients we’re representing further up on page one of Google search.

Our Director of Brand Development, Craig recently shared a unique perspective on this topic, paralleling the similarities between reaching humans and the Google “bots.”

Originally I saw keywords as clunky roadblocks to the flow of my words, but my perspective has changed. I now see keywords as an exciting challenge: How will I get creative and innovative with these words? How will I incorporate this information so that it does not sit on top of the story I’ve written, like oil and water, but so that it becomes part of the story and flows naturally.

Optimization has been a vital part of reaching our projected audiences and expanding the number of views and shares that these blogs receive, leading to an increase in awareness of our colleges and universities — instilling a sense of connectivity, influencing student and alumni engagement and heightening enrollment numbers.

This has challenged me to become a better writer and has taught me much in my career. The more I write the more I realize that there is a certain harmony that must be maintained between instinct and strategy, heart and mind.

Everyday I am still learning to find that perfect balance between writing style and optimization strategy, and with every blog I come a little closer.

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