Ideas, musings and inspirations.

Most people draw a clear line between conventional marketing of products and services, and social marketing, which broadly defined applies marketing principles to change human behavior in order to improve health or benefit society.

But what happens when you bring a social issue forward that almost nobody knows even exists — one that goes to the very heart of an American ideal as old as the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

True in countless respects, but not when it comes to gauging a child’s future academic success. Some children simply are born “gifted” or “talented” — and that wealth of talent spreads equally across all segments of the American population, regardless of race, religion, geography or family income.

Researchers count about 3.4 million academically gifted American school children in grades K-12 who happen also to be poor. Here is where the story gets interesting. Year after year, grade after grade, America loses many of these high-achieving, low-income students.

All poor American school children — now the majority — swim upstream when it comes to school resources. High-ability, low-income students face unique challenges — from peer stigma to a lack of teachers trained to work with gifted students, to a shortage of college guidance counselors.

Among those high-achieving, low-income students who persist and overcome barriers, the great majority do not attend select colleges — despite years of academic performance, test scores and their demonstrated resilience that show readiness. Researchers call this phenomenon “undermatching” — which says that poor smart kids are more likely to display college application pattens that match their financial peers rather than their academic peers from higher income brackets — even though select colleges have the endowments needed to provide the needed financial aid. In fact, family income, not high school academic performance, is a stronger indicator of a student’s ability to earn a college degree in America — that’s how onerous the financial demands have become.

The Virginia-based Jack Kent Cooke Foundation partnered with Elliance in an effort to raise broad awareness of these issues and to influence national and state education policy to better support high-achieving, low-income students.

“The longer smart, poor kids stay in school, the less likely that they are to remain at the top of their class,” says Harold O. Levy executive director of the Cooke Foundation. “That’s a repudiation of the American Dream, and the foundation is determined to do everything we can to turn that around.”

Careful attention was given to site architecture and content strategy for the responsive microsite — balancing the need to inform audiences of an issue most had never encountered with the goal of underscoring that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation remains, at heart, a grant maker and convener.

IMG_0121-1In the initial weeks since launch, the “excellence gap” issue has attracted attention from the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other national and regional media outlets. A longer range inbound marketing (blog, social media and SEO) campaign will follow to build on that momentum and sustain the discussion through the long process of policy and public opinion change.

While social marketing launch strategies may differ from a conventional product launch, there is much to learn and borrow on both sides. As we advance the excellence gap issue beyond the media and policy makers, the next challenge involves tackling a whole range of closely held assumptions that educators, counselors, youth development leaders and college admissions staffs hold regarding who is gifted in America.

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As a writer who spent the first 10 years of her professional life as an agency copywriter, I approach writing with two specific questions: Who’s the target audience? What’s unique about this client? I had a creative director once who often quoted David Ogilvy and I still remember this classic:

“Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.”

As a mother whose daughter is a junior in high school – prime time to be inundated with higher education marketing materials – it saddens me to see that many universities don’t take the time to write something truly unique about their school.

Surprisingly, my sixteen-year-old daughter noticed the same thing. Her assessment of the brochures that keep filling the mailbox is this:

 “They all tell me I’d be perfect for their school but they don’t do a good job at explaining what they can offer me.”

Here’s another quip from her that will make a marketer cringe:

“Most of them look the same.”

My daughter wants to know specifics. Instead of reading that a school has state-of-the-art labs, she wants to know what types of research is being done at a school. She’s also very active. She shakes her head when she reads that a school says they have a number of student activities but doesn’t give any examples.

Which reminds me of another classic from David Ogilvy:

The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.

First impressions leave a lasting impression. Read your higher education marketing materials with a critical eye and then ask yourself two key questions. Does it answer the questions teenagers are really asking? And, perhaps more importantly, does it make the same claims as every other school?

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I hope you enjoy these as much as we do at Elliance:

Designed by Apple in California

Productivity future vision by Microsoft

What inspires you?

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We recently launched the William Woods University website with the thought that it might be touted as one of the best responsive design college websites. Our guidelines were simple:

1. Authenticity
2. Simplicity
3. Integrity
4. Findability
5. Usability
6. Beauty

How did we do? What do you think?

One of The Best Responsive Design Websites

and in responsive mode

William Woods Responsive Website Design

Visit the responsive website at

Learn more about our responsive website design services.

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Christopher Columbus Statue

Christopher Columbus statue points to horizon

Last Thursday, we had an interesting monthly performance report (ROI) meeting with a client. In that process, we made several observations about traffic downturns on a particular program, which defied the historic trend data. At the same time, there seemed to be an across-the-board decline in leads, which also ran counter to seasonal data for this time of year.

On one hand, one could consider the marketing activity to be a failure. But, with ROI analysis is always best to avoid a snap judgment, given the number of moving parts in any integrated campaign. Life in the marketing fast lane is more complex than ever. So, we began asking more questions.

First, we queried the client to see if they had seen anything similar in their own sales reports. No joy. In fact, it was just the opposite. Sales (based on internal tracking) were generally up over the previous month. Que?

Second, we asked about a recent in-house update to website templates, which may have caused tracking codes to drop off. If that was the cause, it would have resulted in uncounted leads, which could be a possible cause of a seemingly “unexplainable” decline in leads. We’ll work through that line of inquiry in collaboration with the client.

Third, the client announced that they had received an unexpected invoice from their marketing automation provider. Could it be that the data connectivity faucet was turned off for a few days? Also a possibility that needs looking into…

What’s the lesson here? Too often we can get caught up in the rolling and shifting granular data.  And, while the detail is important, it’s also essential to keep our eyes on the horizon. Maintaining a wider perspective avoids tunnel vision that can prevent us from seeing other very important pieces of the marketing ROI puzzle.

So, fellow marketing ROI lovers… Be like Columbus. Keep your sights on the marketing ROI horizon.


It’s simple.

It’s about people, their stories and their relationships.

It’s about compelling storytelling.

It’s about telling stories with great photographs, great videos and intriguing ideas.

If you follow these three guidelines with your social media, you will be very successful.

Learn more about our social media marketing services.

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As the world of higher education settles in after a frenzied first few weeks of new faculty introductions, last minute dormitory re-assignments and opening football weekend, there is that lingering question: what should we do about our brand?

Whether you’re stuck in avoidance or racing headlong toward action, it’s worth considering a pause. Maybe past attempts at brand cohesion have failed. Maybe the current administration has lost its will to move forward. Maybe the ink just dried on a statement of work. Whatever your situation, relax.

Your brand issues did not arise overnight. They won’t magically resolve any time soon. It may well be the single most important thing you orchestrate in your career as a vice president of marketing or college president. And it can wait.

Great brands, in the end, depend on good soil to take root. And when I say soil, I mean smart, authentic, surprising, delightful story telling. Show me a college bold enough to tell an honest, compelling story — and I will show you a college fit for the rigors of a brand discovery.

Brand articulation without the benefit of a good acoustic backdrop — without an audience accustom to listening for and relishing great story telling — will ultimately ring hollow.

Here are a few places I routinely go to find such stories, and to read for pleasure about the life of a college:

Notre Dame Magazine

Bucknell Magazine

Middlebury College Magazine





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While your faculty and students may have taken the summer off from their college assignments, you know that the work of higher education brand building never ends.  Today, and every day, your college brand continues to do its daily work — on your website, social sites and across the continuum of digital and human conversation.

As new and returning students unpack in residence halls and faculty reclaim their offices, it’s a good time of the year to ask: What can we do to renew our college brand for the 2014-2015 academic year?

We offer five steps forward:

1. Begin investing in first impressions. That could mean redesigning an initial search mailing aimed at rising high school juniors, or rethinking training for new and returning student tour guides. First brand impressions hold great potential — but can also be overlooked. Given the number of campus visits that students (and parents) make, it’s worth preparing your student guides. Can they really translate stories of student-faculty engagement to the tour setting? Does their grasp of the brand drill deeper than a few surface catch phrases? First impressions linger.

2. Begin to open to change. A new academic year is a good time to make space for new inputs from students, alumni and faculty. Any higher education brand is a living, breathing expression — how long has it been since you listened to new voices? In our work as a higher education branding firm, I’m continually surprised and impressed by how students often know better than anyone how a college’s brand is finding new relevance. How are students blending course work, majors and minors, for a changing world? How are alumni revisiting the essential value of their degree as they mature into fully reflective professionals? These are the wellsprings of brand renewal.

3. Begin looking at essential analytics. Data rushes at higher education marketing professionals faster than ever before — teasing out a few essentials with regards to enrollment, advancement and reputation is key if you hope to avoid drowning in analysis without ever getting to actual synthesis and right action. Gather as a team and ask again — are we looking at the most important numbers? Can we adjust inbound and paid campaigns quickly — and with confidence — based on clear, hard facts about open rates and inquiries? Do annual giving numbers confirm or question anecdotal reports from the field? Most important, does the president have what she needs in the way of an easy to use analytics dashboard to steer the ship with confidence?

4. Begin to welcome polarity. One constant in the strategic heavy lifting we bring to higher education marketing and higher education branding work is the power of polarity. It’s a dynamic at work in nearly every aspect of life, from chemistry and physics, to Jungian psychology. Roger Martin’s work in integrative thinking builds upon a foundational understanding of polarity. Martin writes: Integrative Thinking is the ability to constructively face the tensions of opposing models, and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generating a creative solution of the tensions in the form of a new model that contains elements of the individual models, but is superior to each. In our experience, the full potential and highest possible good of a higher education brand often lies within the interplay of these polarities. We favor a more qualitative approach to brand discovery for this reason — purely quantitative analysis tends to erase such tensions in favor of “brand by consensus,” effectively draining the vitality and life blood from the brand and rendering it trite, a campaign more than a true, lasting expression of why you matter.

5. Begin again with the basics. A few weeks back, our hometown of Pittsburgh lost of one its most revered citizens, former Steelers head coach Chuck Noll. As a teacher, Noll preached the basics, blocking and tackling. Day after day. Season after season. Never losing his gusto or glee. Likewise, those of us involved with higher education marketing can remember that the value of a college education really hinges on a couple of essentials. One is the ability to learn how to learn — which guides graduates not simply for four years or toward a first job, but across a lifetime. And the other is relational, learning to connect with people outside the realm of study. A young person’s emotional IQ.

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Elliance is proud to launch the first responsive website for naturopathic medicine in North America for Southwest College for Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM). By outsmarting the competition and with its history of firsts, SCNM has once again proven that it is indeed the most innovative college for naturopathic medicine.

The entire process of launching the website took almost one year, the four months being spent on articulating their new brand position: “Simply Inspiring”. Our interviews with SCNM faculty, students and patients made us realize that SCNM is a storehouse of inspiring stories of patients being healed by craft-minded Nauturoapthic Doctors. We also met a wide array of alumni who were respectable leaders living lives as ND’s, as researchers for Neutrceuticals, as authors of ground breaking work in Naturopathic healing, and as members of integrative medicine practices.

The new website is the first expression of the new brand position and comprises of two parts. The first part is the website for the SCNM medical school at

SCNM medical school website redesign

As you can see below, the website works beautifully on smartphones, tablets and desktops:
SCNM medical school responsive website redesign

The second portion of the website is dedicated to the SCNM medical center, where the SCNM professors – all ND’s – practice their profession and take SCNM students on rounds to give them the opportunity to transition from students to practitioners.
SCNM medical center

As part of the brand rollout, Elliance has also strengthened the SCNM recruiting presentations and is now working on relaunching the new SCNM viewbook. All the new marketing touchpoints are inspired by their new brand position. It truly is a beautiful thing. Stay tuned for further updates on this blog.

Learn more about our responsive website redesign services.

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Over the past year, we’ve made several existing website designs responsive, including Shady Lane SchoolFirst Commonwealth, and CMU Today. As you can see from these examples, responsive web design (RWD) helps modernize an existing design while it helps you reach a mobile audience. It removes the burden of having to do new IA and designs for those sites. To complete a responsive transformation, there are a lot of challenges you have to work through from navigation to site performance. Here are a few things to consider before you make your existing site responsive.


Most large sites, especially complex higher education websites, have a lot of content. This leads to large navigations with multiple levels and different placements – from top navigation to in page sub navigation. This is the most complex problem you encounter when making your site responsive. Transforming the navigation, which was designed to be used on a desktop, into something that can be navigated on mobile takes a lot of design effort, tweaking, and prototyping. When you can’t change the existing layout, you need to come up with some creative ideas to make it work on smaller devices.



You probably have a number of callouts and other contextual items on your website. Callouts help promote important information to your users, information that they need to see when they come to your website. These usually fit very well on a desktop and help eliminate white space.

But this information isn’t always as easy to display on smaller devices, due to space limitations. You have to decide where this information should be displayed, or if it should be displayed at all, on these small displays. You want to make sure users see this information  without crowding the display.



There are constant new developments to HTML everyday. This means that there are new best practices that weren’t around last time your site was built. A redesign is a good time to update your markup to get closer to these best practices. This modernization makes it easier to maintain and improve your website in the future and makes it easier to make your website responsive.



Images already pose difficulties for developers and content managers on large displays. You need to manage the sizes of the images and crop them to make sure they fit in the given space. Going responsive adds more complexity. There are new sizes to adapt to. You now have to make sure your images resize on mobile without distortion and change dimensions when they do. The overall sizes can be problematic for performance, which is covered in my next point. Don’t let this point scare you. While it sounds difficult, there are a lot of things that can be done that will limit this burden, especially if you are using a modern content management solution.



Smaller displays can mean that your users are using slower connections to get to your site. Users will wait about 5 seconds for your site to load. If it takes longer, they will probably give up and move on. This makes performance very important – you don’t want people to leave before seeing your site. It starts with optimizing your images so they are easy to download. But don’t stop at optimizing just the images. The CSS and JavaScript — pieces that make manage your website’s display and interaction — need to be optimized as well. Long download times for these files can block your site from displaying until they are finished loading.



Depending on the age of your site, your CMS could be outdated. It might have been built on old technology, or it could just benefit from the new tools that have come to market over recent years. When you are taking the time to make a site responsive, it’s a good time to update or change the CMS. For instance, you can gain a lot of benefits in both performance and image handling that weren’t available in your previous implementation. But be aware of custom components prior to making this decision — sometimes there are elements that require more work than expected if you want to move or update your CMS.


While taking an existing site responsive has benefits, such as not wasting time redoing the IA or design, it does have its difficulties. These points should help you decide if your site needs a complete redesign or responsive retrofitting. If you are interested in making your current website responsive or doing a complete responsive redesign, please contact us. We are experts in doing both.