Ideas, musings and inspirations.

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.

Friendship between First Commonwealth Bank and Elliance goes back a long way. In 1998, Elliance designed the bank’s second website. Since then, Elliance has redesigned the bank’s website three times – most recently three years ago before responsive design movement took off.

Last fall, First Commonwealth Bank reached out to Elliance and posed an interesting challenge: make the current website responsive without redesigning it. The bank’s customers still loved their branch-architecture-inspired website design but wished it was mobile/tablet friendly. Elliance welcomed the challenge.

Responsive Bank Wesbite

In short three months, we delivered well-documented responsive templates to their Web/IT team, and walked them through the template architecture. Then we supported them for another three months while the wonderful Web/IT team incorporated the new templates into their Content Management System. The entire process worked very smoothly. Two happy teams!

Most importantly, the site visitors are now enjoying the perfect website experience whether they are visiting the bank website from their desktops, tablets or smartphones. Now, that’s peace of mind.

Learn more about Elliance responsive web design services

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1. 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.
(Sources: 3M Corporation and Zabisco)brainbrain2
2. Viewers spend 100% more time on pages with videos on them.
(Source: MarketingSherpa)



3. Pinterest generated more referral traffic for businesses than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined.
(Source: PriceGrabber)

pinterest4. Viewers are 85% more likely to purchase a product after watching a product video.
(Source: Internet Retailer)

5. 46.1% of people say a website’s design is the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of the company.

Find more great arguments for visual content at HubSpot.

1.      Create Clear Objectives

The best objectives include specific measurable milestones (achieve sales of $1MM, increase conversion rates from 65% to 75%, etc.); are meaningful to your end goal; and are set at a realistic level that is motivating to your sales and marketing team.

2.      Use Appropriate Analytics

Establish a metrics protocol that maps back to your objectives. Challenge every initiative to have a meaningful objective and means for measurement. Develop a process for reporting performance on a regular basis and share the results with your team and other stakeholders.

3.      Measure what matters most

Data is everywhere. It’s easy to get lost in the analytics. Prioritize what you are measuring and make sure it is clearly aligned with your objectives. You’ll elevate your entire team’s focus and momentum by identifying and prioritizing 2-3 primary Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

4.      Possess a test and learn mentality

Marketing plans are often built from the prior year and based on what worked in the past. But emerging technology is driving new ways to reach your customers. Allocate a percentage of your marketing budget toward a test-and-learn investment. Then, use these efforts as a low-risk way to try new approaches and keep your brand fresh and relevant.

5.      Embrace Agility

Marketing is a fluid process and the ability to quickly adapt to learnings and changing conditions is critical. Measuring your communications with A/B testing in paid ads, using multiple subject lines in email and optimizing keywords will lead to a greater ROI on your investment.

Read more in Elliance’s May newsletter.

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As the oldest of six children, I’m a classic “first-born” with all the characteristics that come with that territory. And, because I was the eldest, I was frequently assigned special duties to help my mother run the household. Much of what is most important in ROI, I learned from her.

Here are four “mom-isms” that apply to marketing ROI.

Timing is everything. I learned early to shop on certain days for the best sale prices. The same is true for ROI. You can “shop” your metrics every day, but the price will be higher. You’ll sink more time into trying to make sense of micro-events that are often misleading. Don’t make yourself crazy. Instead, pull your data on the same day every month and monitor macro-trends. You’ll be on firmer ground for long-term decision making.

Plan ahead. Do you find yourself down a different metrics rabbit hole everyday? Are your stakeholders making different requests each day/week/month for analytics reports? Like the competing voices of siblings vying for parental attention, it can be a challenge to allow each person to be heard. So, it pays to plan ahead and reassure them that a thoughtful approach exists before any concerns arise. For example, gather stakeholder input on what metrics they want, document the agreed-to set of KPIs and schedule reporting cycles. Then, distribute that roadmap to your stakeholders. Demonstrating a well-planned approach pays off.

Share your toys. Yes, ROI is my own geeky little toy. But, it’s hard to build internal advocates and champions unless you educate stakeholders (marketing peers, senior management, clients, IT, etc.). Find those key champions and begin sharing key marketing metrics with them. Make reporting part of a formal agenda. Use every opportunity to increase their sophistication on analytics.

Save for a rainy day. Mom used to say, “put something away for tomorrow.” In terms of ROI planning, keep a folder of potential enhancements, relevant reports, industry articles, new techniques, emerging models and other “wish list” items to consider in the future. It’s a great way to maintain day-to-day focus on ROI, while keeping possible future enhancements within sight.

Learn more about Elliance analytics and metrics.



According to Inside Higher Ed, “About two-thirds of high school students use social media to research colleges, and more than one-third of those students use social media to help decide where to enroll.”

So why do colleges and universities post unsharable content to social channels that are designed for sharing?

Posting the merits of your curriculum, class schedules and holiday wishes for your current students has a certain amount of utility. But is that content, which could easily be relegated to a page on the University’s main site, being shared with prospective students?

Probably not.

Social media is about people. People use it to post pics of themselves and friends. People use it to promote their righteous cause. People use it to find righteous causes to support. So it’s no wonder that posts about inspirational alumni, professors and community leaders get passed around much more than a post about summer scheduling.

The University of Pittsburgh recently shared a tremendous story about John C. Downs, who at 90 years old is receiving his diploma from the school. The post received 96 “likes.” And it’s a story that appeals to both a reader’s curiosity while maintaining brand message.

Robert Morris University, just outside of Pittsburgh, garnered 88 likes and 10 comments on their Facebook page by sharing a story about a dance team co-captain who won the 2014 Presidential Transformational Award, RMU’s highest undergraduate honor.

Carnegie Mellon University announced that the VP of Google Pittsburgh will become the Dean of their school of computer science. Three-hundred and forty-seven people liked this post.

While it is very important that prospective students know about your institution’s values, mission and curriculum, such info is better served away from Facebook, Twitter, etc. Because as the above examples show, social media is about people.

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Many colleges who invest in videos to market their higher education institution experience low views, shares and engagement. There may be many reasons as to why these videos don’t return results. However, this does not mean that one should stop using video as a marketing medium. There are many compelling reasons to continue to use and expand on a video marketing strategy. Here are a few of those reasons:

  1. Video consumption is on the rise: Video is one of the most popular ways of consuming content on the internet. It’s not surprising that YouTube is now the number 2 search engine in the world. People watch 3 billion videos a day on YouTube and over 450 universities have established a channel on YouTube EDU. With Facebook and other social networks incorporating more and more video content, these numbers will continue to rise.
  2. Video production has become easier than ever before: Good quality video recorders are available on cell phones and availability of cheaper and more compact video recording technology has made it possible for students, prospects, faculty and staff to produce videos. The introduction of YouTube, Vine, Instagram and other video hosting platforms has made it even easier to post them online. Colleges and universities should tap into this opportunity and get great user generated content which can potentially be used as marketing material.
  3. Video content gets ranked on search engines: Another compelling reason to invest in video is that video content ranks well on search engines. Due to the nature of its interactivity, it is easy to view and consume. As students conduct much of their college search online, it is crucial to reach them in as many ways possible. A recent survey by Uversity shows that nearly three-quarters of students use social media to research colleges. The same survey also shows that YouTube comes in second, only to Facebook, as one of the sites which prospects use to research colleges / universities that they are considering attending. Well-optimized, interesting video content will get ranked on search engines and reach prospects who otherwise may not have found that information.
  4. Videos increase click-through rates and conversions: Embedded videos on websites, paid landing pages and email have resulted in improved click-through rates (CTRs), engagement metrics and conversions. Videos on landing pages have shown to improve conversion by up to 86% and those embedded in emails have resulted in increased CTRs, more time spent on the email and increased shares of the email.
  5. Videos can be used as a branding tool: Student testimonials, virtual tours and campus videos are all ways of selling the campus experience to prospects. Students can get a feel for campus culture from these videos and connect with it.

How are you using video in your digital marketing strategy?

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Retargeting allows you to follow users who’ve previously visited your website as they browse the Web.

You want to be sure you are getting the most out of your retargeting campaigns, and most importantly, your repeat visitors.

Be sure to avoid these 3 retargeting mistakes:

1. Unclear and non-specific visitor segments

One of the biggest mistakes is to retarget to ALL visitors from the pages you are targeting. You want to be sure to create visitor segments that align with your goals and your audience. For example, you should not show an undergrad retargeting ad to a prospect who just visited your MBA program page.

2. No tags on important pages on your website and/or campaign landing pages

Once you’ve determined your retargeting campaign objectives and campaign segments, it’s important to tag all of your web pages properly. Then, you can create campaigns that target each visitor segment.

3. Not using all available ad banner sizes

It’s important to run your banners in all available sizes to ensure your ad gets placed when possible. With retargeting, you are bidding against thousands of other advertisers to show ads to your past visitors. Ensure your banners get placed and stand out.

Retargeting can be a very powerful digital marketing tool when used correctly. There are lots of specifics when running these types of ads, but these are the 3 biggest mistakes you want to be sure to avoid.

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