Ideas, musings and inspirations.

How do you know when people are really engaged with your brand? Certainly one way to tell is if they stand in line for hours on end for a chance to buy your latest product. But how do you measure it when you are a small, regional college in rural central Pennsylvania?

In 1998, my colleagues and I were hired to create a viewbook (shown at right) for, then, Saint Francis College. It was our first “real” venture into the world of higher education marketing. Coming from an advertising background, we naturally began thinking beyond the viewbook – our thoughts focused squarely on branding the college itself and finding “right-fit” students. A not-too-common way of doing a viewbook back then. Okay, so this in and of itself is hardly news – or even blog worthy – but the rest of the story is, well, pretty interesting.

So fast forward to 2012 and you’ll find Saint Francis University – not College. You’ll discover new programs, new buildings, and a renewed emphasis on their legacy and heritage as the oldest Franciscan University in the U.S. That’s surely news, but still it isn’t necessarily a story of engagement.

Talk to someone in the admissions office and you’ll get the engagement story. They’ll tell you about their brand and also about the hundreds of photos (literally) that they get from students and alums from all across the world, taken with their backs to the camera and their arms raised high. They’re mimicking the original viewbook cover produced 14 years ago! Displayed here are just a few.

right-fit students Saint Francis UniversityThis is unscripted, unrehearsed – and totally spontaneous. They do it when traveling with friends, or on study abroad trips. Parents say the first thing that often happens on family vacations, is that their kids have to get their photo taken in the now famous “Reach Higher. Go Far.” pose. And those images get sent to the office of admissions.

Over the years, we’ve created hundreds of pieces of communications, told myriad stories, and written thousands of words for Saint Francis University. But this story? We didn’t write a single word of it. We didn’t have to. It was written totally by the people the brand was supposed to influence. That’s the spontaneous results of a very strong brand. And that, to me, is how you measure engagement. Not only by metrics, but by real-world passion and acceptance from the heart of the very people you are trying to reach.

Back then, we very consciously set out to give SFU an “icon image” for the cover of their viewbook. Well, for sure we did that. But ultimately we gave them so much more. We gave them an identity, a brand position and a rallying cry. One that a decade and a half later is, quite possibly, growing stronger than ever.

And isn’t that what a relationship-driven brand is supposed to do?

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