Higher education branding: Dare to Fail?

I attended a higher education branding session at the AMA/Higher Education conference a few years back led by Purdue University’s chief marketing officer, Teri Thompson and Elizabeth Scarborough, CEO/Partner
 at the well-known quantitative research firm Simpson/Scarborough.

Toward the end of the productive hour that covered Purdue’s extensive investment in market research, staff re-structuring and process change, Elizabeth Scarborough acknowledged something profound. “Quantitative research will get you to the edge of the chasm,” she said, “but only inspiration will carry you across.”

Despite these conference sessions and other consciousness-raising related to higher education branding, evidence seems lacking that colleges and universities have much of an appetite for finding their one strong-to-impenetrable differentiation or learning to speak their one true brand voice. Many stand poised at the edge of the chasm, unable or unwilling to cross.

Could it be that we have lost the connection between inspiration and failure? In the high stakes game of institutional “buy-in,” are we prone to settling for the lowest common creative solution that mimics quantitative findings and reassures leadership?

Our relationship to failure is a provocative topic, within a higher education branding firm like Elliance, and in the world beyond. A recent New York Times feature does an excellent job of teasing out the connections between how we define success, and what it means to fail in pursuit of excellence.