What does a day at the beach have to do with marketing higher education?

I just returned from the beach. I have to admit, it’s not a place I always want to go, but it’s always a place I never want to leave.

For me, the beach is nature’s ultimate creative expression. It has only three elements – land, sea and sky – yet it delivers an infinite number of visual configurations that simultaneously feed the soul and quiet the spirit. It has inspired creators since the dawn of time. Greek poets wrote of shores inhabited by deities and modern romantics measured their minds against the vastness of the oceans. Scientists use the beach to record the history of the earth’s great geological change.

There are other examples in this vein: just seven notes have given us music from Mozart to Sousa to Joplin to The Beatles. Four chromosome types give us life in all it’s splendor. Three primary colors give birth to a nearly infinite palette. And the core curriculum of the liberal arts has been the seed of more ideas than one can count.

How is it then that a director of admissions at a nationally-known liberal arts college was dubious when we said we could take what we learn from our brand discovery and make the brand of his college rise above the cliché? “Aren’t all liberal arts colleges pretty much a commodity?” he asked. He didn’t feel his base offering of courses were any different than anyone else’s. Well, they weren’t. In fact, at root they were the exactly the same. But that’s not the point, is it? The question to ask is “what are you going to be able to do with this limited palette of offerings?”

He clearly didn’t understand what we were looking for. We weren’t there to elaborate on the surface comparisons like course offerings, we were there to look below the surface and discover the college’s essence – the soul of the institution. And creatively communicate that essence to the school’s constituents. As with any college we work for, we see our palette as rich. Never do we view it as limited.

The secret to marketing higher education at the brand level is to use the notes of the college that will allow your prospects and the college community at large to hear a symphony that is uniquely their’s – both the college’s and the prospect’s. That’s what we mean when we say we’ll help you attract “right-fit” students. To do this, during the discovery process you must quiet what you think you know and pay attention to the details of your surroundings. The very essence of what you are seeking will reveal itself in a specific and personal way if you dig deep, respect the environment and keep your mind and spirit open.

Just like music, just like science, just like the beach.

Hunting Island State Park, near Beaufort, South Carolina is a nature and wildlife paradise and one of the real treasures of the east coast. It’s beaches, like many others, are changing due to erosion and other elements, but their essence has remained the same. Though not your typical beach shots, enjoy this small gallery of images I shot about a week ago.