Top 5 higher education marketing missteps from the best college movies

We spend a lot of time thinking about higher education marketing – from brand refresh to increasing enrollment. Like most agencies, we’ve drawn our own conclusions, studied others and learned from our own successes and mistakes in order to define a clear set of higher education marketing strategies.

Be accessible and authentic

“Your reputation lasts for a long time, and needs to be treated with respect. You won’t get very far if you try to be something you’re not. Rather, your personal brand is about figuring out who you really are and what you do best, and then living that brand out. It’s the essence of authenticity.” – Dorie Clark

OK. We all know the keg-swilling derelicts aren’t the best students. In fact, they were barely students at all. But Dean Wormer (“Animal House,” 1978) was the absolute worst at making Faber accessible to anybody but polo-wearing rich kids.

Incorporate brand ambassadors

Getting brand ambassadors to talk is more important than let’s-tell-them-about-us. According to Nielsen, 90 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations, while

70 percent trusted consumer opinions posted online; marketers are trusted the least. Google, too, trusts brands less; it now ranks a website based more on social factors and less on brand messages. The new game is less about controlling the forces you can, and more about harnessing the forces you don’t control.

Gutter from 1994’s “PCU” is probably the last student you want representing your brand.

Find and use brand champions

A brand champion is the employee you want to replicate 100 times over. He or she believes in the mission of your institution so sincerely that he or she is selling your brand without salesmanship. Their love for what they do and their goals is almost innate.

Coach Harris (“Revenge of the Nerds,” 1984) has all the passion of a great brand champion, but none of the charm.

Be honest

Perception can be a powerful thing. As entrepreneurs, sometimes we see ourselves as honest, while our employees see us as brutally honest. Sometimes we see ourselves as balanced and our peers see us as lazy. The hard truth is that the way we want to be seen is often incongruent with how we’re actually seen. It’s the same with companies. Sometimes we have an internal understanding of who we are that doesn’t match how our customers see us. It all comes down to branding

Dean Pritchard is less than honest in this clip from “Old School” (2003).

Find and sell your niche

In marketing, one size does not fit all. One size fits none. Many brands try to be all things to all people. General Mills CMO Mark Addicks once commented that too many brands were targeted to “women, ages 18-49, with a pulse.”

It can be tempting to aim for everybody — particularly for mass-market brands. I’ve been in brand discussions where the target market was identified by writing all possible prospects on a white board as if we were cold-calling customers rather than trying to connect with them. Yet that broad approach can lead to a split personality that appeals to no one

No, Snape. Evil wizardry is not a niche.