Ideas, insights and inspirations.

As one of the top higher education branding agencies, here is what have learned. Brands are not created. They already exist, and it’s just a matter of us discovering, defining and articulating them. As brand people, we execute a well-planned discovery that liberates your institutional voice. We create a bright new vocabulary that establishes an emotional connection with prospects and other stakeholders. For us, branding is a way to express, with clarity, verve and imagination why the institution matters. But getting there requires us to bring the right mindsets, review the right information and interview the right people. Here is our recipe: 7 mindsets we bring to brand discovery Two branding agencies tasked to develop a college brand will arrive at different brands. The difference between a successful, enduring brand and one that’s not is the mindsets that agencies bring to the process. Here are ours: 1. Beginner’s Mindset Bringing the “beginner’s mind” is the essential skill for approaching a … Continue reading

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As one of Pittsburgh’s longest standing B2B and higher education branding agencies, Elliance has been delivering prosperity to regional and national clients for the past 30 years. In launching over 100 brands, we’ve tested the strength of our brand propositions using the following criteria: 1. Brand Idea/Ideal There is a deep yearning in people to belong to a tribe of like-minded people. Along with the wish to “buy” a product/service, they have a subliminal desire to “buy into” the ideals that the brand embodies and personifies. Great brands intentionally attach an idea/ideal to their product or service e.g. independent thinking and open-mindedness for St. John’s College, and environmental and social responsibility for Patagonia. What’s yours? 2. Distinctive One key way to outsmart competitors without outspending is to elevate the brand by creating a memorable and distinctive brand. Indeed, in the sea of sameness, a distinctive brand always wins. 3. Authentic True and believable authenticity sells. To live authentically, brands unshackle themselves … Continue reading

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As one of Pittsburgh’s longest standing B2b and higher education branding agencies, Elliance has been delivering prosperity to regional and national clients for the past 28 years. Our arsenal of branding best practices includes: 1. Know Why You Brand When choices proliferate, branding ascends. Three reasons why successful organizations brand: In the sea of sameness, brands always win. Brands command premium prices. Financial markets value brands higher than generics. 2. Define “Brand” A brand is the sum of all experiences. It attaches an idea to a product or service e.g. achievement for Nike, freedom for Southwest Air, great books for St. John’s College, and engaged learning for Elon University. A brand creates expectations and promises around a product or a service while creating strong or even impenetrable differentiation in the marketplace. 3. Discover Your Brand Bring both a rational and an investigative mind to brand discoveries. Scour all available data to look for key insights. When listening to internal stakeholders, customers … Continue reading

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ChatGPT, the latest AI tool, has taken the world by storm. Should under-staffed and under-resourced marketing teams use it? And can it make marketing teams more productive? Before I answer that, let’s just review how this artificial intelligence (AI) tool works. How ChatGPT Works ChatGPT does not have a mind of its own, nor does it have its own thoughts. Instead, its responses are based on the collective memory of humanity, embedded in billions of web documents – imbued with the entire spectrum of humanity’s truthful, partially true, baseless, misinformed, racist and sexist points of views. Based on existing written sentence and document structure patterns, it completes or predicts word and sentence combinations weaving them together into authoritative-sounding, smooth, somewhat verbose and human-like answers.  Next, an army of human reviewers — with their unique personal biases — manually fine-tune the responses by ranking for quality. Using ChatGPT For Marketing Let’s examine how chatGPT fares in various components of marketing: S T … Continue reading

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Communicating before, during and after a capital campaign requires the kind of symphonic thinking that author Daniel Pink explores in A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Strategic visions and campaign priorities can quickly deconstruct into campaign inventory and itemization — losing all connection to a larger and more compelling story about why a college matters and to the invitation for how donors might connect their singular sense of purpose to something larger. It’s not a matter of longer versus shorter content, but a question of what Pink calls the “relationship between relationships.” Pink talks of the three types of people that thrive when asked to overlay little and big pictures. Boundary Crossers: comfortable with abstraction, they understand how a concept like regulation can inspire donors to support the training of future financial accountants who will police insider trading and osteopathic doctors equipped to ease an epidemic of diabetes. Inventors: able to project new … Continue reading

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As a newly selected college president, you may view your pending move in traditional terms — relocating to a new city, occupying a new office or executive residence and joining a new campus culture. You’re also inheriting a .edu web address that can help accelerate or impede your best laid presidential plans. Here’s a field guide for new or aspiring presidents that’s designed to help you read between the lines — code and content — and better understand the power and perils of your new .edu. Revenue Your college or university website should have one unquestioned priority — generating reliable and repeatable revenue. KPI: Is the website converting right-fit enrollment prospects, engaging alumni, attracting strategic partners and inspiring donors? Quick Check: How quickly does the site experience connect diverse enrollment audiences with the academic program, admissions and financial aid essentials? Can prospective full-time undergraduates, doctoral students, international applicants and non-traditional military prospects all easily find their lane? Are calls to … Continue reading

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College marketing and communications teams increasingly look to boost video teams and budgets. All well and good, but we should not overlook the enduring value and impact of your still image library. It’s easy to grow complacent and assume that last year’s photos will meet this year’s needs. It’s tempting to hire less qualified photographers, and to cram too many shots into a long day of shooting. Here are 5 Quick Tips on how to build, maintain and mature your campus photo library. Frequency: Many college photo libraries grow stale without anyone noticing. If you want to maintain a viable collection of photos, plan on four, two-day shoots each year. Story needs and brand understanding change — as do seasons, fashion, hair, and the campus environment. You will need to schedule multiple shoots each year for photos to keep pace. Quality: Staff photographers spend so much time shooting grip-and-grin, raise-a-glass campus events that few have time to hone their editorial POV … Continue reading

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As revenue pressures grow across higher education, so do board- and cabinet-level imperatives to “define the brand.” Easier said than done, true. But also worth every ounce of effort. At its best, a brand discovery should yield an authentic and durable brand position (with a 10-year shelf life). Better yet, a brand discovery (well planned and executed) should liberate your institutional voice — a bright new vocabulary that establishes an emotional connection with prospects and other stakeholders; a way to articulate, with clarity, verve and imagination why you matter. Getting the brand and voice right can test any school and potential partner. Brand discovery is where you begin to look more closely at hidden assumptions and unexamined bias — on your way to a clearing where new light allows something fresh and unforeseen to emerge. Choose quality over quantity How you approach brand discovery, especially the rationing of scarce time on campus, will have a big impact on results. A … Continue reading

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Former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight famously said to an audience of newspaper reporters, “All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.” Part joke, part poisoned-tipped joust, the heralded Knight voiced an ambivalence about writing and writers that lingers within many college marketing departments and their creative agencies. Entire blog columns and books have advanced the notion that “content is king.” That idea  traces to an 1996 essay by Microsoft founder Bill Gates who envisioned an Internet buoyed by fresh, enlivening content. Google Ngram shows that phrase rocketing straight into conventional wisdom. One could argue the theory, but the eye test says otherwise — the vast seas of web content carry mostly ephemera. My first digital assignment — a 155-character meta description — began my re-education in a new hyper language, one that promised greater speed and potency. As newspaper writers, we learned a seven-second rule — the average … Continue reading

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After serving 100 colleges over 25 years, we have learned that the college and university brands that have become schools of consequence embody these best practices: 1. Set a far horizon. It’s about a quiet, steady and ongoing care and feeding of the brand. It’s about cultivating new and better habits. It’s about embodying the mindset of a marathon runner, not a sprinter. 2. Infuse brand essence into every aspect of the institution. Enhancing enrollment operations, student services, career placement, advancement, alumni relations, and community outreach. 3. Bring the campus community along, ensuring a buy-in at every step. Not taking any short cuts. 4. Invest in first impressions. Paying attention to detail at every touch point – tours, website, viewbooks, social media, classrooms, housing, help desk and more. 5. Tell a better story. Telling smart, authentic, real, honest, surprising, and delightful stories — with students, faculty and alumni as heroes. 6. Go long on proofs, short on claims. Putting your … Continue reading

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