Ideas, insights and inspirations.

Not a week goes by that we don’t see the news of a college closing, merging or downsizing. Unfavorable demographics and remote locations are purported to be the primary reasons for their troubles. We disagree. Having served numerous colleges over the past two decades, and observing the evolving collegiate scene, we believe that the following reasons are the key drivers that put colleges in distress:

Marketing Imagination

Many colleges in distress lack marketing imagination. They fail to invest in creating a distinctive brand based on their one strong-to-impenetrable differentiation, learning to speak with their one true brand voice, nurturing the brand with thoughtful communications, or protecting the brand from being fractured by the forces of efficiency.

They fail to shift their overall communications perspective from one that is centered around what the institution offers to one focused on projects, ideas and stories of their students, faculty and alumni (the real “heroes” of the story).

Enrollment Management Practices

The enrollment practices of many colleges in trouble are focused on meeting short-term targets, irrespective of right-fit. As a result, their students melt away and their graduation and placement rates are low.

Instead of motivating prospects with inspired marketing, they are employing tired enrollment tactics from firms who buy names in large number, then throw commoditized direct mail/email at prospective students, hoping to snare a few. These outdated methods completely disregard the habits of savvy Gen-Z kids who are maintaining five to six email accounts to filter out email noise, and are mercilessly throwing away the look-alike direct mail pieces.

Academic Innovation

The academic offerings of afflicted colleges aren’t keeping up with the times. Instead of creatively re-imagining their program offerings for the integrative Gen-Z thinkers, they are making simple-minded choices between Liberal Arts or STEM, Business or Liberal Arts, etc. Instead of creating new degrees that the marketplace would reward for their distinctiveness, they are creating traditional degrees in over-crowded spaces.

Additionally, they are reluctant to explore and harvest new student streams such as adult students, online learners, distance learners, career enhancers, and corporate education professionals.

Caring for Students

The staff of many colleges in decline either has not been trained to serve the students, has weakened morale, or doesn’t have the heart to serve their student audiences. They give lip service to the promises made in their mission statements. They want students’ (and their families’) hard-earned money, but don’t offer the empathy and support services that lead to student success.

They don’t invest in the support infrastructure to proactively help each student segment work through the unique obstacles they’ll inevitably face on their journey to graduation and beyond.

Management Practices

The management practices of many colleges in decline need to be rejuvenated. On the one hand, they create org structures that foster or perpetuate departmental silos; and on the other, they hold senior people accountable without giving them the authority to “own” decisions.

Budgetary Practices

Many colleges in trouble allocate more money to traditional media when, in reality, their audiences are spending almost all their time on digital devices and channels.

They haven’t embraced the mantra of “money makes money”. They are under-staffed and under-resourced.

Weaponized Content

The staff at many distressed colleges doesn’t have the wherewithal to weaponize the content they create for the digital world in which Google page 1 rankings are shaping institutional reputation. They are creating new content (news, social media, university magazine, blogs, website, etc.) at a furious pace without informing it by a Keyword Lexicon – comprised of high-value words and phrases they can rightfully claim and “own” to drive right-fit conversions and marketing ROI.

Agile Culture

The cultures at colleges in decline are not adaptive and dynamic. Doing it the way it has always been done gets in the way of doing the right thing that emerging situations demand. They move at a glacial pace because of too many friction points and unwieldy bureaucracies.

Culture of Giving

A culture of giving is missing at most distressed colleges, resulting in a smaller endowment war chest to either attract the brightest students or reduce dependency on tuition revenue. They fail to maintain sustained communications with alumni. They send tone-deaf communications, which are insensitive to emotions, motivations and needs prevalent in different stages of life of their alumni. They don’t cultivate alumni engagement with programs commensurate with what they can give: time, treasure and/or talent. They don’t have customized models to place alumni in a spectrum of ‘likelihood to give’ tiers, and sending customized communications to each differentiated segment.

Activist Boards

Many distressed colleges have board of directors who are lifestyle board members. They are not willing to actively lean in to help create institutional inflection points.


Healthy colleges typically are run by a strong partnership between the President, Provost, VP for Enrollment & Marketing, and Chief Fundraising Officer. This group hires outside branding and marketing talent for the digital age that knows how to create the very best first impressions; they commandeer budgets steering them in the right direction; they foster a culture of academic product innovation; they expect porous walls between the institution and the outside world; they care deeply for the well-being of students throughout the student lifecycle; they monitor a set of essential metrics to gauge progress; and they welcome polarity with contrarian and activist board members. In a nutshell, they run an autocratic democracy where everyone is heard, but the right things are done.

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I have read dozens of reports on Gen-Z (born between 1996 and 2010) including those from Pew, HubSpot, SHRM, and other credible sources. But watching my own three teens and dozens of their friends has given me a nuanced understanding of Gen-Z. Here are my observations:


The Many Faces of Gen-Z


They are race-blind, faith-blind and gender-blind

As part of the most diverse generation in the U.S. history, they take diversity for granted. They accept, not just respect, others for who they are – irrespective of their race, religious beliefs, and their gender preferences.

They are digital natives

Born in the digital age, they live on YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Google. The internet is an extension of their brain. They have an app for everything they do, or have an interest in. Memes are a part of their daily lives.

They are data literate and research driven

Rankings, ratings, scores, research studies are part and parcel of their daily lives and conversations. They don’t understand the nuances of data and the gamesmanship behind data creation, but they’ll learn that too in due time.

They are the “AND” generation that wants it all

To them double and triple majors are the norm. They’ll listen to all genres of music – rock, classical, jazz, electronic, electronic dance music (EDM) and more. They’ll pursue what they love, irrespective of whether it belongs to their own, their parents’ or their grandparents’ generation. They’ll learn multiple computer languages and digital tools.

They are self-directed

They have planners, schedulers, and alerts all worked into their daily lives.

They respect brands with values

They are keenly aware of what brands stand for – and they endorse brands whose values resonate with their own. They want to be a part of something greater than themselves.

They expect authentic, show-don’t-tell marketing

As my daughter once said, “I wish colleges would stop spamming me and only share stories of interesting things their students and faculty are doing. I’ll respect them more and then consider going there.”

They have a voice and want it to be heard

They speak their hearts and minds. They take protesting as a part of their moral duty. They want to make a difference locally, nationally and globally.

They are stressed

They feel the burdens and expectations of their families, society and global issues on their tender shoulders. They are worried about money and college loans. Perhaps that’s why they have a deeper need for humor (consumed on YouTube of course).

They are entrepreneurial

Perhaps because they are worried about money, they are dreaming of creating their own channels, apps, and startups.

A word of caution. These are generalizations that don’t apply to every Gen-Z person or every Gen-Z micro-community. Each sub-group and each individual’s behavior varies depending on their personal circumstances and the special communities they are part of. For instance, when we interviewed groups of elite private school kids, inner-city kids, first-generation in college kids, and hispanic kids, their characteristics, values and behaviors were quite distinctive and unique. Of course, life is far more complex than all the theories of life put together.

What have you observed about your teens and Gen-Z?

If the 20th century was the century of specialization, then the 21st century is becoming the century of integrative thinking.

In the twentieth century, colleges and universities offered choices of majoring in professional, STEM or liberal arts disciplines. In the first two decades of this century, there is now a discernable movement towards creation of a fourth choice: programs that integrate arts and sciences, technology and humanities, business and liberal arts, law and medicine, computing and finance – in short of almost anything one can imagine. New alloys of knowledge are being created and pursued by Gen-Z and millennials, whom we refer to as the “AND” generations.


A Few Examples of the Integration of Disciplines

Allegheny College: “Liberal Arts-Plus”
Allegheny College “Liberal Arts-Plus” requires their students to declare a major and a minor, creating interesting combinations like “Business & Philosophy” and “Economics & French”. The college has also recently launched a pioneering program in “Integrative Informatics” to help students “understand the impact of information, data and technology on society and learn to develop new uses for data analysis.” Allegheny College takes pride in preparing adaptive, lifelong learners for a “dynamic society”, says Stephen Onyeiwu, Economics Department chair.

Bryant University: Business+Liberal Arts OR Liberal Arts+Business
Bryant University’s innovative curriculum mandates business majors to minor in liberal arts, and vice versa. A bold and daring experiment in combining the professional and foundational. The curriculum was designed to address the number one need of recruiting managers at corporations: to hire well-rounded business minds. Visit their website.

Carnegie Mellon: Multidisciplinary Degrees
Over the years, Carnegie Mellon has created several multidisciplinary degree programs such as Entertainment Technology Center’s Masters in Entertainment Technology, Masters in Computational Finance, Integrated Innovation Institute’s Masters in Integrated Innovation for Products and Services, Masters in Software Management, and Masters in Technology Ventures.

Most recently, Carnegie Mellon University’s top-ranked Tepper School of Business and School of Computer Science joined hands to create their new Master of Science in Product Management – the first-of-its-kind degree in the world. The degree is designed to accelerate careers and boost earning potential of software developers. The 12-month Master of Science in Product Management program provides a thorough, challenging and balanced curriculum that enhances the technical skills, business acumen and social intelligence students will need to be successful in the role of a Product Manager.

Columbia University: “Engineering Plus”
Columbia University’s “Engineering Plus” was redesigned from the ground up “because we live during an unprecedented time when engineering is the key to so much from medicine to moviemaking; from smart cities to smart policies; from new journalism to new economics to new technologies.”

North Central College: “21st Century Engineer”
North Central College launched their “21st Century Engineer” program designed to produce customer-facing engineers who are also ethically-minded problem solvers, consummate communicators, agile thinkers, and idea generators.

Stanford University: CS+X
Stanford’s CS + X initiative where X = {Art Practice, Classics, Comparative Literature, English, French, German Studies, History, Iberian and Latin American Cultures, Italian, Linguistics, Music, Philosophy, Slavic Languages and Literature, or Spanish} honors integration and human complexity. Here is an excerpt from their website:

Intersecting opposites create altered perspectives, fresh intellectual possibilities and new strengths. CS+X is an initiative designed to allow students to pursue their academic passions in multiple academic fields. It aims to help undergraduates balance pragmatism with ambition. And it affords them intellectual environments in which they can develop their creativity and analytic robustness by acquiring skills in separate but mutually galvanizing fields of study: engineering speaking to the imagination while literature, philosophy and language imbue technical challenges with human significance.

University of Pittsburgh’s School of Computing and Information
The founding Dean at this new School of Computing and Information formulated a vision “to create technology and expertise that enables evidence-based modeling and decision making in the context of interacting natural, social and engineered systems” and a mission “to make the world a better place through polymathic education and the science of interacting systems.”

Wake Forest University: Engineering
Wake Forest recently launched their engineering program in the context of a liberal arts school.


What’s Driving Integration of Disciplines

Enlightened Employers
Employers have been telling colleges and universities that they want well-rounded (polymathic), customer-facing, agile thinkers, idea generators who can also communicate impeccably. Employers hope that the integrative thinkers will help tackle problems like: How do we go about building ethical AI? How do we deploy science to restore balance to the planet? How do we advance medicine and humanity together? How do we develop interesting engaging products that drive growth?

Gen-Z Students Growing Up in A World Filled with Complexity
Gen-Z is the most diverse and most educated generation yet. They value creativity, have global aspirations, draw inspiration from anywhere, and want to make the planet a better place. To them, the internet is an extension of their brain.

Integrative Thinking: An Idea Whose Time has Come
In 2007, Roger Martin, then the Dean of Rotman School of Business at University of Toronto, wrote the thoughtful book titled “The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking” with the premise that the new leaders creatively resolve the tension in opposing models by forming entirely new and superior ones instead of choosing one at the expense of the other. He arrived at this insight by interviewing 50 successful leaders who shared a distinct common characteristic – “the predisposition and capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads. And then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.”

In 2011, another book — “Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession” — which comes out of extensive study by the Carnegie Foundation, argues for a more integrative approach.


Moving forward, we anticipate that integrative programs will become more pervasive. Instead of having to choose between Professional, STEM, or Liberal Arts, prospective students will be able to choose Integrative programs that suit their intellectual needs best.

Full disclosure: Elliance has had the good fortune to market some of the innovators listed above including Bryant University, Carnegie Mellon University, North Central College, and University of Pittsburgh’s School of Computing and Information.

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Although the future of work has become increasingly technical and vocational, the future of innovation and leadership remains solidly in the hands of people who majored or minored in liberal arts and humanities. There is a good reason for this paradox: liberal arts teach people how to learn, think, create, communicate, connect the dots, handle ambiguity, and adapt – qualities that are vital for introducing change and causing disruption.

Listed below are, in my view, the five key habits that liberal arts colleges cultivate in their graduates:

Five Competencies of Liberal Arts Graduates

Liberal arts graduates become anthropologists and life-long learners because they are trained to constantly gather data (scan and research) and analyze it. These traits are critical for learning professionals of today since, in every profession, the ground looks completely different every 3-5 years.

By consuming myriad of variations of the human condition, they begin to better understand fellow human beings, cultivate empathy for others, and see multiple perspectives.

By continually prioritizing and synthesizing information, liberal arts graduates become clear thinkers, natural connectors and good communicators – vital skills for increasingly diverse work environments.

By perpetually consuming great productions and performances, liberal arts graduates develop the essential skills to instinctively curate, orchestrate, choreograph and mythologize new creations. No wonder so many of them become storytellers, experience designers, scientists and innovators.

As Shakespeare said, “some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them”. Liberal arts education prepares the mind to accept the mantle of greatness, whether one is born, or aspires to be an entrepreneur, responsible leader, engaged citizen, thought leader or change maker.

These soft skills partially explain why many parents question the value of a liberal arts degree. In the short run, the technical and vocational degrees win the compensation race, but they also plateau earlier; however, in the second and third stage of career development, liberal arts majors begin to outperform the technical and vocational majors. Studies also show that people who enter the professions directly earn less than those who get there indirectly through the liberal arts route.

To debunk the common myth that liberal arts majors suffer all their lives, a few years back, Satyan Devadoss, then a Professor of Mathematics at William College mapped the career paths of its 15,600 liberal arts alumni to show that they go on to successful careers in all walks of life. It’s instructive to see how their data maps out by visiting this website.

Visualizing Career Paths of Liberal Arts Majors

What additional competencies would you like to add to my list?

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The golden age of print magazines long ago expired (Time once reached 20 million readers a week at peak circulation). Still, writers, editors and photographers charged with producing a college or university magazine juggle the same risk/reward choices as their predecessors when it comes to creating memorable cover art.  

Whether your college magazine comes in print, responsive or hybrid formats, your cover competes for precious reader bandwidth in an era of continuous partial attention. And if you only have one or two occasions a year to plan, design and deliver a great cover, all the more reason to be very intentional in your approach.

Some university magazines approach the task with zeal and gusto. Findings from the University of Michigan School of Public Health comes to mind for its persistent good faith attempts to deliver a perfect summary of the cover story, magazine and school itself in one image/headline pairing. The team understands some overall gestalt, and consistently advances mission, reputation and brand with each issue.

Other worthy models:

  • New York University’s Alumni Magazine produces consistently witty and riveting covers (Something Wild: Fall, 2016).
  • Barnard College works magic with cover portraiture (Greta Gurwig, Winter 2018). 
  • Bucknell (Is the Dream Over: Spring, 2018) routinely punches above its weight and deploys its small staff to tackle big topics — with cover art that is accessible without becoming cliched.

One side note on portrait photos. John Berger, in his classic Ways of Seeing, explains that advertising uses portraits of successful people to convey “the happiness of being envied.”

Barnard, as mentioned, shows restraint in this regard. Even with a deep pool of celebrity to draw upon, Barnard’s editorial team understands that an alumni magazine seeks a collective reassurance, not the solitary claim to glamour bargained for in most consumer advertising.

Many college magazines shrink from the challenge of producing great cover art entirely, preferring safer, albeit less engaging routes. We’ve all seen an obligatory college magazine cover (no photo scouting required) and thought, well, the easiest choice to make is no choice at all.

College magazines and the beholder’s share

At the turn of the 20th century, art historians Alois Riegl and Ernst Gombrich observed that no image is complete without the perceptual and emotional involvement of the viewer (reader). They described the exchange as the “beholder’s involvement” or “beholder’s share.”

A century later, advances in both cognitive science (mind) and neuroscience (brain) give us a deeper understanding of the brain as a meaning-making machine, with its want to grab hold of incomplete information and complete it.

When we look at a college magazine cover, we form instantaneous responses — to faces, form, gesture, contour — while also constructing a theory about the subject, college and relationship between the two.

Given the rare, yet powerful moment that’s created by a magazine cover — even those viewed digitally — it’s worth investing creative time and resources. Few messages will linger as long with prospects, alumni, partners and donors.

Your flagship magazine has the potential to move the perception/reputation needle further, faster than any other brand signal.

Center of visual impact

As a college reporter and editor, I had the good fortune of working under the mentorship of photojournalist and picture editor J. Bruce Baumann — one of journalism’s great visual thinkers. One late night, as we hastily cut and pasted (that long ago) images into the newspaper, Baumann pulled a handful of quarters out his pocket and began covering faces. “If I can hide someone’s face under a quarter, then I can ignore any meaning in the photograph,” he said.

Let me channel Baumann and offer a few prompts to stress test any potential cover idea:

  • Does the subject’s strength and energy fill the frame?
  • Does the cover give equal importance to person and place?
  • Do you feel the rapport between photographer and subject — does the subject refuse to let go of the camera?
  • Does contrast come into play, and does it lend a dynamic energy to the cover?
  • Does the cover have an emotional temperature, and does that temperature match the story or special issue it frames?
  • Does the interplay between words and art invite the reader to explore truth(s) beneath the surface of the cover image?
  • Will the cover image compel someone to rethink how they see or what they believe?
  • Does conflict and/or complexity within the cover image engage the viewer’s primal need to make meaning?

Looking for additional inspiration? Check out these 50 magazine cover design hacks.

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The primary goal of digital content marketing is to earn attention and grow brand reputation by providing valuable content – that informs, persuades, engages and delights prospects and customers.

Goals of Content Marketing

However, delivering on this goal has turned into an all-out arms race, with three distinct generations of content marketing.


First Generation: Core Content

In the beginning, marketers equated content with website copy and photography. Copywriters and storytellers elevated the website copy – presenting the facts and persuading the prospects with engaging content; professional photographers were hired to lift the website experience with beautiful imagery that told visual stories.

Core Content = Copy + Stories + Photographs + Press Releases.


Second Generation: Enhanced Content

Once parity was achieved in basic content, marketers expanded the concept of content to include blogs and juiced up the copy, photographs and blog posts with keywords to secure page 1 rankings on Google.

Enhanced Content = Core Content + Blog Posts + Social Media Posts (all powered by SEO Keyword Lexicon).


Third Generation: High-Fidelity Content

As more marketers started creating blogs, the battle for attention is now pushing marketers to raise their game.

Now marketers are continuously generating keyword-inspired, relevant and high quality content, such as infographics, videos, thought leader interviews, articles, white papers, field guides, posters, animations, slideshows and microsites.

High-Fidelity Content Marketing


High Fidelity Content = Enhanced Content + infographics + videos + thought leader interviews + white papers + field guides + posters + animations + slideshows + microsites + more.


Once created, the high-fidelity content is reused and repurposed in as many ways as marketers can imagine. It is promoted via the marketer’s owned media – website, blog, social media and email – to encourage peer-to-peer sharing. 

High-Fidelity Content Sharing

Next, the high-fidelity content is promoted through content discovery networks such as StumbleUpon and Outbrain.

High-Fidelity Content Promotion

Done well, the high-fidelity content elevates brand reputation and dislodges competitors from search engines for tough-to-rank keywords.


ROI of High Fidelity Content Marketing

In contrast to helpful blog content or informative and persuasive blog content, high fidelity content is more endearing, delightful and engaging. Not only does it generate more exposure and reach than ordinary blog content, it also has a multiplicative effect on the content ROI. This results in an increase in the number of views, likes, shares and interactions, and also grows leads and sales conversions.


Case Study in High-Fidelity Content Marketing

Carnegie Mellon University recently turned to Elliance for help with growing enrollment for its new Master of Science in Product Management (MSPM) program, a first-of-its-kind joint initiative by Carnegie Mellon’s top-rated Tepper School of Business and the School of Computer Science. The program struggled to attract aspiring product managers, enrolling only a few students in its first cohort.

After interviewing the program director, admissions director, marketing director, faculty and students, Elliance decided to position this pioneering degree as the best path for people wanting to enter the in-demand field of Product Management.

To realize this goal, Elliance launched a multi-faceted campaign leveraging digital marketing to define, differentiate and promote this unique program. We created a program microsite, a landing page, paid campaign and high-fidelity content. Here are three samples of high-fidelity content we produced:


1. Poster

product management skills


2. Infographic

questions for would be product managers


3. Instruction Manual

Product Managers Instruction Manual


The overall campaign resulted in a quintupling of enrollment and attracted top-tier students. Our efforts to grow enrollment even further are ongoing.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll share more examples of high-fidelity content marketing campaigns we are running on behalf of our other clients.

Learn more about our content marketing services.

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Today, there is a lot of advice around how to create high quality, student-centered content in the higher education space — from bringing student experiences to life through stories, photos and videos to creating content by involving passionate faculty, students and brand champions.

However, far less is said regarding how to create an orchestrated effort around content publishing to ensure that your content receives the most visibility and positive engagement. Often, marketing teams get caught up in the demanding work of content creation and fall short when it comes to creating a well-thought-out content release plan. The result is limited exposure of a content piece that was incredibly time consuming to complete.

At Elliance, for each piece of high-fidelity content — whether it’s an infographic, guide, video, blog post, story, etc. — we develop a content release plan to ensure maximum exposure among target audiences. While each piece of content demands unique considerations, here are a few recommendations that can be applied in most cases to boost your content’s visibility.

Optimize content for search engine impact. Optimizing your piece of content for greatest search engine impact should occur before your content is published and must be in line with your SEO strategy. The goal of optimization is top placement in search engine results for a specific keyword phrase. Typical optimization process involves strategic adjustment of the text for keyword usage, as well as inclusion of relevant inbound and outbound links. You will also need to create optimized meta descriptions. At Elliance, this process is a collaboration between our SEO strategist and lead copywriter.

Publish content across multiple channels. Typically, a piece of content, such as a program-specific infographic, is published via program or department blog and various social media channels. However, a careful consideration of specific program pages can yield additional opportunities for relevant inclusion of content. Use of clickable thumbnails, buttons or page carousels are some ways that content, such as infographics, guides, stories, etc. can become durably visible to target audiences.

Promote content with paid social advertising. Once you’ve published your piece of content via social media, it’s time to promote it. Leveraging paid social advertising via channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn allows added exposure of your social posts among target audiences. This ensures that your piece of content is not lost in the long stream of news feed posts but instead, reappears for the duration of your promoted social post campaign — typically no more than 2 weeks.

Creating, publishing and promoting high quality content in support of your marketing campaign requires incredible effort and can be particularly consuming for your marketing team. From planning and strategizing to brainstorming and conceptualizing, each piece of campaign content demands cross-functional collaboration and therefore, vast talent and time resources. Following the above steps can help you get the most exposure for your content marketing efforts and ensure that your hard work pays off.

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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 frequent misstep when shopping for or planning a brand discovery is to confuse quantity (50 interchangeable interviews) with quality (five prized insights).

Success depends less on the interview roster (directors and vice presidents), and more on the nuanced understanding that you set out to achieve.

Scoring RFP Responses

In the opaque world of brand development, the question “am I getting my money’s worth” is always present.

Avoid scoring brand RFP responses by the bulk weight of proposed focus groups. Resist being swayed by the clever nomenclature of a firm’s “signature brand discovery process” and its accompanying jargon.

Your evaluation of a brand partner should center around the creativity and angle of their approach and sensitivity of the listeners that they assign to the work.

Presidential Priority

It takes a brave and willing college or university to partner with a serious outside brand firm. Only a very engaged president and VPs (enrollment, marketing, advancement) have sufficient clout and cover to streamline and shepherd the brand discovery process.

Choose Wisely, Not Politically

One of the first reflexes to fight is a tendency to clog the process with too many cabinet members, faculty leaders, enrollment staff and student tour guides.

FACT: Clear brand signals rarely come from senior staff or more vocal/visible students and alumni.

Brand insights and cues more often arrive as faint signals from unlikely sources.

Wesleyan College President Michael Roth, observing the gap between where marketers tend to look and where proof can be found,  writes: “The richness of the curriculum and high quality of the instruction may receive a nod, but they are rarely celebrated. Promoting everything except what happens between faculty and students may be good for short-term appeal, but the result is to make the entire enterprise of higher education more fragile.”

True Brand Messengers

The best brand messengers, I find, are faculty and students who naturally embody your origin story and carry on the mission without fanfare or self-awareness. These folks mostly fly under your radar, and thrive in the nooks and crannies of academics, service learning, and student affairs.

When you lean on focus groups and title-heavy interview subjects, you risk discounting these essential voices or missing them altogether.

Contrasting Mindsets


There is something in the rational mind that craves the simplicity and reassuring hum of a drive-through car wash or robotic vacuum. Yes, those machines look tireless and efficient— programmed as they are to treat all particles alike. But should we evaluate a brand partner with the same criteria?


What if, instead, we chose a brand partner the way the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines select trusted military working dogs. The dog handlers look for the right mix of reward-centered temperament and proven skill that makes these animals invaluable. The animal’s genius is tied to its ability to change course — it’s unpredictability — and that aspect of the process is not just acknowledged, but highly valued.

United States Army General David Petraeus said of military working dogs: “By all measures of performance, their yield outperforms any asset we have in our inventory.”

The same could be said of those who bring a simple skill of solid reporting to any brand discovery. I rank reporting as the single most undervalued skill and habit to be found within a college or university, or among higher education marketing firms that serve them.

Story: Canary in the Brand Mine

In many respects, the state of a college or university’s flagship publication(s) and digital content will reveal an overall readiness for a robust brand discovery.

While quantitative data adds real value to those trying to define a brand position and give it voice, it’s the qualitative findings — real-time observation and institutional memory — that light the way.

Colleges and universities that nurture and value great story telling, and the candid conversations and robust reporting behind those stories, already understand what’s required to articulate an authentic brand.

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Common Marketing Mistakes Industrial Companies Make with Global MarketingThe path to global marketing success is fraught with peril. There are hundreds of potential pitfalls…and a few right paths.

The Internet has lowered the cost of entering new global markets. However, unlocking global demand requires a new global mindset, toolkits and dexterity for industrial marketers. Here are some common marketing mistakes we see industrial companies make:

1. Not creating country-specific websites.

Great global marketers strategically focus on specific countries to maximize their multi-language investments and logistical costs. They recognize that the world is tribal. As a result, they don’t create one website in French for France and all French speaking countries in Africa, or one Arabic website for all Arabic speaking countries. They create custom experiences that are mindful of local dialects and customs.

2. Not investing in market research in target countries.

Successful b2b companies study and understand the local industry trends, competitive environment, channel partner dynamics and brand perceptions.

3. Failing to adapt the product to the local market.

Successful manufacturers create product variations that fit into the local markets. They have an innate sense of timing on when to release a product to a market based on the maturity level, habits and restrictions of the local market.

4. Not creating websites and social media channels in local languages.

Successful b2b manufacturers invest in clear and persuasive communications in multiple languages. They create multi-lingual websites with native friendly search engine optimization (SEO) meta-data using country-specific domains (.e.g. .fr in France), and distinct social media channels that work best in those countries. They don’t use machine translation technologies (e.g. Google translate), but hire translation companies experienced in high-quality translations.

5. Not engaging in localized Content Marketing.

Successful industrial marketers know that writing white papers, creating case studies, and producing videos are table stakes for industrial buyers. The buyers and influencers use the content at various stages of the sales cycle, and the materials also benefit their personal professional growth and training.

6. Under investing in paid digital and SEO.

Successful industrial companies engage in pay-per-click and search engine optimization in the most popular local search engines. For instance, in India, they run paid and organic campaigns in Google India, but in China, they run them in Baidu (Google-equivalent) and Renren (Facebook equivalent) directing prospects to the landing pages or website pages in the local languages of the target audience.

7. Not localizing SEO Keywords.

Successful b2b marketers know what works in the US doesn’t always translate to each country, which might have its own local nomenclature, colloquialisms, and acronyms. They customize for each market.

8. Failing to hire marketing managers with global mindsets and global dexterity.

Enlightened manufacturers harvest talent from global MBA programs that are offered by several reputable business schools such as Duke, Thunderbird School of Management and Manchester Business School. The new breed of MBA talent are global nomads motivated by their love for business, global travel and language apps such as Duolingo.

9. Not fully understanding or respecting business cultural differences.

Experienced b2b industrial marketers have a nuanced understanding of business culture and practices in foreign markets.

10. Not being prepared organizationally for global operations.

Sophisticated industrial companies first cultivate the habits of broad delegation, 24×7 operations and remote collaboration. These habits pave the way for running a global business.

Learn more about Elliance capabilities in b2b, manufacturing and industrial marketing.

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Alumni giving rates have dropped by more than 50% in the last twenty years, while mega-gifts continue to expand.

These trends begin to make sense when you see the chart below of some recent societal changes.
Trends Affecting Alumni Giving Rate

These micro-trends are reducing alumni giving rates in a unique way: continued increase in tuition and healthcare costs is leaving less money in the pockets of recent alumni; social media is exposing alumni to a variety of new and exciting options for giving; a winner-take-all mindset is concentrating wealth in higher net worth families leaving less money in the hands of middle class and lower income families; colleges are still deploying traditional ask-strategies which are out of touch with the habits of Gen-X, Gen-Y and Gen-Z digital natives.

To combat the decline, we recommend that colleges and universities:

1. Invest in branding.

For a college, a brand is the reason for its existence, the sum of life-changing interactions between students and faculty, a measure of lives transformed, and its impact on the greater world. Alumni want to belong to a brand that matters, and a tribe that is solving problems of consequence.

Great colleges invest in branding, and refresh their brands periodically to stay relevant. Capital campaigns become a forcing function to revisit and ensure their enduring brand is updated.

2. Cultivate major donor relationships early.

Little things grow. The best time to establish and cultivate a relationship with a major donor is when they are still small, making sustained modest donations for more than a decade, and engaging with the university in their own unique ways. Just as Nike bets on emerging talent, the advancement officers must learn to identify, watch and invest in recent alumni with potential.

At the appropriate time in the relationship, senior college team members should make the personal ask, with all the necessary accoutrements that the occasion demands.

3. Create a culture of sustained giving.

Five things are needed:

  • Maintain sustained communications with alumni. Colleges can’t stay dormant for long period of time, show up one day and expect alumni to simply give.
  • Avoid sending tone-deaf communications, which are insensitive to emotions, motivations and needs prevalent in different stages of life of alumni.
  • Cultivate alumni engagement with programs commensurate with what they can give: time, treasure and/or talent.
  • Develop a model that segments the alumni into a spectrum of likelihood to give. Then send customized communications to each segment.
  • Deploy social media tactics for annual giving.

4. Invest in communicating the strength of an institution’s reputation.

Alumni need continual assurance that their alma mater is thriving; that the value of their degree is growing; that the tribe they belong to is healthy and flourishing.

The best way to achieve this is to keep alumni and friends informed with a flagship publication that tells high-fidelity stories. The publication should be delivered periodically in print and/or digital format, and the stories should be made productive with Google optimization and social media sharing.

To learn more about our philanthropy marketing services, contact us.

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