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It’s not all digital in college branding

Valuing the role of campus grounds, tours and phone etiquette in the digital marketing age
University Business, April 2015
Marc C. Whitt is a 32-year veteran of higher education public relations and marketing. You may follow or contact him @marcwhitt.
Marc C. Whitt is a 32-year veteran of higher education public relations and marketing.

Few of us could imagine where we would be in our institutional branding efforts without the internet and its related marketing and public relations applications. These digital tools have become our “digital front doors,” granting us the ability to effectively and efficiently share content with those eager to learn more about us.

With that said, I also offer a word of caution: We cannot fail to recognize, respect and groom three non-digital yet vital areas of institutional branding, all of which have significant value.

Maintaining grounds and facilities

Campus appearance is crucial to an institution’s branding identity. Not only do well-landscaped, handsomely manicured grounds and well-maintained facilities create a positive work environment, they attract and retain students, faculty, staff and donors.

First impressions are critical. Studies have long confirmed that the appearance of an institution’s grounds and facilities are among the most influential factors when families are determining whether to invest time and resources.

Attractive entranceways, consistent signage, maintenance of landscaped areas and sidewalks, and well-kept facilities—inside and out—speak volumes to visitors about the quality, sense of care and level of stewardship we seek to present. They communicate that we are worth a student’s or donor’s investment.

The campus tour

Most admissions counselors agree that if you can bring a student to campus for a visit, your chances of successfully recruiting them have significantly increased. Once a student commits to a visit, make sure you can deliver on your end.

Recruit enthusiastic, positive, knowledgeable and articulate counselors or students as your tour guides. As your campus “sales force,” they must be well-trained professionals who clearly understand their role.

If tour guides are asked questions they can’t answer, it is perfectly fine to admit that. Being honest and forthright is always the best policy. Do promise an answer and respond in a timely manner—prospective students and parents appreciate honesty and integrity, and can typically spot whenever neither is demonstrated.

Better customer service

Perhaps one of the most overlooked areas of institutional branding is phone management. Good or bad, we leave a lasting impression on those who call us for information or assistance.

There is a direct correlation between our branding reputation and the level of professionalism, responsiveness and tone we use when assisting people who call us.

I experienced this several years ago while preparing an article for a national news agency. The story required the expertise of a professor at a well-respected, nationally branded institution.

My mental image of this institution reflected nothing less than academe at its finest. But when I called, a person answered the office phone by saying: “Yep.”

At first, I thought I’d misdialed. So I apologized and explained I had called the wrong number. After making sure I punched the correct numbers, the same person answered, only to ask: “Yep. Whaddaya want?”

After listening to a series of grunted replies, I was eventually transferred to the professor for the interview. I must admit, though, my impression of that institution was tarnished simply because of the poor way the phone was answered. (In fairness, I suspect most of its other offices answered their phones correctly.)

Here’s what we should remember:

  • Never underestimate the power of the simple phone call.
  • Don’t allow the voice messaging system to become the only voice the caller receives. A live voice adds a touch of personal attention.
  • Ongoing phone training and etiquette are essential.

When we fully integrate digital media’s public relations and marketing tools with exceptional grounds and facilities, admissions visits, and phone etiquette, we will then realize the branding reputation that truly distinguishes us in a highly competitive marketplace.

Marc C. Whitt is a 32-year veteran of higher education public relations and marketing. You may follow or contact him @marcwhitt.

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