Introducing Our New Brand Identity and Website

We’re thrilled to unveil our refreshed brand identity and redesigned website. The updates show the evolution of our company since its founding in 2006 and pave the way for how we’re moving forward. We wanted the brand to reflect our expanded capabilities and give us space to celebrate the fun, vibrant relationships we have with each of you.

You’ll notice new and refreshed identity elements like our logo and brighter colors, which were designed for use across digital and mobile. The continued use of the circles in our new logo is a nod to our research foundation and company roots; they are meant to convey measurement.

Over the last year we’ve begun to offer creative services, allowing us to extend our partnerships beyond the foundational market research work that we love. It’s this data that fuels better insights and creative that help our clients stand out in a crowded higher education marketplace and, ultimately, build brand strategies that endure.

We’re excited that our new website and brand identity showcase our capabilities and our continued commitment to the industry. We’ve built our careers in higher ed, and we’ve been in higher ed marketing from the beginning. We’ve seen the field mature, and we’ve grown and learned alongside our clients. And there’s nothing we love more than sharing what we’ve learned along the way.

With the introduction of our new website, we’ve created a comprehensive resource section featuring content designed to serve as a source of inspiration, conversation starter, and reference whether you’re new to higher ed or have been around as long as we have. Explore the resources page for more on what’s happening in the field, upcoming conferences, any announcements that come along, and helpful reference documents including sample RFPs, organizational charts, and brand guidelines that can give you a head start.

Along with our redesigned website, our monthly newsletter will also get a makeover – expect to see its new look in early July. Not signed up yet? Subscribe here.

Thank you to our entire community and clients for your continued support. Explore the site – and tell us what you think! Contact Kristen Ingels, Senior Brand Strategist, to share your thoughts or any questions.

Stanford Program Creates Meaningful Connections with Alumni

At SimpsonScarborough, we are often hired to conduct alumni engagement studies. These are projects designed to help a college or university understand how to get their alumni to reconnect with the institution. We’ve tested all kinds of engagement opportunities from online chats to trips around the world to meet-ups at local bars. Our research for multiple institutions has shown us that alumni don’t need as much help connecting socially. They seem to be able to keep up with their college friends without support from their alma mater. But they do tend to be interested in sponsored activities that allow them to relive the academic side of their college days.

The Stanford+Connects program offered by Stanford University is a perfect example. Alums from the Washington, DC area will have an opportunity to hear from Stanford’s president, John Hennessy, who is retiring next year and has been noted recently for his comments on the future of higher ed. They’ll also have the opportunity to listen to micro-lectures on topics such as gender and leadership, international relations with Russia, infectious disease, and marriage equality. The site that supports these events (which happen all over the country and the world) allows you to immediately check out who is registered; 91 people registered in DC within one day of receiving the invite via email. That’s alumni engagement at its finest.

Living Your Higher Ed Brand

For way too long, saying “marketing” on a college campus could get you in hot water (unless, of course, you were a marketing professor or student). Saying “brand” led to strange looks and skeptical associations of how you might belittle serious work with silly slogans or advertisements. But times are changing.

Signs abound that marketing in higher ed is maturing and becoming more critical to institutional success. From the rise of the Chief Marketing Officer on college campuses to impactful social media efforts that lead to amazing fundraising success, marketing has continued to come into its own.

But higher ed marketers are still searching for the holy grail—being able to truly impact organizational decisions and strategy, being seen as more than promotion, wrapped up in a flashy advertising campaign, or just “telling the story.” Hope lives as marketers take their seat at the leadership table. While stories of Sweet Briar loomed large in the last several months, not told was how a new VP of Marketing drove the organizational reflection that led former Pittsburgh women’s college Chatham University to go co-ed and reverse years of declining applications and enrollment within a year.

“Chatham so far has attracted 1,678 undergraduate applications, more than double the 655 at the same time last year and the five-year average of 792. Student deposits as of last week totaled 256, versus 145 last year, and all but 46 are first-time, first-year students, a demographic that had become increasingly scarce.”

At SimpsonScarborough we often discuss the brand continuum with our clients. Launching a campaign doesn’t equate to success. In fact, the ultimate success comes when institutions live their brands. Perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than at Arizona State University (ASU), where within the past year they have launched two notable initiatives (with notable fanfare) that truly represent their brand promise of being The New American University.

ASU, one of the nation’s largest universities, announced its partnership to help Starbucks employees earn and finish their degrees to much fanfare—and an equal amount of skepticism. Similarly, when it announced that it would launch a program with EdX to offer free (or nearly free) MOOC’s for credit (paid only when students earned credit), the naysayers piled on.

Despite the criticism, ASU and its trailblazing (and headline-grabbing) President Michael Crow were sticking true to their brand. You see, unlike so many colleges and universities that go into branding efforts by setting aside their missions and poorly articulating a vision, ASU made it crystal clear in making a visible change to its charter.

“ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed.”

While I am confident that not all the changes on campus have been accepted with similar enthusiasm or led to imminent success (nor do I profess to know all the intimate details), I do know this—the Starbucks and EdX programs are true representations of living the brand. And—unlike nearly EVERY university in the country—ASU has been able to dramatically increase its enrollment by nearly 24,000 students in 10 years despite dramatic (and continued) funding cuts resulting from the great recession.

Living the brand has already led to results that are driving great awareness, brand reach, and new students for ASU. When the Starbucks program opened, more than 5,000 students applied. 1,012 enrolled for the fall semester. 87 percent of the first class went on to register for the spring semester, and the program could lead to 25,000 new graduates over the next decade.

That’s creating market opportunity. That’s living the brand. And that’s where higher ed marketing is headed.

You’ll be able to hear more in-depth about how ASU is driving its brand at the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education where Dan Dillon, Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer, will be one of several terrific keynotes. Register now!

Higher Ed Marketing: The Case Against Outdoor Advertising

I have a confession: higher education outdoor advertising, specifically, higher ed airport ads, make me cringe. Every time I’m in an airport, higher education institutions—from online to traditional to privates to publics—have claimed a large portion of the airport displays. It isn’t uncommon to see multiple colleges and universities displays side-by-side in terminals. Here are a few of my hypotheses on why this is the case:

  1. Budget: We all know that higher education marketing budgets are tight. Advertising budgets are even more limited and may not be a consistent portion of your annual budget. While not inexpensive, outdoor advertising is comfortable for higher ed and where your competitors are, and in turn is often one of the first considerations when selecting your media partners and building your ad flow.
  2. Broad goals: The majority of institutions have similar goals: enhance reputation, increase visibility, recruit more students, and raise more money. While accurate, these goals do not enable a strategic advertising plan, and limit the effectiveness of advertising, an industry that is targeted in nature.
  3. You can see it: Often times internal audiences (students, faculty/staff, alumni) are priority for the launch of a branding campaign. It is also not uncommon for a campaign to be funded by a specific donor who wants to SEE their investment. The constant flow of traffic in and out of airports promises those impressions and is certainly an advantage, however measuring effectiveness or exactly how many and whose eyes see your ad is a challenge. After all, it is the airport: we all try and get in and out as quickly as possible and more often than not, spend our free time checking our mobile devices.

Campaigns focused on brand awareness or brand equity without a clear call to action compared to enrollment-specific campaigns may lend themselves to traditional media, but online branding efforts also play an important part in laying the foundation of an effective digital campaign. Furthermore, as we are all aware, the rise of mobile continues to dramatically impact usage and readership among traditional media. And even more important than changing media habits, mobile advertising now presents the opportunity to target by personas rather than by medium. These factors make a strong case against outdoor advertising, especially when working with a limited budget:

  1. Mobile: As Mary Meeker’s report indicates, ad spending doesn’t align with media consumption—24% of media consumption is spent on mobile, but media spend only accounts for 8% total Internet ad spending, presenting a ~$25B opportunity in the US. HubSpot calls it how it is: “mobile advertising is an opportunity brands needs to take advantage of while the market is still maturing.”
  2. Programmatic buying: Programmatic buying or real-time bidding enables a better digital advertising strategy that can be targeted precisely to a prospect’s or any individual’s online behavior rather than running a certain number of ads with a specific publisher. As AdAge notes, the real-time data allows you to “evaluate what’s working best (which geographies, times of days, audience segments, publishers) to narrow the target accordingly and only pay for highly effective ads.”
  3. Apps: Apps are the new content (and advertising) distribution channel. Native app usage continues to grow and in particular, Millennials and Gen Z have contributed to the explosive growth of messaging apps. As Contently points out, “If you want to reach your audience in the years to come, you’re going to have to penetrate these chat apps.”

Forget that airport banner (or that bus ad). New and advanced technological capabilities and changing consumption habits enable higher ed marketers to move beyond traditional media to leverage new mediums and tactics. Those who do will see the benefits and create stronger campaigns with more clearly defined goals and targeted personas, more accurate ROI, and the ability to strengthen your campaign based on real-time analytics.

Forbes: Why Higher Education Institutions Need CMOs

Kim Whitler’s article in Forbes, posted earlier this week, describes the important role CMOs play in the higher education administration. She references a recent study conducted by SimpsonScarborough and The Chronicle of Higher Education. The study, titled “Higher Ed Marketing Comes of Age,” is the latest and most comprehensive attempt to understand the investment U.S. 4-year colleges and universities are making in marketing. 

The study will be conducted every other year in order to benchmark changes in marketing investments, priorities, and staffing. The next round of data collection will occur in late winter/early spring 2016, and we encourage all professionals who lead the marketing effort for their institution to participate. With even stronger participation, we will be able to provide our industry with invaluable benchmarking data.