Illuminating Tech.

On January 14th, TV, radio and digital channels across the Midwest started rolling out our latest creative multimedia campaign for Indiana Tech.

We are beyond excited to see this work takeoff into the world, especially as it helps promote our great friends and strategic partners in Fort Wayne.

The Client.

Since the first day of our work with Indiana Tech, SimpsonScarborough learned never to underestimate what this institution was capable of.

For better or for worse, the word “tech” often is seen as limiting in the higher ed space. But for the Warriors at IT, tech is hardly a constraint. It’s the starting point of a powerful story that needs to be told. Indiana Tech has a campus in Fort Wayne serving traditional undergraduates, as well as 18 regional campuses across Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, and Indiana serving adults seeking to continue their professional studies. Its offerings and the people it serves are hardly limited.

Our robust quantitative research confirmed this hypothesis. So, we dug into the data and created a strategic platform for telling (and showing) the IT story. Building on that solid foundation, we then developed a big creative idea, and corresponding brand identity, that tied all of our insights together:

At its core, tech is the practical application of knowledge. It’s transforming everything we learn into everything we’re capable of doing. For centuries it has enhanced our minds, enabled us to see farther than ever before, and empowered us to live better, more fruitful lives.

The resulting creative work was unveiled to an internal audience of more than 500 faculty and staff and was met with a standing ovation.

The Campaign.

When our partners at Indiana Tech asked us to help them with a 360° ad campaign — building on our past year of research, strategy, and creative work — it didn’t take long to send our response, “Tech Yeah.”

We set out to answer the big question: how do we create a campaign that actually shows people the true comprehensive nature of IT’s offerings? How do we spark a conversation that expands the relevant regional perceptions about this high-quality, hard-working university in Fort Wayne, Indiana?

In this case, we started with the big story, we focused the campaign on the three biggest offers at Indiana Tech — and we turned up the volume.

Learn It: Academics.
Live It: Student Life.
Bring It: Sports & Recreation.
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Finally, we expanded the story (and the conversation) to show the many ways Indiana Tech makes a real impact on people and their careers.

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The Takeaway.

Every day, Indiana Tech helps people pull their distant dream into broad daylight, where they can see it, try it, and grasp it for themselves. The long-term goal of our work with this amazing client is to help illuminate that truth to the world.

“Warrior students and alumni have always known Indiana Tech as a place where people achieve remarkable things every day. We’re a university that helps our students, faculty, and staff reach for a brighter future. The Go for IT campaign created by our partners at SimpsonScarborough not only captures this idea perfectly, it also helps us reach prospective students, partners, and community members to make sure these audiences are aware of — and inspired by — our Indiana Tech story.”

Brian Engelhart, Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Indiana Tech

Evolving Your Brand: Four Reasons Your Institution Needs a Brand Refresh

For many marketers, a brand initiative is an enticing idea. It’s also a time-consuming and costly process, so you need to make sure your institution is ready before you dive in. Just because you don’t like your logo doesn’t mean you need to scratch everything. But how do you know when the time is right?

Your Brand Doesn’t Reflect Your Values

Most would agree that your brand is not your logo or colors, although there are still some holdouts. Your brand isn’t the curriculum, study abroad opportunities, or the student-faculty ratio either. Your brand is your values – what’s important to you and what you stand for. It’s these brand values that should be the primary driving force behind your actions, decision-making, and behaviors. They also influence the way you connect with your target audiences. Your prospective students, internal audiences, alumni, donors, influencers, corporate partners, potential faculty hires, and others are more likely to engage with a brand whose values are aligned with their own.

Your Brand Is No Longer Relevant

We all know how hard it is to build a great brand, one that consistently inspires, influences, and compels. And in a time of constant change and heightened customer expectations, maintaining brand relevance is the key to remaining valuable to the people who matter to your institution. Brands need to evolve in a way that meets the needs of their target audiences, embraces change and innovation, and differentiates from the competition. At the same time, trying to stay relevant but not doing it authentically never works. A relevant brand must also align with where the institution is today and where it’s headed.

Your Brand Has Become Too Complicated

Sometimes people describe their brand, and several sentences into it, you still don’t understand their core message. That’s a bad sign. Simplicity makes a brand great. We lose this simplicity by trying to be everything to everyone. You can’t be everything to everyone. This is something most of us understand very well in our own personal lives, but it can be easy to lose sight of this in your brand and marketing efforts. No person, no company, no anything is universally beloved. The most popular restaurants on Yelp still get one-star reviews. The most critically acclaimed movies rarely reach 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. If you attempt to broadly appeal to everyone, it might work in the short-term, but over time, there’s a chance you won’t appeal to anyone. 

Your Brand Doesn’t Stand Out from the Crowd

Higher ed generally suffers from a crisis of differentiation. It seems every time one institution discovers something that works well, others race to the same idea. But the reality is that people are attracted to different brands because they don’t all want the same thing. So why aren’t we enabling them to choose the brand that is most meaningful to them? Simply put, differentiation directly affects a brand’s short-term profitability and long-term viability. When your target audiences see brands as interchangeable, they make decisions primarily based on price. This ultimately compromises a brand’s ability to survive, especially in challenging market conditions. Differentiation is a long-term objective, not a “take one and call me in the morning” solution. Following the crowd never produces exceptional results. 

If you said yes to any of the above, your institution is ready for a branding initiative. So now what? Join me and Mike Roe next month in Atlanta at Converge 2019 at our two-part workshop, Harnessing the Power of Research to Build a Brand and Leveraging Data to Achieve Long-Term Brand Success. At the end of this session, you will have a thorough understanding of all the steps involved in building, launching, and tracking a brand, complete with examples from many colleges and universities around the country.

Discovering a Brand’s Core

Developing a brand in higher education is an exciting, albeit complex, process. One of the most common challenges higher ed marketers face when embarking on a brand effort is that the brand doesn’t know who or what it is. If a brand doesn’t know its core, building a brand is almost an impossible feat. And it is precisely the reason we firmly believe that any branding project starts with research.  

To discover a brand’s core, we partner with our clients to develop survey questions geared toward uncovering students’ motivations, goals for the future, and personality attributes. Our goal is to understand the values that drive likeminded people to enroll each year. We tap into the emotional drivers for prospective students and see where commonalities exist among current students at the institution. And it’s by looking at these elements together that we can start to uncover character attributes that help us understand why people feel connected to a school, as well as its enduring values.

In my opinion, this is the best part of the process because it gets to the heart of the brand, but it’s also much more fun to develop and answer survey questions about personality and values. The results from these questions tend to yield results that go beyond our hypotheses (in a good way). A military institution driven by compassion. A healthcare school focused on love. These are the most authentic and differentiating aspects of your brand, not the fact that you offer 100+ majors and have a great U.S. News & World Report ranking.

As 2019 kicks off, it’s time for higher ed marketers to challenge the status quo and not shy away from emotionally charged, real, raw, authenticity. In the end, what parent doesn’t want to hear that love is an enduring value of a school? Or compassion is what drives the connectedness on campus? Here are a few considerations that will help define your brand:

  • Start with why. Your brand’s core truths often lie at the answer to the question, “why does our institution exist?” One great exercise to help discover your institution’s “why” is Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. Sinek has found that majority of companies start with the “what,” but it is the most inspired and influential companies that communicate the “why.”
  • Give your brand a real personality. Challenge your institution to come across more like a person. To do this think about what personality traits your brand embodies. Ask your community: Are we the type of person that everyone trusts? The kind of person you go for to advice?
  • Be bold in your approach. When it’s time to put pen to paper and craft the brand platform, choose words that describe your campus, even if they seem too bold for higher ed. “We care about our students,” is something we hear on many campuses, but the words “love” and “heart” are often left off the table. If it’s authentically you, don’t water it down. Own it.

At the end of the day, this world could use more love, compassion, and heart. Higher education seems the best place to start.

Enrollment Open: The Institute for Higher Education Marketing

Help distinguish yourself as a higher education marketing leader by participating in the Institute for Higher Education Marketing (IHEM).  The 3.5 day program will be held in Austin, TX, February 25-28, 2019.  It was refined and shortened based on feedback from the pilot institute held in August 2018. Learn from world class faculty and instructors like Haley Rushing, Co-Founder of the Purpose Institute, who has helped organizations from Southwest Airlines to Whole Foods to IMG align their brands and values, as well as multi-category practitioners like David Perry, most recently CMO of The University of Utah Health System. The Institute, the first of its kind, will award a University of Texas credential upon completion of the program. Contact IHEM Founder Teri Lucie Thompson for more information ( or enroll here.

The Marketing Organization of the Future

I’m fascinated by the continued evolution of the marketing department within higher ed. While the current reach of marketing is significant at many universities and great strides have been made, there are often still big limitations and challenges that inhibit the CMO and her department from playing a truly strategic role on campus. That said, I’ve noticed some key shifts that are taking place across the best-in-class marketing departments. Here are four trends of 2018 coupled with four predictions that provide a glimpse at what the marketing organization of the future may look like.

Trend #1: Centralization of the marketing communications function. This is a growing trend for small to mid-size universities. It’s most successful for those who have already established a central unit that is positioned as a strategic partner on campus. Today, the most common reporting structure I see on campuses is a federated model – a central hub with distributed communicators across campus. Within that model, there is quite a range of reporting types between the hub and distributed communicators, from direct to dotted to none. In terms of reporting, there is not a one-fits-all model, and the right approach usually comes down to some form of politics and personality. Anecdotally, I have heard that the college-based communicators tend to have higher turnover. I don’t have any hard data on this, but can speculate that it’s because they are often teams of one, have undefined jobs roles or conflicting priorities, and have no peer professionals to collaborate with.

Prediction: It’s not a big leap to say that this trend will continue to accelerate, and that marketing communications will be completely centralized at most campuses.

Trend #2: Development of annual plans. Annual plans have been around for a while, and some more sophisticated campuses are shifting to more agile-based quarterly plans. However, a positive trend with the annual planning approach is the formalization that is taking place. These plans are typically developed by a central marcom unit to support university-wide goals and objectives. The plans now often serve as a framework for other units on campus, and some distributed units even submit a version of their specific plans to marcom for approval. One university I spoke to this year also now identifies central funds that are designed for “brand alignment” projects across campus. The funding is used then to sponsor brand projects going on around campus. How cool, right? Those who say they have used central plans successfully mention that it has been an evolving project that takes time. And patience. Start by developing a plan and circulating to begin to foster collaboration. And then in the next few years you can shift to co-planning with others.

Prediction: I often see that marketing and brand strategy efforts are developed through a completely separate process than university strategic plans. I don’t think strategic plans and annual marketing plans will ever be one and the same, but my hope is that they’ll be developed in tandem and in support of each other. These collaborative plans point in that direction.

Trend #3: Formal collaboration across campus. Standing monthly or quarterly forums with all communicators, as well as a meeting with campus leadership, are becoming the norm. So are separate weekly crisis/issues mange meetings. At risk of blowing up your calendars with way too many meeting invites, what’s most meaningful is the formal collaboration these meetings encourage. I think it’s not only aiding in alignment, but also one factor leading to the centralization we’re seeing. The goal of these meetings is primarily to share updates and best practices. Some marcom units have a regular cadence of featured experts and speakers, which is a huge plus for distributed communicators. What’s refreshing is that participation in these meetings is typically encouraged rather than mandatory. Have a goal to put together a fun yet substantive agenda, and I bet others around campus won’t want to miss or risk being out of the loop.

Prediction: If this collaboration keeps up, the next natural step is to eventually think beyond meetings to formally combining efforts, budgets, and teams. And I say this in a safe space with a bunch of higher ed marketers…could it be that enrollment and development will eventually report to the CMO?

Trend #4: Analytics capabilities are growing. I heard from marketers that this is where the most development is still needed. Analytics responsibilities still tend to be distributed across various individuals and units, if they are happening at all. Yet some colleges are developing weekly or monthly analytics reports that are shared across campus. What’s noteworthy is that in the past few months, I have seen multiple job postings for marketing data analytics manager, marketing intelligence director, and other similar roles. This trend is the one that I anticipate will continue to quickly progress in the next few years.

Prediction: I’m hopeful that brand and marketing metrics will someday be equals with enrollment and fundraising figures. As marketers, it’s a great opportunity to help our campuses become familiar with these metrics.

In the age of digital transformation, I believe that CMOs and marketing leaders are in a position to help pave the way for their institution and propel internal changes. However, the marcom team structure and alignment across campus must first be in place to successfully champion change. The exciting news is that many of these trends point in that direction. What trends are you seeing on your campus? What did I miss? Have you successfully used a pilot project to help align marketing, enrollment, and others to move the needle on institutional-level goals? I’d love to hear about it!