As marketers and communicators we want crowds. Crowds of students at our events. Crowds of alumni during Reunion. And crowds of fans on social media. Our audiences inspire us to raise the bar—they don’t want to be part of the crowd and they certainly don’t want to feel marketed to. They want to feel unique and valued.
No billboards or blasts here. One by one, we’re interested in creating lasting relationships with real people, conveying our brand essence—honestly. Over time It leads to real impact for Michigan Tech.
Picture your audience in your mind—a single person. It’s more than their interests or age. What are their daily struggles? What does the average day look like for them?
Now have a conversation.
Humans crave good stories. Telling them in clear, simple, relatable terms naturally elicits a response. Michigan Tech’s brand has thousands of stories to tell—each connecting to the people, experiences, and opportunities here. Amy Karagiannakis with Pavlis Honors College does an incredible job curating brand stories that naturally and holistically communicate Pavlis’ offerings. Amy changes the homepage out frequently to feature a new student story—often they’re just a few sentences long and coupled with a compelling photo (usually provided by the student!).
University Marketing and Communications as a hack for on-brand, written messaging: Think about radio broadcasting. Seems weird, right? But radio DJs or scripts get to the point sooner, use shorter, more casual sentence structure, and are altogether more direct. They begin sentences with “And” and “But. It’s not forced, it’s just how real people talk.
Address a Single Person
What do you want your audience to do? Research proves a more sure-fire way to ensure clicks, opens, and returns is to use a targeted call to action (CTA). Read more. Click here. Apply now. These are generic call to actions used for the masses. Drill it down and craft a powerful CTA that singles out your audience, yet tells them exactly what you want them to do.
“Alumni Huskies—Volunteer for an archaeological dig abroad.”
Provide an Engaging Experience
Social content managers are careful with each post. Which photo? Which link? The right message. The social forecast demands we look at our inbound messages with a similar care.
On Facebook.com/michigantech we often ask targeted questions. Do you remember your Senior Design project? Do you dunk your pasty in ketchup or gravy? It gets our students and alumni talking! And we love to hear their responses. We try to take some time each day to check in, answer any questions folks have, or respond to cool stories. Most times we “sign” each comment with our name, because we’re humans talking to humans.
It takes a little more time. But we think it’s the right style for us. Honest.
When we think of brand ambassadors, we may think of overt product plugs from our favorite Instagram-famous bloggers. On campus, many departments and groups leverage student ambassadors for their authentic voice—students talking to students.
In this last year, as University Marketing and Communications worked to roll out our new brand—developing our look, tone, and message—it got me thinking about another essential ingredient: Us.
A powerful corps of more than 1,000 faculty and staff. What do we say about Michigan Tech? How do we engage with and advocate for Michigan Tech on social media? Our stories impact prospective students and employees, research partners, and alumni.
At Zappos, where new hires are trained in the ins and outs of Twitter, more than 500 employees tweet—for free—on behalf of the company. Employee stories later become a part of Zappos’ annual culture book.
Heineken’s brand ambassadors are a healthy mix of internal and external. When employees reported feeling uninformed about the company’s UEFA Champions League sponsorship, Heineken set out to create an internal game—brand education meets and a little office fun.
Here on campus, students, faculty, and staff are invited to monthly Campus Communicators meetups. Folks who manage social media, websites, and print marketing converge. It’s a great opportunity to ask all sorts of questions—even as simple as, “How do I start a Twitter account?”
Michigan Tech also produces an annual Social Media Field Guide. It serves as both a set of policies and best practices so we can help support more than 80 Michigan Tech-affiliated social media accounts. It’s updated annually, so let us know what’s missing or unclear—email firstname.lastname@example.org.
People—not brands—are the channel. This adage from the authors of The Most Powerful Brand on Earth, Chris Bourdreaux and Susan Emerick. Once you feel confident on social media, having a presence where you regularly share brand content not only helps Michigan Tech, but it establishes you as a thought leader.
- What are the goals of the department?
- How do you welcome new team members?
- What are you working on?
- What’s happening behind-the-scenes? (We know you can’t share everything…)
- What resources might your audience find useful?
- Talk about your outside interests (hiking, skiing, paddling, etc.)
- What opportunities are available in your area? (jobs, scholarships)
- What book are you reading?
- Tell us when you’re headed to a conference.
Nothing profound coming to mind? You can get the latest Michigan Tech news right to your email inbox each Monday morning. Visit mtu.edu/news and click the gold ‘Subscribe’ button. Having all the links in one spot makes it easy to read and share with family, friends, and colleagues on your favorite platform.
Hard work will pays off and deserves to be celebrated—often. A simple kudos or shoutout on social media is virtually free, but pays dividends for you, your colleagues, and our brand.
As you’re out and about social media, mining for great stories to share to our external audiences, don’t forget about one of our most important voices—yours. Real. Authentic. Honest. Just like our brand.
As marketers, we can sometimes feel pressure to be creative and drum up clever ideas. These days, clever ideas from brands are all around us—on our social media and on our chip bag. When we look at the higher-ed landscape, we can feel compelled to play or borrow creative tactics that work for our competitors. This is a good thing! We’re not a national brand like Nike or Pepsi or M&Ms; we don’t necessarily need to be on the frontline of cute and clever across billboards, Super Bowl commercials, or glossy ads.
When a cute or clever idea catches your eye, ask yourself: Does it make sense for Michigan Tech’s brand—and how?
On brand. Off brand. On brand. Off brand. All day long. With my brand stamp. RIGHT?
I have come to learn that successful brand management is nuanced. How we weave brand into our messaging can vary per the project, the editor, the project manager, the department, the audience, the shape and form or each marketing piece.
The most important part is it’s there. We’re mindful of it, always.
Take a director’s letter in an annual report. It should sound like a person, a human, with their unique voice. How they might actually speak. It also should reek of Michigan Tech, with our essence—honest. And it should be true to the specific department or group—a brand within a brand. A dash here. A dash there. Too much of any one ingredient and the letter is off. Tastes funny.
Take a lengthy publication like a catalog. Maybe it was drafted a few years ago and maybe it still works and yields successful metrics. Maybe there is no time or budget for an overhaul. A brand edit can focus on specific, key brand elements like the covers, captions, pull quotes, and sidebars. Active voice. Cut the fluff. Brand is infused where it matters most. The nuts and bolts are left untouched. Maybe in the end the piece is quasi on-brand. Maybe 60 percent. That’s okay. Maybe next year we aim for 75 percent, with on-brand visuals to boot!
This is a brand in a real world.
Social media. If there’s a time and a place to be heavy-handed with brand, it’s on social media. Where else can we quickly and powerfully reach such a large, captive audience. We need to push brand messages there—and push them often.
How about an on-campus poster? It’s just an 8.5 x 11-inch poster, hanging in a few campus buildings. Where does brand come in there? Certainly if it’s only targeting an on-campus audience brand is less imperative. But does it hurt? NEVER! Sprinkle some brand in! Every effort we take to invest in our brand messaging now will pay dividends in years to come.
Whether you’re working on a something requiring 10 percent brand or maybe you’re working on an all-out brand piece, I invite you, too, to think about where brand lives, and how much to pour—or sprinkle—on.
Are you creating a flyer for a conference and need a description of Michigan Tech?
Is it Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, ME-EM, or MEEM?
Do I include the “www” when spelling out URLs?
Campus communicators are always on the hunt for a good story. The story can take shape as full-fledged news on mtu.edu/news, it can morph into a tweet, or maybe it grabs attention on a postcard. Editing a story is one thing; finding it is a whole ‘nother. Finding stories that communicate our brand requires building connections and relationships. Listening. Conversations online and in person.
Director of Admissions Allison Carter recently drafted copy for a Statistics postcard. The story was rich—and real. I asked Ali how she came across the juicy bit. Turns out she spoke with the student, Hannah, in 2015, and featured her in a Michigan Tech Night presentation. Hannah graduated in December 2015 to work at Domino’s. Professor Linda Ott led Ali to her.
This is a wonderful example of an on-brand story. It’s a story that will pop off the piece of paper and connect with our audience. Have a look:
All writers take great care in crafting meaningful words. Perhaps none more so than marketing writers, whose jobs it is to say a lot—in a very crowded market (and on a very small postcard).
University Marketing and Communications’ editorial team gets together for a short half-hour each Monday to conduct a group brand edit. We take a small bit of raw copy, and brandify it together. We get to learn from each other and walk away with words we can use. Here’s what we came up with this week:
[Header] Twelve days until Midyear Commencement. Snow is falling. Students are making that final push. It’s busy.
[Intro] I have fond memories of this part of the academic year—the return from Thanksgiving to that combination of exhaustion, excitement, and anticipation of some time at home with family and friends. It seems as if we’re a long way from Orientation Week in August, but time has certainly flown.
[Header] Snow. Commencement. And the Final Push.
[Intro] We’ve returned from Thanksgiving break. There’s excitement, exhaustion, and anticipation in the air. We’re a long way from O-week.
[Header] Twelve days until graduation. It’s snowing. Students making that final push. It’s busy.
[Intro] I think fondly of this time of year—the exhaustion, excitement, and anticipation of some time at home with family and friends. We’re a long way from Orientation Week, but time has flown.
[Header] Snow is falling. Students are cramming. It’s always busy this time of year.
[Intro] The return from Thanksgiving brings exhaustion, excitement, and anticipation of some time at home with family and friends. Orientation week wasn’t too long ago, but time has flown.
[Header] Finals pressure, falling snow, and holiday spirit in the air. And for some Huskies, that moment they’ve been waiting for: Midyear Commencement.
[Intro] Orientation. Wasn’t that yesterday? And now, you just got back from Thanksgiving—and it’s almost time to celebrate more time at home with family and friends.
Then we mashed them all together and came up with a rock-solid, totally branded version we all loved; you’ll read this in the upcoming edition of Tech Alum newsletter!
Snow. Commencement. And the Final Push.
Orientation. Wasn’t that yesterday? Students are back from Thanksgiving break. There’s excitement, exhaustion, and anticipation in the air. And for some Huskies, that moment they’ve been waiting for: Midyear Commencement.
The Michigan Tech brand—what our audience thinks and feels about us—is, philosophically, everywhere. It’s in our culture, our events, our sports, and our bulletins. It’s in the air. When we think where brand language lives in our marketing and communications, it may surprise you to know that brand doesn’t—and shouldn’t—live everywhere.
So, Where Does Brand Live?
Brand language should be in a few essential places:
- Email subject lines
- Pull-out quotes
- Social Media
So do not despair, there will always be room for the nuts and bolts of your program, features and benefits (55,000 square feet of lab space!), deadlines, and due dates. The fine print.
How Can We Work Together?
While brand language draws readers in and connects them to Michigan Tech, the content you—subject matter expert—provide gives readers the valuable details they need to know. When collaborating with UMC on external marketing pieces, often, clients provide draft content and UMC writers will take the lead on brand language. Headlines that highlight the people, experiences and opportunities at Michigan Tech. Subject lines that influence. Value-added captions. And pull quotes that evoke our human, honest approach. Both types of content are necessary to create a successful, strategic piece.
Can you think of other important places for brand language? We’d love to hear your ideas—email email@example.com.
All too often marketing professionals blur the lines between brand and campaigns. It’s easy to do. Buzzwords like “brand campaign” muddy the waters even more. It is important to note that a brand and a campaign are different. Understanding this concept is key to successful brand management.
A campaign is for a targeted cause or initiative. Brand is enduring.
Campaigns should align with the brand, and target a specific goal. Sometimes a business or institution will have several campaigns concurrently, and that’s okay. However the one enduring theme that unites multiple campaigns together is brand.
I’ve seen businesses operate without a brand. These businesses churn out campaign after campaign–sometimes successfully. This approach certainly gets attention. However, this model is not sustainable. Usually the goal of a business is to be around for many years to come. This means succeeding in business objectives (campaigns serve as support), while solidifying and nurturing the relationship a company has with its intended audience (branding is pivotal). Campaigns can build on one another via the brand, and use the success of the previous campaign to help launch and empower the next one. This builds equity. And over time, equity is a business’s greatest asset for future growth.
Spilling Water is a Missed Opportunity
Imagine a brand as being like a potted plant. And every drop of water is a campaign. With every drop the plant receives, the plant grows. The more water, the more growth. When a drop misses the plant, it isn’t helping the plant grow. Continually misfire the water droplets and the plant dies.
A brand needs strong campaigns to strengthen it. This means the campaigns must align with the brand. Of course campaigns can be successful without brand alignment, but they will not help your business or institution grow.
Re-potting the Plant
When a plant grows too big for its pot, it’s time to replant. This kind of growth doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time. Doing it too early can disrupt the plant’s roots–doing it too often, prevents the roots from establishing themselves.
The same logic applies to branding. One shouldn’t meddle all too often. Of course if the target audience changes, or the business’s mission changes, then it makes sense. The biggest mistake one can make is changing a brand too frequently. It takes time to build a relationship with a brand. When changes to the brand are being considered, one must first question whether or not the change should be within the current campaign (or campaigns) instead. A general rule of thumb is that brand adjustments should be considered every 5-10 years, while campaign adjustments can happen yearly.
At Michigan Tech, it is important understand how brand and campaigns connect. This relationship positively affects the success of the short- and long-term goals of our University. So the next time a campaign is being discussed, ask yourself this question: “Are we spilling water?”
Director, University Marketing and Communications