Good Marketing Problems and How to Have Them

The Pavlis Honors College is redefining what it means to be an honors student at Michigan Tech. Of course, with any big change comes the challenge of communicating the significance and the benefit it brings. Convincing faculty, students, and parents that student success should not be measured by GPA alone has always been an uphill battle.

Increasing enrollment within Pavlis has always been a goal, and we found engaging students before they arrive on campus was key. Working closely with University Marketing and Communications, Pavlis developed materials and digital content to reach out to potential Huskies before most of them had even decided where they would be attending college.


Generating messaging that is authentic and honest is at the forefront of every communication.

This included a letter from the dean inviting students to apply for pre-admission to the Honors College, a brochure, a rack card, a landing page on our website, and social media posts. We let actual current students tell the incoming class why they should apply to the Honors College. The brochure designed by UMC shared six, brief student stories from diverse majors and backgrounds. The video showcased on our pre-admission landing page consisted of our students talking informally about what they do and how Pavlis helped them along the way.

The impact? Of the 3,721 students accepted to Michigan Tech that received our mailings, 151 applied to be Pavlis pre-admission students (as of Jan. 2017). This may not seem like a large number, but generally, we average 20-25 applicants a semester. So comparatively, this campaign was incredibly effective!

With this brand and marketing win, we now focus our attention to making sure we have staff to accommodate the influx of students who will begin their Honors seminar courses and pathway in fall 2018.

Not such a bad problem to have.

Amy Karagiannakis
Manager of Marketing and Digital Content, Pavlis Honors College, Michigan Technological University

Customer Service as a Brand Touchpoint

You know it when you get it—and especially when you don’t. Good customer service. Sometimes it can be the littlest thing that delights us. When Sherwin Williams’ staff carries our paint can to the car. When the print shop includes a peppermint candy with an order. A prompt reply to a Facebook direct message. A refund for a faulty product—no questions asked. Sometimes simply doing what we say we are going to do, when we say we are going to do it can be perceived as good customer service.Brand-aligned customer service can make a huge impact. Afterall, one unhappy person may tell 9–15 people about a negative interaction while a happy consumer is likely to tell 4–6 people. Just one positive interaction can make a person brand loyal for a lifetime.
Continue reading

The STEM Lifestyle

We know STEM jobs are in demand. Within the next 25 years, those in the STEM fields must find solutions to some of the world’s most complex and frightening problems, like drought, famine, disease, energy-consumption, and cybersecurity. Today, we have more STEM job vacancies than people to fill them. It’s vital we find new and creative ways to promote a career in STEM.

At Michigan Tech, we understand the importance of demonstrating the ROI of a STEM degree. We also understand the impact of those who choose a career in STEM will have on societies, economies, and the world. Make no mistake; it’s easy to rely on data to tell our story–job-demand, starting salaries, job placements, are all very powerful stuff to promote. Today however, in higher education, the brand power of a university is equally critical.

Simply put, brand power is a result of a strong relationship one has developed with a product, business, or organization. Today it’s not enough for a university to promote what they offer (the product of a quality education).

Data, statistics, and rankings can only empower a message so much.

Now university marketers and communicators must also demonstrate the importance of the relationship one can have with their university as well.

Michigan Tech is a Lifestyle

1980s and 1990s companies targeting skateboarders provided some of the first examples of businesses that made product marketed to embody the culture of their customers. Today, we call them lifestyle brands. Lifestyle brands identify with their audience by embodying and extolling their characteristics to build a relationship. Data can be a powerful tool to demonstrate affinity with STEM enthusiasts–mathematicians love numbers, as an example. However, successful lifestyle brands help to foster a kinship between a brand and an audience. And when done well, it can last a lifetime.

I want the STEM fields to be seen as a lifestyle and I want Michigan Tech to be a lifestyle brand. I want to demonstrate what life is like for a mechanical engineer, a quantum physicist, or a biological scientist at Michigan Tech. I want to focus on the journey and not just the outcomes. I want STEM to not only be seen as necessary and important for our world, but also just plain cool to be a part of. If we can tell this story correctly, not only will it strengthen the Michigan Tech brand, it will also help to fill the current void in STEM jobs for years to come.

Ian Repp
Director of Marketing and Communications

Understanding Our (Web) Brand

Marketing projects move fast. Web projects move especially fast—yesterday’s trend is replaced with tomorrow’s fad. We have to pump out new content. New designs. New widgets. New . . . new . . . new.

Shortcuts happen. You need an intro paragraph for your shiny new webpage, so you cobble something together. You may not think much about the words—you just need to get it out.

When web marketers and CMS liaisons rush—when they just “get it out,” they actually tend to overdo their content. A filler sentence that isn’t needed. An “over explanation.” Words to fill the void because we think we have to get something out there.

Continue reading

We Need Your Help: Brand Guide Audit

Happy summer!
Hard to believe, but it’s been about a year since we launched our Michigan Tech Brand Guide. And so it’s time to ask: what’s working and what’s not? We’d really like to hear from you, the people using it as a tool just about every day. What’s missing? What doesn’t make sense? Which tactic is working? Other thoughts and ideas? Our brand guide must serve you first, to serve for our brand, too!
Questions and ideas relating to our visual brand (logo, fonts, etc.)? Please email Art Director Jackie Johnson (
Questions and ideas relating to our messaging (tone, style, etc.)? Please email Brand Manager Shannon Rinkinen (
Please send your feedback before July 3. 
Thanks in advance for all you to strengthen Michigan Tech’s brand!
–Shannon & Jackie

A Michigan Tech Tale

Forestry students forage in the marshes for edible wild plants. An alumna finds a way to feed her therapy horses after Hurricane Harvey floods their stable. High school boys from inner city Detroit learn to turn lemons into batteries. A biology researcher follows the trail of bilge water microbes through ports around the world, from Singapore to Green Bay. A student puts his EMT training to work and saves his father’s life.

It’s all about the stories—the touching, telling human stories of the struggles and triumphs of students, faculty, staff and alumni—that are the heart of the Michigan Tech brand.  

Everyone is captivated by stories. People in every culture tell stories, and they always have. Tales of terror or courage passed down from generation to generation. Myths that that explain what look like miracles.  Fables that teach morality or illustrate essential truths. Stories touch our hearts, inform our minds, help us make sense of the world around us.

So what does that have to do with branding? Simply this: Stories are the most effective way to give a voice and a face to our values and beliefs. And brand is all about communicating the values and beliefs that define Michigan Tech. So we do it by telling stories—stories about Michigan Tech people, Michigan Tech programs, Michigan Tech life.

Next time someone asks you about Michigan Tech, tell them a story.

–Jennifer Donovan
Director of News and Media Relations

Put Away the Megaphone and Talk to an Audience of One

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.

Tell Stories

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!).

Think Radio

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 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.

–Shannon Rinkinen
Brand Manager

Think Internally: Creating Michigan Tech Brand Ambassadors

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


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 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.

–Shannon Rinkinen
Brand Manager