I worked on a campus for many, many years and that experience combined with my work at mStoner have helped me understand the critical connection between brand strategy and content strategy. At mStoner, we define brand as what you stand for in the minds of people you’re trying to reach, influence, and move to action. We also think content is the best way to deliver on brand strategy and fuel your marketing tactics.
Back in July, Disney Pixar released a movie called Monsters University. But prior to the release, the Monsters University website and admissions video provided a lot of entertainment to those of us who work in higher ed. In several conference presentations about the importance of digital and brand strategy, I’ve referenced the sameness of higher ed marketing messages and used the Monsters University marketing strategy to illustrate my point. (There’s a very fine line between comedy and tragedy, you know.)
I think the Monster’s University website and video make it clear that our messaging to prospective students is so similar that we’ve become a stereotype. Consider the list of characteristics we all point to when we are asked what’s distinctive about our institutions. We all say:
- We have a real sense of community on our campus.
- We have small classes and our students build close relationships with their professors.
- We transform the lives of our students.
- We offer the opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in real research.
- Our students study abroad and devote many hours to community service.
- We have hundreds of campus organizations and leadership options for students.
Enter the important connection between your brand strategy and your content. Your marketing tactics — whether paid, owned, or earned — will be used to communicate the brand promises of your institution. Content cuts across all of these tactics and is the key to excellence across all channels.
Certainly, we all understand that brand is at the center of our marketing efforts. But there is a big gap between a well-formulated brand strategy and the implementation of that brand. I think content is the way to fill the gap between brand and marketing. Your brand can grow organically when it is supported by a strong content strategy. Content can bring your brand to life.
One concrete result from your institutional brand strategy work should be tools for writing and selecting photography. Let’s face it, on many campuses, we put admin assistants and junior faculty members in marketing roles. They are the non-marketers and non-writers who create newsletter copy and publish web pages and post on social media and write email blasts on behalf of our brand. Tools like these make it easier because they tie your content strategy to the brand platform:
- style and editorial guides
- audience-based brand promises and proof points
- a database of photography
- audience personas
- content tables
- brand adjectives
Oregon State University’s brand identity site is just the type of tool I’m talking about. Here in one location are all the guidelines, resources, and downloads a communicator needs to create content that supports the OSU Brand Identity Guidelines. Another stellar example is the The Bentley University Brand.
Brand is what you stand for in the minds of people you’re trying to reach, influence, and move to action. Content is the best way to deliver on brand strategy and fuel your marketing tactics. My advice to you? Beware of monsters. Connect your brand strategy to your content strategy and then, offer a set of tools to those creating content.