Guiding Principles for Transforming Your Publications

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Marcia Nance
Vice Provost for University Marketing
and Dean of Enrollment Management
Barry University

Every decision you make about recruitment publications should be informed by the results of solid market research. Once the market research has been assessed and a brand strategy agreed upon, these four guiding principles will inform the decision making and creative processes involved in transforming recruitment publications.

Guiding Principle #1 

An effective identity program helps communicate that an institution has its act together. 

This guiding principle comes from a case study presentation given by Linda Kohl, Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Her organization was guided through its process of branding and marketing by Lipman Hearne. Kohl emphasizes “brand is a statement of the core value proposition of the organization and that graphic identity is the visual representation of the brand essence.” She continues by arguing that “all representations of brand – from the messages we stress when we represent our organization, to our logo, to our advertising campaign – are anchored by the key brand qualities.”  

Shannon Kavanaugh, in her paper What’s Brand Got to Do With It? further promotes this concept when she states: “A brand is more than a logo. A brand is more than a façade or image. A brand is the life of an organization, defined by (1) brand positioning, (2) brand promise, (3) brand traits or core values, and (4) brand story.”  

Brand position is about where you sit among your competition. Brand promise is what expectations are built upon. The brand traits or core values illustrate what the organization wants its brand to be known for while the brand story is the demonstration of your promise and core values. Every strategy, web page, marketing piece, stationery system, giveaway item and print, radio or TV advertisement designed, should be created to emphasize and reinforce these elements. 

Example from the corporate sector: Southwest Airlines rebranded a few years ago. Their new identity includes red and blue airplanes while the focus of their message is now about convenience, service, on-time flights and fewer lost bags rather than about being an inexpensive option. In my estimation they didn’t pay enough attention to their whole identity program when they chose not to paint all their planes red and blue. As a result, some of their planes are the old orange and brown and some are the new red and blue in sync with their new marketing. I personally don’t want to fly in an orange and brown plane. It seems like it might be older and not as good. I question whether Southwest Airlines is as much on top of their game as they used to be because they are confusing my consumer self with two competing looks. 

Guiding Principle #2 

Market research shows that audiences attach important attributes such as quality, sophistication, and effectiveness to institutions with strong visual branding. 

To avoid being the best kept secret in your marketplace you need to make a commitment to strong visual branding. According to Patti Crane, President and Founder of Crane MetaMarketing Ltd: “What turns the promise into a viable branding program? The answer is at once straightforward and elusive: creativity. But creativity alone is never sufficient. In developing its branding an institution must ask three questions: Is the identity unique and differentiating? Are the benefits we’re offering important to our target markets? And is the branding defensible now yet sustainable long term?  

I would add that you must be bold. If your market research leads you somewhere different than you considered or expected, you need to be willing to go there. If it is good market research you won’t be led astray. You can increase the respect your marketplace has for your institution through bold, strong, and memorable visual branding. 

Example from the corporate world: Taco Bell – Think Bun Outside The. Isn’t that a perfect example of how four little words can own the marketplace? 

Guiding Principle #3 

Successful messages need to be noticeable, salient, persuasive, and memorable. 

This is from Components of Successful Messages by Bob Sevier. He says, “To make something noticeable through marketing you have to have frequency, consistency and use a multitude of mediums and formats.” According to Sevier, There is clear evidence that simple messages repeated frequently are more likely to be noticed. To develop consistency,” he continues, make a long-term commitment to a handful of key themes (core values).  

He also contends that successful messages must be relevant or salient. According to Sevier, They need to strike a chord with the recipient, meet a need, provide an answer, act on a dream, or resolve an issue… because they were designed with the recipient, not the sender, in mind, they resonate.”  

Successful messages are also persuasive, the kind of persuasive that stresses relevance. Again, per Sevier, Because they were noticed and resonate, target audiences respond. Finally, successful messages need to be memorable. “They are remembered because they make sense, meet a need, and are persuasive and simple.”  

Another great corporate example is Nike’s Just Do It campaign. The Just Do It ad first appeared in 1988. It quickly became both universal and intensely personal. It spoke of sports. It invited dreams. It was a call to action, a refusal to hear excuses, and a license to be eccentric, courageous and exceptional. It was Nike. The original campaign is now ensconced in the Americana exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum. It has truly become part of America’s history. 

Guiding Principle #4 

Advertising is not brand building. That is the role and function of Public Relations. Advertising is brand maintenance.  

This is the critical juncture of Public Relations (the stories) and advertising. According to Al Ries and Laura Ries in their book The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR, You can’t launch a new brand with advertising because advertising has no credibility… PR has credibility… PR provides a positive perception… Creating a brand and defending a brand are the two major functions of a marketing program… PR builds the brand, advertising defends it.”  

The goal of Public Relations is to get your core values authenticated by the media. When your publications become true demonstrations of your promise and core values everything you do is deepening your brand in the marketplace. 

Recruitment publications need to resonate with your audience – potential new students and their families. They must present to that audience an institution that has its act together. They should build upon a clear promise and real core values with strong and memorable visual branding.

Recruitment publications should always demonstrate, through stories, quotes, and testimonials, those key themes or core values. They should be presented frequently in a consistent graphic and branding identity. Finally, good publications targeted to your specific audiences will convert in ways that advertising simply cannot duplicate. 

I’ve not found any existing blueprints for the development of specific recruitment publications. However, I know that when I apply these guiding principles to the creation of new publications those publications work!


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