Edge Hill advert preview

Here are some stills from the next TV advert, still a work in progress.
We’re still using the Jez character, but this time he pops up in real campus settings…
Click on a picture to see it a bit bigger.
This will be on TV from the Friday before Results Day…

Opening screen

Jez on Performing Arts

Ducks redux

Animal House points the way for university branding…

Whenever we discuss creating a University brand, I end up thinking about seminal ‘gross out’ campus comedy movie, Animal House.

I’m not contemplating launching an image of Edge Hill as the home of out-of-control Kennedy-era hedonism, with demented frat parties etc. (New slogan: ‘Toga! Toga! Toga!’) It’s some of the movie’s subtler moments that I’m reminded of.

Here’s my train of thought. Universities are about research, learning, teaching. So why try and say anything else? I’ve often seen academic colleagues visibly frustrated at the efforts of marketing types to find differentiating factors, USPs, brand values… ‘we’re about knowledge, end of story.’

This is when the Animal House flashbacks kick in. The film opens with a pan across an American campus, accompanied by stately music – creaating a ‘this is important’ mood. The camera focuses on a typical founder’s statue, a bewigged worthy, I think holding a book. On the plinth is the university motto: KNOWLEDGE IS GOOD. This still cracks me up – the redundancy, the idea that someone thought this worth saying, mediocrity being writ large. My worry then is that a kind of ‘pure’ university branding wouldn’t be doing much more than than this. Each university needs to be more than a place where knowledge comes from (offered in a particular location) But if we want to say more than ‘knowledge is good (get some here)’ what kind of extra ingredientsts can be added into the mix? Excessive focus on vocationality, access, elite research, business links, student experience, or campus can all somehow undersell the richness of a unversity identity.

I guess university brands are like cocktails, the right ingredients need to be mixed with great care…

Belushi's shirt - what more is there to say?

Feeding frenzy

Until recently, the world of RSS feeds has been a mystery to me. I had vague visions of pasting lines of code into some kind of web pages that I was supposed to be creating, somewhere. But why would I want to? It all seemed rather ‘Web Services’.

But my innocence couldn’t last forever. I was lured into the world of Google Gadgets looking for cool stuff to add to my personal blog. This lead me to try iGoogle, basically a customised Google page you can get if you have a free Google account. Like a Neanderthal stumbling into a shopping mall, I began to see what this interweb thing is all about… One of the toys you can put on your Google page is a Google Reader, a box into which appear, as if by magic, links to the latest posts from blogs and news pages that you choose from the vast universe of thigs with RSS feeds. But it didn’t stop there – in a similar way I now get constantly updated search results (eg new blog entries from anyone that mention Edge Hill, ditto YouTube videos…) directly into little boxes, and all sorts of other crazy things. So now my Google page is actually six tabbed pages, with news arriving by the minute from a variety of sources, ranging from the broadsheet education sections to an H.P.Lovecraft discussion group. (I’m having interesting dreams.)

I’m sure most people reading this are abundantly familiar with such things and view me as one might an elderly person in a cinema who exclaims with amazement when the film turns out to be a ‘talkie’. But it’s been a minor revelation to me – now I can see (literally) how people ‘out there’ are pulling content they like into their own domain. So one aim for us is to create content that is ‘feedworthy’.

Your friendly neighbourhood business card

A friend commented at the weekend that ‘American university business cards are more friendly than ours’. I failed to probe much into what this might mean at the time, though the view that the Edge Hill ones are ‘corporate’ was expressed. Today I’ve pulled the US cards from my Rolodex (a Luddite piece of equipment which nevertheless has yet to be improved upon) seeking to discern the extra friendliness. I’m struggling: none have smiley faces 🙂 dotting the ‘i’s, exhortations to ‘have a nice day’, or discount coupons for Care Bears redeemable at a nearby mall. They don’t say things like ‘Hi! I’m Frank’ and as far as I can recall none were presented with an invitation to a group hug or immediate adjournment to a family barbecue, ‘baby shower’ or ‘kegger’ . (Having said that I did get taken to a church service in Wisconsin once. As it was July 4th, much was made of independence from the yoke of the beastly English. The patriotic hymn ‘America’ was sung, ironically to the tune of ‘God Save the Queen’, the lyrics of which I mumbled subversively… before handing out my unfriendly UK business cards accompanied by spitting and head butts.)

What the American cards do have is serifs on the fonts, and heraldic logos. To me this approach could signify tradition and prestige more than friendliness – but it’s all in the eye of the beholder of course. The Edge Hill visual identity seeks to be modern and does not attempt an appeal to heritage. Hopefully this doesn’t in itself make for an unfriendly image – we actually score highly for friendliness in surveys so overall we must be doing something right.

Meanwhile, I’m going through my own stock of cards and handwriting ‘S.W.A.L.K’ on them with a pink gel pen… just to soften the blow.

I am Curious (Heliotrope)

New Edge Hill merchandise has arrived! Many times I’ve been buttonholed in corridors by people asking for ties, scarves, sweatshirts and the like. From now on I’ll be able to direct people to a website – result!

Much of the new stuff uses the original college colours, heliotrope, green and yellow. Of these, heliotrope is the least familiar, a kind of violet or purple (also a type of sunseeking plant.) It is sometimes remarked that these are ‘suffragette colours’. It’s a nice idea – that the leaders of a women’s college would (subversively?) reflect women’s suffrage in their symbolism. However (raining on parade alert) ……………………………………..

  • there were various women’s suffrage colour schemes, including purple, green and white and purple, gold and white but not as far as I can see purple, green and gold/yellow. (Historians please jump in and prove me wrong.)
  • Miss Hale, Principal 1890-1920, is on record as disapproving ‘of feminism in general and the suffragettes in particular’ (Edge Hill University College: A History 1885-1997, Fiona Montgomery) and is therefore unlikely to have knowingly authorised colours with this intended meaning.

Having said that, there was apparently a lively interest in first-wave feminist issues among staff and students so some reflection of suffragette symbolism (in which case Edge Hill adopted the green for hope and purple for dignity, ignored the white for purity, instead using gold which could conceivably have been borrowed from American suffrage) just might have been deployed under Miss Hale’s radar.

Of course, we can choose retrospectively to read the College colours in this or any other way, without necessarily appealing to historical fact or irrecoverable intentions. The suffragette reading clearly strikes a chord now, as a piece of heritage we desire to invent – is that enough?

Pop fact: the Dean of Learning and Teaching bought the first of the new scarves. Should he chain himself to any railings (we have plenty) some point or other may be proved.

New media, new strategies?

Here’s an article I have just written for an online newsletter produced by Stamp Consulting…

(Aside: I’ve known Rosemary Stamp for many moons. We both used to work for universities beginning with W, and therefore were neighbours at lots of careers fairs. Oh, the chats we had…)

DJ John Peel once said that everyone should have their own personal radio station. In a way this has happened – the web-enabled population can transmit words, pictures, sound and video easily and quickly. New virtual spaces exist where people can form relationships, build communities, be entertained – including the whole bundle of new forms tagged as Web 2.0.

All of this is interesting to talk about – but is it actually important? Are we talking about the equivalent of CB Radio or the advent of television? I would argue that Web 2.0 needs serious strategic consideration because of its impact on three areas:

Reputation

Word of mouth is enriched and amplified by the new online channels. Thoughts and opinions about a university are shared with a circle of contacts and made available for anyone to find on the web. Staff can enhance their profile by blogging. Aspects of university life are discussed on forums, given star ratings… Deciding how to influence this involves some strategic decisions, e.g.: Try to monitor the blogosphere? Encourage ambassadorship into the social networks? Create your own networks alongside the popular ones that students are already using?

Media mix

Scarcely a day goes by without an article appearing indicating the share of time given to Internet use in contrast with ‘traditional’ media. If this is where people are then logically this is where marketing messages will find them. This has implications for the media mix, requiring us to rebalance resources not just between newer and older media, but also between university-created web pages and the facilitation of user-created content. And be prepared to revise this assessment frequently.

Community

Building relationships is a key aspect of marketing, and Web 2.0 offers a new toolbox for this. Our Hi site is one example – using blogs and forums to encourage potential students to talk to existing students, staff and each other. This approach involves strategic consideration of risk among other things.

Added to this is the need to plan how to meet and exceed the expectations of our audiences. Delivering information through the users’ channel of choice, real-time responses and a rich and engaging online experience for every market segment – all of these and more are easy to say, but have profound implications for resources, budgets, staff development and working practices.

Those are some issues. We can continue the discussion on my blog [ie here!] – where else?