Monthly Archives: October 2009

College and University Branding

I am the proud mother of twin daughters, who happen to be in their senior year in high school. Anyone who has gone through the college search process in the last few years is well-aware of the marketing prowess demonstrated by even the most unknown colleges. If you haven’t experienced it, you would be amazed.

Some of this we brought upon ourselves. As neither daughter seemed to comprehend the importance of good grades, we began visiting colleges after their freshman year–hoping to give them an inspiring glimpse of why exactly they were in college prep schools. Those first tours did not have the desired effect. In fact, they might have boomeranged. But not surprisingly, those early schools began to contact us regularly. Impressive follow-up.

Then my husband discovered the book, “Colleges That Change Lives“, which is a cottage industry unto itself. The book is terrific, uncovering some of the best, smaller schools that connect with their students in meaningful ways. The book came first, then the schools seemed to capitalize on it, and thus a specialized college fair was born. My husband and daughters attended one, and at the Cornell College booth, the recruiter knew of their great-aunt Geneva, who had been an renowned English professor there for 40 years. Then they visited the Ohio Wesleyan University booth, where the recruiter had been a classmate of my husband’s (back then a ne’er do well) brother, and remembered him well and fondly. Each school was more impressive than the next. Now the girls were starting to “get it”. What is so interesting about this group of schools is that they have, in effect, created a branded class that in total begins to challenge the commonly accepted top tier of schools.

As a brander, I applaud them. As a mother, I realized that many of them were beyond the academic reach or geographic interest of my daughters. And so we continued to search.

Today’s college fair (if you live near a large city) is an amazing experience. It’s like a trade show, but what is interesting is that everyone plays on an even field. Each school has a table. What they do with their table is up to them, but there is no change to create a fancy two story, over the top, booth. Business could learn a great deal from the “sales” efforts of the recruiters. The best of them have attended the school they recruit for, and they provide detailed, insightful and personal information.

Another great resource is “America’s Best Colleges for B Students“. It’s not as rigorously researched as CTCL, but there is helpful information about how and where students may access academic support and get the tools for success. We found several intriguing schools, some of which cross-referenced with CTCL, which made them even more interesting.

The best schools understand how 17-year olds today communicate, which is not always in a formal interview or a formal essay. Most have FaceBook pages, and they communicate via email–and direct phone calls. Again, this is evidence of total focus on the target audience.

We are far from done. What were the memorable experiences? High Point University, whose president is a businessman who has both a vision and a deep understanding of marketing. It may look glossy, but it is not fluffy. A surprise finalist is McDaniel College, which is both a CTCL and a “B Student” school. The information session purposely had no fancy PowerPoint or video, just an incredibly intelligent and articulate representative who focused on the school’s commitment to the holistic education of each student. Instead of being put off or intimidated by the academic excellence, my daughter found herself challenged and insprired by it. Bravo!

Right now, we are in the thick of it. The phone rings nearly every day with a recruiter or student representative from a college. Our mailbox is overloaded with post cards and brochures.

If you are a marketer, just think of the challenge. There are the Ivies, the Big Ten, the major State Universities. But there are thousands of schools under the radar, all trying desperately to stand out from the pack. The best have a deep sense of who they are, their heritage, and their vision for the future. The remainder have bought into expensive marketing communications programs, but they still have far to go. As many people say, “There is a college for everybody.” Some make their case far better than others.

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How To Start A Business Without Really Trying

About two months ago, I was driving my car on my way to the garden store, and a little voice in my head said, “I don’t want to work for anyone anymore.” I don’t get urgent messages from my inner self all that often, so it seemed important that I think hard about that.

On the surface, I had a pretty flexible situation. I was a freelancer/contract worker at a small brand consultancy. Given the economic climate, I had recently been exploring alternative opportunities, both in consulting and corporate marketing. Nothing really inspired me. And the place where I worked had a cool name, and I had spent the past year doing nothing but represent myself behind that name. That had been a big, serious commitment. And I really liked the guy I was working with. But.

On a Monday, I “quit”. And then I started to think that I didn’t want to be one of those people who just had a business card with my name on it. I’m a brand consultant, after all! I wanted to look–and be–professional.

So I started thinking about setting up an LLC. The web, as always, provided a massive amount of information, especially about the relative merits of the LLC versus being simply “self employed”. And there were lots of companies out there that would do the paperwork for me, for what seemed to be not a lot of money. After some comparison price checking, I selected Incorporate Fast. They lived up to their name!

The major challenge, of course, was the name. Naming is terribly hard because it seems like every real word has been taken. But my little voice reminded me that the word “synthesis” was representative of what I do, and kind of intriguing. I tried to register “Synthesis Group”. Sadly, although it was clear in New York State, the US Tradmark Office said it was too close to “Synthesis International Group”. Happens all the time. Not to be deterred, I decided to amend it slightly to “Synthesis Plus”. Bingo! A real word that wasn’t just my name, that could be registered!

A friend of mine, who has had his own business for years, told me that I now needed a “hosting service” that would give me an email address and domain. He recommended Network Solutions. I found them online, and once again, after putting yet another significant charge on my credit card, we were underway. Then, the dreaded search for a domain name. Can you believe it? Both SynthesisPlus.com and SynthesisPlus.net were totally available for the princely sum of $9 each. Needless to say, I scooped them up.

Upward and onward to the need for a computer. We have four computers in the house, but not one of them could really be used exclusively for my work. Plus I had been working on a Mac for 8 years, and our best computers were PCs. Thanks to my husband’s research, I found a great company in Oregon, PowerMax, that sells used Macs. I managed to find one that didn’t totally break the bank, and put in the order.

I will not bore you with the horror of trying to install an upgrade of our existing Windows for Mac software. Suffice it to say that it didn’t work, and if I wanted help from Microsoft, then I would have to pay to even speak to a human being. Since I had ordered iWork with my Mac, I decided to try to live Microsoft free. Yes, it can be done!

While all this was happening, I was suddenly getting calls about some potential work. I had a name, but no logo, and no templates for documents, and no existing boilerplate credentials, and no past proposals that I could turn to. The Mac Pages, which is their version of Word, was a lifesaver. It lacks some of the technical functionality of Word, but (of course), it creates much more beautiful documents. It’s also very easy to save as Word or Powerpoint so that those trapped in Microsoft can read my documents, and when they send their docs to me, it’s a breeze to swap them out to iWork.

It’s exactly 4 weeks since I first decided to create an LLC, and I have three proposals outstanding. I have some fabulous logo designs to choose from, and a sense of accomplishment and new-found energy that surprises and delights me.

There is much more to be done, of course, like get a website up and running, decide how long I want to work from home, and if I want to hire people to work with me, but that will come in time. Now, excuse me, I have to get back to work.

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