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The Search for Higher Order Connection in Higher Education Marketing

Building enduring brands that drive affinity and loyalty with their target audiences can be an elusive challenge, but is always the sought-after goal. This goal is mighty but the same for brands in any category. It is to identify an emotional connection that is simple and will ring true about how your target will feel about your brand before, during and after engagement.

The daunting challenge within the higher education category is the flood of rational benefits, support points and messages across programs and schools that tend to overshadow the key promise of your enterprise brand. To exacerbate matters, higher education marketing functions tend to operate in a de-centralized structure which results in many disparate voices with little filtering and prioritization. The result is fragmented messaging.

It is time for higher education to take a page from the playbooks of brands in other categories that successfully delivered emotional unifying connections across their entire portfolios. Here are 5 brands (and their unifying emotional connection) that are good examples:

  • Southwest Airlines (Freedom to move around the country)
  • Starbucks (Unencumbered social engagement)
  • Nike (Absolute, relentless victory)
  • Apple (Empowered, limitless creativity)
  • Gerber (Confidence to be nurturing parents)

So how were they able to identify and then deliver on a transcendental higher order connection in their marketing? In studying these brands, here are 6 keys to follow:

  1. Be forthright and genuine
  2. Identify and evoke the strongest unifying consumer emotion
  3. Clearly and simply express what your brand stands for
  4. Deliver on all promises you make
  5. Honor and respect your stakeholders and consumer
  6. Make brand advocates of your employees, especially those on the front lines.

While these may sound like cost-of-entry, when it comes to building a higher emotional connection they are the Holy Grail and most brands don’t deliver. Higher education, as a high-stakes high-emotion category is ripe for strong brand connections to emerge. Indeed, these connections sometimes emerge in spite of institutions’ fragmented efforts. So imagine how powerful the outcome can be when institutions identify one key higher order connection and align communications to cut through all the clutter and make a clear brand statement.

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