Author Archives: Evelyn Starr

A College Brand Standout

3 blank college pennants - one navy, one gray, one maroon.

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On April 20th, as I sat in an auditorium at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I had my marketing heart stolen.

My son AJ and I were in the process of a 1000-mile tour to revisit three colleges to help him choose one.

On that beautiful Wednesday morning, AJ was sitting in on a class while I attended a one-hour parent session conducted by Neil Weissman, Dean of the College.

Mr. Weissman opened his session for parents with these thoughts:

“When you are trying to help your child decide where to attend, it’s hard right?  Especially if all your choices are liberal arts colleges.  Because 75-80 percent of what we say is the same.  And you can bet that if one of the colleges finds something great and new to say, the rest of us will be borrowing it soon. 

So you really have to pay attention to what our differences are.  Let me tell you what makes Dickinson truly different.”

Thank you thank you thank you thank you I thought.

Thank you for saying it like it is and knowing better.  If I see one more “X College is a highly selective private liberal arts college where you get to have a direct relationship with professors…” there is a stack of college brochures that will go airborne.

That statement may be true for the college that says it, but it is true for many colleges.  As in hundreds.  So it is background information, not what college marketers should lead with.

The lead for any brand should be what differentiates it, not what categorizes it.

Many colleges can get away with this vanilla marketing though (sorry to you vanilla lovers) because college is a major investment and college research usually prompts prospects and their parents to listen beyond the opening statement.

Most consumer brands aren’t that lucky.

Your brand’s opening statement is your first impression and your best shot at getting your target audience to notice your brand.

So why do so many brands lead with features, benefits or other statements that fail to differentiate them?  Because their management is afraid.

Afraid that they will leave out something that a competitor will mention.

Afraid that they will choose the wrong message.

Afraid that by making a statement they will be alienating someone.

And this last one has some truth to it.

Leading with your difference means standing for something.  Something that might not appeal to everyone.  But the truth is that your brand is not going to appeal to everyone and you should work to attract the audience to whom it appeals best.

So do any of the colleges lead with their differences?

Dickinson College emphasizes their commitment to sustainability and to global education.

Skidmore College focuses on creativity.

Lafayette College leads with its philosophy of “Cur Non?” which translates to “Why Not?” for those of us who didn’t study Latin.  They emphasize getting students out of their comfort zone to try new things.

Do these singular ideas prompt prospective students to apply?  Not by themselves, no.  But they get their target audience to notice them and to want to learn more.

And sometimes differentiation means that the colleges give some prospective students a reason to rule them out.  I recently heard of one student who thought Dickinson College was “too green” and that the constant focus on sustainability would drive her crazy.

This is a good outcome.  Dickinson College would not have been the right place for her. She heads to a place that agrees with her more, and Dickinson College will attract those who support their sustainability efforts.

Differentiation means standing out against the crowd unapologetically.

How do you make your brand stand out?

  • Lead with your most meaningful point(s) of differentiation. One is good.  Two or three at most.  People can’t digest more than that in one go.
  • Keep marketing messages focused on your differentiators. Repetition is key to get attention, to make the jump to your prospect’s long-term memory and to build your brand’s reputation.
  • Remember your goal with marketing is to get your prospect to want to know more. You can expound on the features and benefits in the supporting points on your product packaging, in brochures and catalogues, and on your website.
  • Court your prospects. Marketing is relationship building. It takes multiple impressions for prospects to form an image of your brand in their mind. Structure your marketing to stay in front of your prospects and customers in a way that keeps them interested.
  • Surmount your fear that your difference won’t appeal to some people. It won’t, and that’s okay.

It was not the message of the three colleges AJ was considering – Dickinson, Lafayette, Trinity – that sold him.  The features and benefits of these three were similar too.  Ultimately AJ made his decision on details and impressions he gathered over multiple visits and interactions with each institution.

And the decision?  Lafayette.  It was the one he felt fit him best.

Hats off to Dickinson and Trinity though – they have a strong sense of who their community is and show it well.  And my thanks to Mr. Weissman who restored my faith in college marketing!

Do you have a college search story to share?  Or has your marketing heart been stolen?  Please tell me about it in the comments below.

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Should Your Brand Be on Facebook?

Facebook like thumbs up hand and thumbs down handWhen I woke up on April 3, 2009, I did not know that I would be joining Facebook that day.

Around 8pm I had just connected on LinkedIn with friends from my high school years when one of them wrote, “You need to get on Facebook! We have been posting some old group photos that you are in.”

Talk about an incentive to join. read more

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How New Customer Only Deals Burn Your Brand

light bulb burning bright unlike new customer only deals which hurt your brandIn addition to my roles as wife, mother, healer and finder of things in our household, I am also Chief Operations Officer.  Like any good COO, I seek to keep overhead costs down.

So when our electricity bill shot up this winter, I investigated. read more

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Vacation by Chocolate

Evelyn's Original Chocolate Wrapper from Hershey's Chocolate World brand experienceMy husband Dan has a particular knack when planning vacations.  I’m not talking about posh accommodations or exotic destinations or exclusive restaurants.

When he was helping to plan our trip to Paris to celebrate my 40th birthday, he discovered that a major chocolate exhibition was going to be there at the same time.  Besides sampling and purchase opportunities, there were multiple exhibits including a replica of a 17th century dress made of chocolate. read more

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Cases of List-taken Identity

Good list management means seeing the customer's point of view.For the past year I’ve been immersed in my son AJ’s college search.  We’ve visited 11 schools, some of them twice.  It’s been fun and one of the funny outcomes is that I have realized that I would be happy to go to college now. 

I’m not serious of course.  But there are some schools who think otherwise.  Three colleges have begun courting me. read more

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Getting Carded at 50

Over the course of Thanksgiving week I traveled about 600 miles.  From our house in Natick, Massachusetts to my parents’ house in Northern New Jersey, out to a college visit in Pennsylvania and then back to Natick again.

At the end of this odyssey I arrived home to find an unmarked envelope in my mail.  You know, the kind with no sender identified in the return address.

I thought it might be an updated credit card that the issuer did not want to call attention to in the mail.

But no, it was my AARP card. read more

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Will Zagat Fly or Fade?

Zagats Boston Guide Brand in Adolescence At Risk of Not MaturingBefore I started writing monthly newsletters four years ago, I wrote restaurant reviews.  Just one or two a year for Zagat’s Boston Restaurant Guide.  One contributed review was enough to score me a free copy of the next guide release and seemed well worth the effort.

When Zagat first launched its guide in the early 1980s it was unique. It provided succinct reviews and ratings from patrons instead of critics.  This was revolutionary in the 1980s.

Like many new products, the Zagat guide emerged from the recognition of an unmet market need.  read more

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Cheap Skate Marketing

Evelyn's black boot collection for brand storytellingI love autumn in New England, so I’m a happy camper up here right now.  And yes, autumn presages a long winter, but I have found ways to enjoy that too.

One of the benefits of New England’s long winters is that you can wear boots six months of the year.  I’ve gained an affinity for black boots and wear them almost every day once the cold sets in.

In a decidedly un-Imelda Marcos-move though, I’ve not amassed a huge collection.

Instead I have a few favorite pairs that I keep in good order with a yearly visit or two to my buddy Oleg, the cobbler in Natick Center. read more

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5 Mistakes That Hold Brands Back

Graph showing a plateau over time, no brand growth

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Has your brand hit a plateau?  Or is it growing erratically?  Does fostering growth seem harder than it should be?

Here are 5 common mistakes that could be holding your brand back.

  1. No clear brand definition.

Can you explain your brand clearly and concisely to a prospect?  If you struggle with its description, chances are you haven’t taken the time to define your brand. read more

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We Laughed, We Cried, It Was Better Than Cats

L'Oreal ad with Cybil Shepard Because I'm worth itOne endearing quality about my sister when we were growing up was that she sometimes cried at TV commercials.  There was one in particular where a large litter of puppies greeted children at their grandmother’s house that got her to well up.  I was not surprised when, as an adult, she got a dog.

I teared up at commercials too when I was a child, and felt funny about it until I noticed her doing it.

I still shed tears at TV ads once in a while.  And not just when they are maddeningly bad advertising. read more

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