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Rethinking Your University Marketing Campaign

Rethinking Your University Marketing Campaigns

Yvonne Hall
January 29, 2020

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With student retention declining and enrolled students demanding new course delivery options, marketers are under an increasing amount of pressure to attract prospective students. But as we know, doing the same things as before will not get new results. Here is a great example to inspire rethinking and repositioning your university to be seen differently in the marketplace. We talked last year about educational institutions needing to shed the 'build it and they will come' attitude. Your university's status and well-rounded degree offerings can only get you so far in the competitive higher education landscape these days. So how can universities get ahead? How can marketers increase applications and enrollment? What if it can all be done without instruction delivery or degree offering changes? Let's dive into an inspirational example I received the end of last year. 

Rethinking Your Marketing: A Real Life Example

I recently noticed a great example of repositioning from the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) (full disclosure that I have no idea when their marketing team rolled out this repositioning, but I personally noticed it a few months ago).

Growing up, I loved receiving the end of the year solicitations from WWF that sometimes had stickers or activities, but always included photos of cute wildlife. Sure, there were words on the materials that came in our mailbox, but I had NO DESIRE to read those words. I just wanted to look at the photos, maybe read the captions, and then beg my mom for the bag/backpack/stuffed toy gift they were promoting (which never resulted in me getting that thing). As a non-commissioned officer military family, we did not have a ton of money to spare and that "gift with donation" never found its way to me.

Fast forward a few decades and this scenario was recreated with my own kids looking at the same types of images and info from WWF, now with better photos in a more modern design, and my kids were the ones begging me for the bag/backpack/stuffed toy gift. Even as a marketing professional, I never really thought about the marketing that was happening behind the scenes. I never considered that my kids wanted the GIFT and had no real understanding that they would be donating to conservation efforts for that toy or gift that they were begging me to get them. 

But then, in 2019 the WWF surprised me. They sent me a GIFT CATALOG. What?!?!?

They switched things up on me, and I immediately noticed. This company that had been using emotional marketing, sharing stories of world devastation and the need for financial support through photos and stories and enticing people with a gift for their pledge, just blew my mind with a new mailer (yes, that new piece still arrived in my mailbox). 

Same Delivery, New Positioning

WWF Catalog coverThis year I received a WWF Gift Catalog. They changed the focus away from the emotional stories and onto the reward for giving that I remember begging my mom to get for me. And this time it wasn't just one gift, or a few options, it was an ENTIRE BOOK of different stuffed toys and mementoes for each endangered species included in their program list! They even created an entire website for WWF Gifts! The most impressive part from my perspective as a marketer was that they called a duck a duck. The title and focus of this piece (that they've been sending to my mailbox all of my life, regardless of how many times I've moved) was NOT year-end philanthropical giving! NOPE it was GIFT GIVING!!! Both are connected in our minds because they are focused activities in Q4 but those historically have been separated into two buckets:

  • Holiday Gift Giving
  • Charitable Giving

But what if they could be one and the same? What if you could give a GIFT while you support a cause?




We all know that around Halloween we begin getting information from non-profits about year-end giving and how beneficial it will be to their organization. But our minds are already creating buckets of money for what can be spent on gifts versus charitable donations and providing parameters on those amounts so we can still pay the bills. Now WWF was saying, sure focus on the gifts AND support a cause -- you can do both! It was a brilliant repositioning in my opinion that I can only imagine was built on feedback of what was working, and what their supporters - and non-supporters - were saying.

I created an entire fictitious scenario in my head (do you create these visual stories also?) about the WWF customer service department gathering all of the feedback they'd received for a year or two, reviewing it and finding out exactly what their customers wanted. In that fictitious scenario in my head they found answers to questions like:

  • Why didn't you give?
  • Why did you give?
  • Why did you only give that amount?
  • What would have prompted you to give more?

Ok, so I don't know what really prompted this reposition and I have no idea if it was customer survey based or not because I do not know anyone at WWF or who works at their partner agency. However, as a marketer trained in inbound methods, who reviews data and works with clients daily on analyzing user experience, it all suddenly played out in my head.

I'm sure you are saying, "Great story, Yvonne, but how the hell does that help me market my university?" Well I'm going to share that with you as well in my next blog post. In the meantime, start contemplating some questions and capture the answers:

  • What is going right at your university that you DO NOT currently mention in your marketing?
  • What are your students asking for that your university already offers and the students just aren't aware exists?
  • What new awards or accolades has your university earned that has not been used in current or previous campaigns?

It will take some time to step back and allow your mind to see things in a 10,000 foot view. But you need that step back in order to envision a new position. 

If you find that you just can't take the time or can't see any new options with that time, it might take an outsider to envision something new. We've helped create out-of-the-box options as well as repositioned options for educational organizations in our GrowthPlan strategy documents. They are great option for those teams that don't have the bandwidth to take that step back and need an outsiders view. These are also the perfect introductory project to determine if HIVE is a long-term fit for your organization. 

Still have questions? Michael or I would love to chat and see how we can help. 

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