For university marketers, recognizing milestones is more about the future than the past.
On the surface, milestones look like a perfect opportunity to share a historical perspective of an event that happened 50, 100 or even 200 years ago. A business might recognize the day it was founded, or the year an iconic product was launched, for example. And it would be logical for those recognitions to be historic in nature.
I read an article in Adweek a couple of years ago that outlined 10 activities consumer brands should explore when planning to celebrate a milestone. There were a lot of good ideas shared. In fact, I kept the article for reference. Most of the ideas, however, were focused on celebrations that looked back in time. That’s the fundamental difference between recognizing a milestone for a consumer brand versus a university brand.
For institutions of higher learning, the focus of recognizing a milestone should shift to a more forward-thinking perspective. Why? The reasons are audience driven.
Key audiences for colleges and universities include current and prospective students, parents of students, donors, faculty and, of course, alumni. And while each of these audience segments have unique connections to the university, they also have one powerful characteristic in common. Chances are, most of the people in these audience segments are more interested in what the university is striving to achieve than what it has accomplished in the past.
- Students want to know how the university will influence their future. Will I be inspired academically? Will I be ready to enter the professional world when I graduate?
- Parents want to be assured they are investing in an institution and an education that will prepare their children for tomorrow.
- Donors are looking for a way to make a difference in the years ahead. Will my gift strengthen the university? Will my gift provide an opportunity for a student who is still years away from entering college?
- Prospective faculty are interested in a university with a clear vision and bold plans for the next generation. Will my work have impact in this environment? Will I have the opportunity to move my career and research forward?
- While most alumni take great pride in their university and look back fondly on their experience, they too are interested in how their alma mater is moving forward.
Universities are about potential and the promise of tomorrow. That’s not to say history isn’t important. Quite the contrary. It’s how you frame the history that will determine how your message resonates with university audiences.
Hart had the privilege of working with the University of Cincinnati on the messaging and logo design for the university’s bicentennial that is being celebrated throughout 2019. When asked about the significance of universities celebrating milestones, Kelly Weissmann, director of the University of Cincinnati Bicentennial, said it best: “We are here to excite people about the future. Milestones should be viewed through a forward-thinking lens. As university marketers, our role is to share a vision of tomorrow.”
Every university milestone represents a point of differentiation. Each one is an opportunity to generate excitement and energy among all university audiences. Especially when the significance of a milestone is connected to the future of the university.
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