Collaborating for Long-Lasting Brand Impact

I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop at the 2022 AMA on “Combining Marketing and Communication for Long-Lasting Brand Impact” with all-star higher ed leaders Jenny Petty (University of Montana), Binti Harvey (Scripps College), and Teresa Valerio Parrot (TVP Communications). We showed campuses how they need both marketing and communications professionals to collaborate to achieve institutional goals. 

Although they’re often blended together in the name of a single department, marketing and communication are distinct disciplines. Their essential skills, preferred channels, and ultimate purpose often differ. What they have in common are the audiences they seek to impact or influence on behalf of their campus brand. 

Working Together to Understand Your Campus Brand

Insights from our strategic partnership with UMontana offer a framework for combining effective collaboration, audience insights, and content repurposing to achieve maximum brand impact for the people you care about most. With a partnership, we measure relevant brand metrics (including conversation volume, unique authors, content sources, and earned mention volume) on an ongoing basis. 

These metrics are critical to developing brand awareness—how your audiences perceive you—because they tell the whole story. They reflect a comprehensive view of the online conversation about your campus and help you answer questions that inform your strategy. The metrics measure the entire online conversation with direct goal-related conversions, rather than the vanity metrics most social media platforms choose to report, like followers or “likes.” 

Without athletics (which would roughly triple these totals!), UMontana’s conversation at a glance for the 2021–2022 academic year looked like this: 

  • ​​~51,000 mentions
  • By nearly 17,500 authors
  • Reaching 173 million screens and devices
  • Earned conversation: 89% of mentions
  • Social media: 68% of mentions
  • News sites: 25% of mentions

When you recognize that nearly three-quarters of conversation about your campus happens on social media, it's even more important to think about those channels as a core aspect of your communication strategy. Yet traditionally, social media is largely seen as a marketing tool. The common thread between marketing and communication and one way to bridge these two disciplines is goals—and audiences.

Becoming Audience Centric

Once you know what you’re trying to achieve (and it’s always a good reminder to look back on your goals to keep you grounded!), think about what people must do, believe, or understand for you to achieve your goals. That is a target audience. 

The general public is not a target audience. If you aim your content and efforts at everyone, they’re perfect for no one.

Marketers and communicators need to be audience-centric to keep up with our rapidly changing communication landscape. This means identifying and understanding target audiences. When we think of audiences in higher ed, we typically think of students (both prospective and currently enrolled), alumni, donors, faculty and staff, and maybe families and parents.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more specific your target audience is (and therefore, the smaller it is), the more likely you’ll identify and communicate with them. To do this effectively, you need relentless empathy for audiences, not for marketing and communication channels. Instead of asking, “Should we be on TikTok?” or “Where should we pitch this article?” ask, “where are we most likely to reach our target audiences?” This is one of the places marketers shine and support their communications colleagues.

To answer this question well, it’s really difficult to use broad categories like “prospective students” or “alumni.” Those aren’t homogenous audiences! You need to know more about specific audience behavior, which you can glean from public research (like the Pew Research Center), industry research, or in some cases your own campus data gathered from surveys or social listening.

Repurpose Content to Reach Your Audiences

We shouldn’t think about a strategy for each platform in isolation. Instead, think about how you build an integrated strategy that combines channels and audiences. No matter what the content is, how can you make sure it reaches every audience it should in an appropriate way? One piece of content should be able to live beyond wherever the conversation started.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “We could come up with a dozen specific target audiences, but we don’t have time to make all that content.” Just because you’re communicating with your audiences in a targeted, empathetic way doesn’t necessarily mean you need to create more content or you need to tell more stories. Good stories and messages can be tailored to multiple platforms, channels, or formats to support audience centricity—that’s where content repurposing helps you work more efficiently and effectively. 

Content repurposing serves as the bridge between marketing and communications. If marketing is tasked with identifying all the appropriate places to connect with your target audience and evaluating new strategies to effectively promote the institution in a way that meets institutional goals, communicators can focus on telling engaging stories in an audience-centric manner.

Do you have an audience-centric strategy or a channel strategy? How does your campus decide what audiences are important? Learn more about how to differentiate your brand with an audience-centric approach in our webinar. 

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