Branding: Give Them Something to Talk About

by Michele Kersten-Hart
Oakland Community College
Bloomfield Hills, MI

There’s a saying, “It’s none of your business what other people think of you.” However, in business, it is your business.

In addition to my role as manager of multimedia and web services at Oakland Community College, I have taught advertising as an adjunct instructor. On the first day of class, I always ask students, “Who can tell me what the best form of advertising is?” There’s always one student who responds, “Word of mouth,” to which I smile and say, “Correct! And that will be on the final exam.”

Do you know what your community members and students think or say about your college? Have you asked? Their answers should be key to creating your next messaging and marketing plan.

Equally important: Have you shared your key messages with your internal college community? Do your faculty and staff put customer service first? For word of mouth marketing to work, there needs to be both an external and internal focus.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media are all ideal platforms for word of mouth marketing. Take a moment to think about the last recommendation you received from a friend or family member. Did you purchase what they recommended? We, as consumers, rely on family and friend recommendations because we trust them. We learn from their product purchasing misfortunes or successes. At OCC, we regularly use student testimonials on our college website and in our publications. Their personal insights are powerful ways to share the OCC brand experience.

When I wear an OCC T-shirt while shopping, more often than not, people will approach me to ask if I went to school there. When I say that I did and that I work there, they’re excited to share their story and their connection to the college. I then take the opportunity to tell them about what’s new at the college and to invite them to upcoming events.

Of course, for word of mouth marketing to work as you would hope, your college must focus on customer service. If, as I have heard said, “A brand is built by experiences,” then finding ways to provide excellent customer service must be part of your college’s marketing plan. Set up faculty and staff brainstorming sessions to consider new strategies; create an incentive program that encourages staff to get caught “doing something exceptional”; have them turn each other in for going above and beyond. Not only will these kinds of tactics improve your customer service and reflect positively on your brand, they just might build employee morale. That’s called a Win-Win.

In the book “Word of Mouth Marketing,” author Andy Sernovitz states, “You are not what your ads say or what your brand statement is. You are not what you wish your company to be. You are not the rosy image carefully crafted and projected through a marketing message. You are the sum total of what people do and feel when interacting with your stuff. You are what real people experience with your company.”

Today’s consumers are in a unique situation. They can block, fast forward and skip most of our advertising efforts. This makes word of mouth marketing and excellent customer service more important than ever before. If you really want to serve your students and community members, then provide outstanding service. Give them a unique experience that they are sure to talk about.

As author and marketing guru Kirk Cheyfitz of Story Worldwide, a digital-first ad agency, says, “If you want to serve your clients, you must be a ferocious advocate for your audiences.”

Michele Kersten-Hart is vice president/president-elect for NCMPR and is manager of multimedia and web services at Oakland Community College in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

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