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Megan Youngblood

Content development

Turning negatives into positives: Location, location, location

October 13, 2016   //   Megan Youngblood

When your viewbook arrives in mailboxes, prospective students and their parents probably already have their ideal campus in mind. How does your campus setting stack up?

Is it a utopia of higher learning, where students study in ivy-walled libraries, socialize in large green spaces, live in modern residence halls, have access to ample parking and great public transportation, hike campus trails all yearlong or brainstorm in high-tech labs regardless of major?

Chances are, your answer is no. Who really has all those things anyway?

Beyond the surface of what prospects can see, you could be grappling with even bigger perceptions. What can you do when your campus location is perceived as unsafe? Or too remote? Or too expensive to live in (even on a ramen noodle food plan)?

Changing how you talk about your location can have a real impact on your recruitment results. Start getting creative with these marketing examples that reframe location and work to reverse negative public perceptions.

Outside Higher Education


Negative: Too expensive and exclusive
Positive: Offers stopover flights for free

When the world economy plummeted in 2008, followed by a volcano eruption in 2010, Iceland — a notoriously expensive location—took a nosedive with it.

Bouncing back, Icelandair launched a savvy marketing campaign promoting its affordable stopover flights. Since the 1960s, Icelandair offered passengers travelling on flights between North America and Europe an opportunity to stopover in Iceland for up to seven days, at no additional cost. But it wasn’t until the economy downturn that Icelandair started saturating consumers with ads in Seattle, New York City, Denver, D.C., Boston and Toronto.

The campaign deployed geo-targeted ads and wrapped subway cars in huge images that depicted Iceland as a natural wonder teeming with volcanoes, northern lights, glaciers and waterfalls — and attainable to all. Did it pay off? Since 2010, the number of foreign visitors to Iceland has grown on average by 20 percent each year!

The moral: Don’t underestimate the value of your geography.

Are you making the most of your place?

Consider some possible geographical brags for your campus location:

  • A place to live beyond college, where grads can start and continue their careers, and even start a family
  • Weather — don’t disregard it because it has a big influence on well-being, happiness, productivity and success
  • Local culture, nightlife, entertainment and the outdoors
  • Cost of living

Inside Higher Education

But also think beyond geography. Do you have thriving industries where students can develop their talents beyond campus? Perhaps you have college and faculty ties with local employers? Think about how to leverage your location in ways that truly benefit your audiences.

See how two colleges helped the public understand the strengths of their locations.

Iowa City, Iowa

Negative: Flyover zone stereotype
Positive: Great college town with thriving arts scene and startup culture

What images immediately come to mind when you think of Iowa City? Corn fields? Crop circles?

Can you imagine it as a miniature Brooklyn, the Berkeley of the Midwest or a hipster’s paradise? That’s how University of Iowa students and faculty experience it.

It’s true. Iowa City doesn’t have volcanoes and northern lights, but it’s not a flyover zone either.

When the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business partnered with Zehno, its staff members recognized that their location, or how they were talking about their location, was a branding problem.

Forbes named Iowa City as the #3 best college town in the nation, after all. It attracts world-famous writers to its Iowa Writers’ Workshop each year, draws in star-studded performances to downtown Englert Theatre just steps from the university and backs entrepreneurs as they launch their best ideas.

Tippie’s branding needed to reflect Iowa’s metropolitan culture, where students have great potential, have access to industry leaders in emerging fields like analytics and entrepreneurship and can live in a cool city with arts and entertainment.

Zehno brought to light the great value of Tippie’s MBA program—that was well known to many Iowans but not to the rest of America. Now its branding stakes claim on being a smart, trendy school that’s connected to the business world in a city where everyone has a college degree (often several). Tippie’s new admissions campaign portrays Iowa City as a place where students want to be and can succeed.

Stockton, California

Negative: Bad publicity after Stockton filed for bankruptcy
Positive: Rich in community service, events, campus life and the great outdoors

With a first-in-the-nation four-year graduation guarantee, one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States, and an engaged community, University of the Pacific has a lot to brag about. But headlines about the city’s financial problems dragged the university down.

The university tasked Zehno with creating an undergraduate admissions publication that reinforces the university’s high-value educational experience and shows how its presence in Stockton positions students to make important contributions through community service projects.

Pacific alumni and the campus community value Pacific for its campus and location. And when freshmen choose Pacific, the campus’s proximity to great internships, jobs and outdoor adventures far outweighs their concerns about Stockton.

Everyone else needed to know this, too.

As part of Pacific’s admissions campaign, Zehno proposed tackling Stockton head-on in a new publication published three times a year. The magazette—a cross between a magazine and a view book — uses feature stories, infographics and illustrations to deliver key messages, showcase campus highlights and present Stockton as a vibrant community.

Some issues have included Stockton stories about:

  • Teaching kids to read, serving lunch to homeless people or building exhibits at a local museum.
  • The top five cool spots off-campus.
  • Community events like the Strawberry Breakfast, Pumpkinpalooza and the Asparagus Festival.
  • A location that draws in diverse classmates worldwide — from China to Nigeria.
  • Road trips to Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, Bear Valley, California Cavern, Santa Cruz, Big Trees State Park, San Francisco and Las Vegas.
  • Living on campus and enjoying campus events such as Brickyard Nights in the Lair, football watch parties, live bands, karaoke, Cosmic Bowling Night, Fall Black Party, Tiger Nights with Vegas DJs, headliner concerts and carnival rides.
  • Miracle Mile — the downtown strip next to campus, thriving with restaurants and boutiques.

In the first year after launching the magazette, Pacific received 10,000 more applications and the average SAT score of applicants jumped by 32 points.

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