If your job involves marketing educational institutions, you’re probably quick to praise the power of a brand platform. And why wouldn’t you be?

After all, the platform is the essential foundation that maps out the institutional messaging needed for long-term marketing success. It’s the trusted playbook that — in theory, at least — keeps everyone on-message and working toward the same institutionwide goals.

Platform envy

But in the same way that overly competitive Wall Streeters might obsess about the opulence of a competitor’s business cards, higher ed professionals can sometimes get caught up in platform envy.

You know the signs: Jealousy seeps in first. Maybe that other school’s brand platform messages do seem more distinctive, a platform committee member will suggest. And maybe the rival’s messages sound grander and flashier.

Then comes the self-doubt. We can’t compete against our rival’s amazing internship program, someone will confess. And if we can’t top the competitor’s job placement legacy, shouldn’t we just give up?

In the throes of platform envy, finessing the language becomes all-consuming. But you start to feel your mojo. A committee member will proudly point out that our “student-centered” delivers more oomph than their “student-focused.”

After your group has polished and perfected each word in each phrase of every message, you’re poised to one-up the competition.

But don’t overlook the other essential component of memorable branding: the creative concept.

The power of creative

Like Robin needs a Batman, and Sonny desperately needs a Cher, a strategic brand platform demands a strong creative concept. Without a grounding in story-rich creative, any school’s beloved platform just sits there. Carefully crafted ideas on a page. A missed opportunity.

This white paper focuses on the sweet spot where the brand platform meets the creative concept. That’s where vivid creative expression lifts your messages out of internal documents and shares them with the world.

Platform 101: building it

What does your school stand for?

This core question drives branding that is meaningful and memorable. But the answer has never been simple.

Why? Because educational institutions are multifaceted, complicated creatures. They maintain an expansive roster of academic offerings, target multiple audiences and often serve several campuses (especially if you include your digital “campus.”)

What your school stands for probably depends on who you ask. Internal audiences in higher ed tend to focus on their own piece of the pie, so don’t be surprised when stakeholders see the brand primarily through their own personal lenses.

As you start creating your platform messages, you’ll likely be confronted with some all-too-familiar competing interests:

Typical competing interests

  • Academic side vs. athletic side.
  • Undergrad vs. grad focus.
  •  Online vs. on-campus classes.
  • “Liberal arts” vs. technical and career-focused degrees.
  • Selective admissions vs. open to everyone.
  • Your school’s history vs. the school now (and into the future).

Our advice: Look past any dissonance you encounter. Stay focused on how your brand platform can rise above the usual internal conflicts.

Platform to the rescue

If you think of the platform as the playbook for positioning your institution, you’ll understand its strategic value. And when you do the legwork to get buy-in from stakeholders, the platform equips everyone to speak with a unified voice.

For example, the dean of agriculture won’t spend her budget telling the world that you’re a small, rural institution while the admission team spends its budget promoting the school as a big campus in an upscale suburb.

But your brand platform won’t magically hatch with lofty wording and universal agreement. Instead, the platform results from serious self-examination and an honest assessment of your institution’s strengths and weaknesses.

It’s usually best to identify some emerging message themes first, then sharpen and shape them. Always plan for some discussion and revision time to hash things out.

What’s in a typical platform?

  • Brand promise: the thing you live by every day.
  • Brand values: what you believe in as a community.
  • Brand positioning: how you’re different from your competitors.
  • Attributes: your school’s personality.
  • Key messages for each audience.
  • Elevator speeches.

What inputs drive a platform?

  • Existing research.
  • New surveys.
  • Focus groups.
  •  Interviews with stakeholders.
  • Review of your current materials.
  • Analysis of competitors.
  • Workshop of messages with stakeholders.
  • Surveys to test if messages are relevant to your audiences.

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