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Preachin’ to the Choir: University Brands and their Industry Audiences

May 10th, 2011

Breakaway brand successes occur when brands with something to say begin speaking to audiences outside their close-knit school of thought.

Far too often, brands spend their all their communications efforts on preaching to the choir. Over, and over, and over again.

Remember our Outside Perspective blog? The disruptive technologies that radically move markets forward typically come from outside industries specifically because they have an outside perspective. The music industry didn’t imagine the ipod, airlines didn’t conjure up “go-to-meetings”, and TiVo wasn’t the brain child of the cable company.

When brands with valuable insights, unique perspectives, and innovative solutions only speak to other like-minded industry experts (who live within the same close-knit school of thought) or only speak to a group of devoutly loyal existing converts, their messages and their influence are limited and constricted. Speaking to the overlapping issues and the different audiences that are empowered to impact change and advance your cause moves your brand out of a category and into relevance…

Let’s take University Brands as our example. Through BlackDog’s activist foundation, Serious Play for Serious Girls, we frequently encounter academic researchers who report that their research is their contribution to their field and to the world at large. These researchers often find themselves frustrated that their research fails to reach the layman audiences who are positioned and empowered to affect the issues said research is helping address: social policy, corporate initiatives, education practices, environmental regulations, the list goes on. Unfortunately, researchers often find that professional networking and having to act as their own public relations advocates diverts too much time and energy away from actually conducting their research- which is the part of their work worth talking about in the first place…

One solution to this dilemma would be to provide researchers with networking and pr advocates who could help their work move beyond the peer community of fellow researchers and into the hands of professionals and activists positioned to impact change.  In addition to the outstanding societal benefits, these advocacy positions can help strengthen the university’s brand recognition, improve the brand image, improve the University’s working culture, increase the amount of outside funding available to researchers at the institution, and help the university to maintain ongoing relevance.

Another outstanding solution would be University Publications- trade journals, industry-oriented magazines, and community-centric industry-oriented blogs. Communications Arts isn’t published by Columbia or the Rhode Island School of Design, Vogue isn’t curated by Parsons, and Wired isn’t produced by MIT.  Examples of universities whose publications are actually speaking to their industries and contributing to the broader conversation are rare exceptions rather than the norm: Rotman, Harvard Business Review, The Journal of Pediatric Psychology

What operational issues are reining your message in and holding your organization back? Here’s a quick self-audit check list to help identify if the broader audiences you’re positioned to speak to:

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

What relevant issues is your brand positioned to speak to?

Which audiences would benefit from or appreciate the issues you’re positioned to speak to?

If you could speak to anyone, which audiences would you choose to speak to?

Why would these audiences care about your brand? What about you is relevant to them?

Who else is targeting the attention of these audiences? How will this interfere with your ability to reach them?

What would you have to do differently to reach these audiences?

What are the biggest obstacles holding your message back?

What creative solutions could help reduce or completely eliminate these obstacles?

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