Is your brand playing it too safe?
The Australian education sector is not generally known for producing inspiring, memorable brand campaigns. The opposite is more often true. Education institutions are generally more inclined toward a safe, conservative approach that lacks offence and, too often, inspiration. The driving consideration seems to be protecting reputations, versus creating them.
The result is wallpaper.
Not so long ago this didn’t matter too much. Education was a less competitive place, and advertising played a lesser role. But things have changed. A lot. The fight to maintain share and revenue growth has become intense. Marketing spends keep trending up. Strong brand communication and customer experience now plays a vital role, as students and their parents weigh up the alternatives. In this environment, advantages accrue to those who make innovative and effective marketing a priority.
Despite this, education marketing remains quite conservative. It is funny how we rarely notice how restrictive a category’s conventions are, until somebody breaks them. A great case in point is last years ‘Unlimited’ campaign from the University of Western Sydney, which was remarkable on a number of fronts.
For anyone who has not seen the now iconic 90-second TV ad that launched the campaign, it featured UWS graduate Deng Adut. There’s nothing new in using successful graduates in ad campaigns. What is unusual was the way they dramatically re-told Deng’s life story from childhood. And what a story. Stolen from his mother at six, Deng was marched for thirty-three days into Ethiopia where he was forced to become a child soldier. Shot at twelve, he was saved by the UN and delivered to Western Sydney, where he taught himself to read as a fifteen-year-old refugee. Now a UWS graduate, he’s giving back as a refugee lawyer.
It is a well-told story that makes your eyes misty, and the hairs on the back of you neck stand up. It does what great advertising is supposed to do. It captivates. It inspires, and it gets talked about. And in the process it outlines the truth, vision and purpose of UWS in a very human and inspiring way.
Now some would suggest any university with a similarly inspiring graduate could say the same thing. I don’t think it’s ever that simple. In any case UWS said it first, and now they can own it.
In the decade that preceded this campaign, UWS brand was just as safe and forgettable as the rest. I recently listened to a podcast with Angelo Kourtis, the VP of People and Advancement at UWS, who was the driver behind the ‘Unlimited’ campaign. Angelo had been at UWS for 10 years. In an earlier junior role, he’d experienced a safe, ineffectual branding campaign implemented by others. He felt UWS badly needed a clear vision and mission for both itself and its region, Western Sydney. When his chance came to direct the brand communications for UWS, he had a burning passion to do what he believed needed to be done.
Angelo gave his agencies a mission to ‘destroy ATAR as the basis for judging the potential of human beings’.
He reminded his stakeholders that that at its core, UWS had always been about unlimited potential, having the highest rate of 1st generation university attendees in Australia. Angelo’s internal sales pitch was that this was no ‘re-positioning’, it was UWS reclaiming what had always been its true mission. And Deng represented living embodiment.
Another bold thing I love about this campaign was the media choice. Yes, they engaged digital and social channels. But this a digital-obsessed age, UWS launched their big, epic 90-second Deng TV ad on Sunday night in ‘60 Minutes’. When you have a great story, share it in the most impactful way possible. That is bold storytelling.
Has it worked? The campaign launched in 2015. UWS reported a 6% increase in UG first preferences for 2016. The ad has been shared over 2.4m times via YouTube.
Interestingly, since the campaign, UWS they have experienced a significant re-engagement from their once-disengaged alumni via LinkedIn (Pride can do things like that).
Think about your potential student, about to heavily invest in one of the most important journeys of their lives. They are facing a major commitment.
Will your current brand communications make the hairs on the back of their neck stand up?
Venus Education has have helped other universities and schools achieve growth equivalent to this UWS example. If you’d like find out more contact Miles on 03 9510 7000.