The way I retell this story will be pretty accurate.
However, with the passing of time (and the artistic license I flaunt as the writer of 50odd) I will probably smooth the edges.
The essence remains intact.
Almost 10 years ago.
I sent a Linkedin message.
It was in response to an opportunity that I and my Creative Agency onebestway had been given.
The opportunity was to pitch to deliver high level, broad reaching marketing and communications work for a local College.
I won’t mention the College.
Or the hero of the story.
But they can if they like.
If they read this.
In the comments.
The opportunity was for the delivery of design and marketing work.
The brief was pretty standard.
I think it was the seasonal creative campaign for the whole of the college.
You know – the thing that colleges do each year to jostle for attention in their busy marketplace.
Budget and Brief.
The budget was enough.
The College was investing – properly.
But the brief bothered me.
So I sent my LinkedIn message to the Director of Marketing and Communications.
It went something like this.
Hello (I did address this person by name of course).
Thank you so much for asking us to pitch for the development of this year’s marketing campaign for your College.
It’s a great opportunity.
However, if you don’t mind, I have an observation for you.
If your College was a brand that stood for something desirable, that was consistently communicated and ownable (so it was uniquely you), I’d predict that your annual spend on communications could shrink dramatically.
And you’d get a far better ROI year on year, too.
Because you’d be famous for that one thing.
You’d not only be a great College; you’d be a great brand too.
You see, I don’t know why you are different.
And I don’t know why you are better.
So as a student I don’t know why to choose you.
And as the leader of a Creative Agency – I don’t know what message to deliver.
No matter how ‘creative’ we are.
I suppose I am saying that instead of investing heavily in marketing and design – year after year after year – have you ever thought about investing in brand first?
So that your College becomes famous for something that reminds people of you and only you.
That way, you won’t have to come up with transient, snappy, ever-changing (and expensive, because you are starting from scratch in each year’s bunfight) ‘flares’ that are ‘here this year’ and ‘gone the next’.
If you did become a brand, all you’d be asking agencies to do each year is reenforce your unique position.
Rather than come up with this year’s random eye-catcher.
Because you’d have real traction.
You’d stand for something.
The tone of my message was upbeat.
I clicked send.
And I waited.
Finding ego-free people in leadership roles is quite rare.
Brave, adventurous, positive, clear thinking leaders are few and far between.
Especially (in my experience) in education.
Leaders keen to explore new approaches.
Leaders that have the humility to rock back in their chairs and, authentically, listen.
Not because I or we necessarily know better than them.
Because they know that, even though they are being tasked to lead, they are not being tasked to have all the right answers.
They just have to find them.
This leader’s response was short.
It was (something like).
Shall we talk?
This College is famous for one thing now.
The brand (and it is a brand) focuses on the endstate that all students really want.
It looks past the facilities (it has superb facilities by the way).
It looks past the delivery (it has superb delivery by the way).
It looks past external badges for performance (it always does superbly by the way).
And it looks past the transient wants of the student (the insta stars and the trainers and the smartphones and the hoodies will always be desired by the students of course. But that’s not really why they come to College).
None of these were right as a brand essence.
This, however, was:
…we have one aim; to make sure you leave us in the best possible position to secure a job.
This brand position is beautiful.
And ownable (because of this College’s history).
But most of all… it came from the College itself.
This quote that I have pasted above is not from our work of over 5 years ago you see.
It is from the College’s own website.
It’s part of the tagging in the content online.
It is what I read first when I searched for them on Google.
If a young person wants to go to a College to get a job.
They choose this College.
This College understands brand and how to be a brand.
There is brilliant, largely female leadership and it’s 100% credit to them that they are respected so deeply on a national stage.
They also knew how to really shake a (perceived) number one brand when they were number two.
But that’s another story.
For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a story about the work we did with the College.
Because that was a few years ago and for just a couple of years.
It’s about how this College was run and is run today.
As a brand.
With an open mind and an open heart.
They are clever.
And they give a shit.
And it shows.