Thursday, October 31, 2013

Monthly Article in "College Planning and Management"

In the most recent issue of "College Planning and Management," Marylouise Fennell and myself have written an article on the topic of Protecting Your Brand:

Building and sustaining successful brands is getting tougher for institutions all the time; the average U.S. consumer is exposed to an estimated 5,000 messages a day, according to a recent survey by Advertising Age. Rising above the clutter without breaking the bank will require organizations to get smarter about branding—relying less on intuition and current assumptions, and more on hard data.

A “brand” encompasses everything about the institution’s public image, including graphic identity, logos and trademarks; taglines or mottos; team names and nicknames, even the legal name of the institution itself. Confusion among institutions with the same or similar names in different locations can lead to confusion in the marketplace, with serious ramifications for a college or university. That’s why some presidents have gone to court to protect the good name of their brand. Savvy marketers also recognize several other things about a brand as they plan their marketing strategies and tactics:

More isn't always better. Higher education marketers need to be increasingly savvy about putting their advertising dollars where they will produce optimal results. Too many promotional efforts are unfocused, which results in the brand failing to drive customer buying patterns. Also, too many organizations fail to get ahead of shifting customer preferences and evolving demographics. Success in today's crowded marketplace requires a stepped-up focus on hard data, leading to an in-depth understanding of the needs of the target audiences. So, for example, if the greatest growth sector in the higher education market in the 21st century will be non-traditional students, why do most of our marketing and branding programs still target the traditional 18-year old undergraduate, a declining demographic?

Add value. Price and value usually go hand in hand. In the perceptions of prospective students and families, high tuition often equates with “high value.” High-end retailers recognize this linkage and thus are willing to forego immediate revenues from discounted goods in favor of the overall reputation of the brand. Colleges and universities, likewise, recognize that excessive tuition discounting over the long term is not only fiscally unsustainable, but also helps to weaken the image of the institution in the minds of consumers. The recent decline in shareholder value of Facebook showcases the inherent risk of offering a valuable service or product below true market value, even if audiences are expanded in the process.

Be authentic. We’ve found that audiences today, especially students and young alumni, value authenticity. If marketing conflicts with the mission and/or reputation of a brand, it will not be believed. The best marketing is synergistic with the goals and mission of an organization, product or service, as well as its brand, each reinforcing the other.

Be consistent. One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make is to repeatedly change tag lines, core messaging and especially the graphic identity of an organization when the initial campaign appears not to work. Repeated changes over time simply confuse the core audience. Stay with your brand long enough for it to be successful.

Get ahead of the curve. Every brand reaches a point where it needs to change, or stagnate and eventually decline. Even the best organizations sometimes fail to be proactive, preferring to stay with the known rather than to risk change. Volvo, for example, lost millions in sales by failing to note changing consumer preferences, and waiting until 2003 to introduce an SUV. It’s critical for college and university presidents not only to anticipate trends but also to act on them in a timely manner. Remember that while quality of a product is very important, in marketing it’s usually better to be first, rather than to introduce a finely-honed program after it has already proven successful elsewhere.

Dr. Scott D. Miller is President of the College and M.M. Cochran Professor of Leadership Studies at Bethany College in West Virginia. Now in his third college presidency, he has served as a CEO for nearly 22 years. He is Chair of the Board of Directors of Academic Search, Inc.

Dr. Marylouise Fennell, RSM, a former president of Carlow University in Pittsburgh, PA, is senior counsel for the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and principal of Hyatt Fennell, a Higher Education Search Firm.

They have collaborated on nine books, including “President to President: Views on Technology in Higher Education (2008)” and “Presidential Perspectives: Strategies to Address the Rising Cost of Higher Education” (2012). They are regular columnists for Enrollment Manager. Both serve as consultants to college presidents and boards.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Presidential Perspectives"

This month’s “Presidential Perspectives” – published by Dr. Marylouise Fennell and me with support from Aramark Higher Education. November’s topic:  Sustaining Sustainability.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Family Weekend

Bethany welcomed friends and family to campus for Family Weekend Oct. 25-27. Multiple activities were held throughout the weekend, including a Conversation with President Scott D. Miller, which was held Saturday morning. Pictured: Dr. David Black, Provost; Jerry Stebbins, Dean of Students;
Kim Tropf, Cleveland; and Dr. Miller.

Enjoyable lunch in honor of Jamie Spataro (2000), Senior Counsel at FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. Jamie is a former Oreon E. Scott Award Winner (Valedictorian) and was a double major of Spanish and Political Communications (Interdisciplinary Program). After Bethany, he earned his law degree at the University of Pittsburgh. During his visit to Bethany OCt. 25, he was a guest lecturer for Professor Joe Lovano’s new course, Spanish 210 “Spanish for Legal Professions.” Joining us for lunch Dr. Harald Menz, Dr. Lovano, and Dr. David Black (Provost).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lunch time guest on talk radio (WVBC) with sophomore Dakota Kotsol. The World Series, Bethany College, Bison sports and more.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I was the guest of Carlo Guadagnino and Bobby Bush Wednesday night on WVBC "Sports Talk " radio. Topics included the MLB playoffs, the W and J rivalry, Bethany volleyball, field hockey, and amazing Bison soccer standout Arkangelo James.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Bethany College's Counseling Office and the YWCA have partnered for a number of programs on campus. Pictured with Jerry Stebbins (Dean of Students) and me: Michelle Harriman, YWCA Family Violence Prevention Child Advocate, at a display in the Ogden Dining Hall of Benedum Commons. Michelle's sister is Renee Stock, Bethany College Counselor.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Homecoming's Timeless Appeal

College presidents are fond of describing their annual homecoming rituals as "picture-perfect" and "memorable." Our recent commemoration at Bethany College was, of course, all of that, and more.

We won the football game, our marching band looked splendid in their new uniforms, a family with longstanding ties to the College joined us as we rededicated the soccer field in their name. One of our communications and media arts alumni, who works in network television, fascinated our students with an eyewitness account of the postmodern Miley Cyrus on that awards show. One of our other alumni, class of 1940, proudly reminded us of his 75-year-long love affair with Bethany. Who could ask for more?

In my 30-some years as a college administrator, I have come to believe that homecoming has more than obvious significance for students, faculty and especially alumni who bask in tradition on a golden fall afternoon. Sure, it's about tailgating, marketing sweatshirts with our logo and fundraising. At Bethany, we sell tickets to the adventurous who climb more than a hundred narrow steps to the top of the Old Main clock tower, a Gothic brick castle that some would say resembles the laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein, but which offers spectacular views of our mountaintop campus on a clear homecoming morning. Make that a picture-perfect morning.

Homecoming is more than reconnecting to a time and place that exist for many now only in memory as they go on about their lives without their alma mater--and vice versa. We staff and volunteers listen gratefully to the graduates' stories, happy to welcome them back. But we are also keenly aware that the connection is not constant, even for the faithful. We have a college to run, they have lives and other causes and obligations to honor, and when their reunion class year doesn't come up, we may not hear from them for another five years. We worry that they may not give to the annual fund, affecting our percentage of alumni giving. They move around--the recent grads change jobs every six months to a year--and we have to track them down like a collection agency. Heaven help us if we're not up on the latest social media. Two-hour lunch meetings are not for young urban professionals. We reach out electronically and deploy our young alumni-office staff to meet them for "Thirsty Thursday" evenings in selected cities. It's not the only way to keep the alums engaged, but it saves postage.

We had a strong turnout for Homecoming 2013 and, earlier, the spring Alumni Weekend at Bethany, and I believe--with no disrespect to our advancement staff and volunteers who worked hard to deliver registrations--that we simply offered something that no one else can. We delivered on what we were and are as an institution, as a secure setting for a weekend of relaxation and as an anchor in people's mobile, hectic lives.

You'd think that with recent higher-education developments in online learning, MOOC's, mini campuses in strip malls and all the rest that homecoming would be almost passé, as quaint as a Sunday afternoon band concert. But time and again, wherever I've worked, alumni tell me that nothing substitutes for coming home to their alma mater, if only for a weekend. Their college is a landmark of their life experience, a valued road trip on the journey to maturity, a conveyor of success, status and useful knowledge. Often where they met their spouses, or perhaps retraced the steps of parents or grandparents, college remains for most the place where they have been introduced to their most influential mentors, and been tested to their early limits.
Whatever it is, it is a strand of their DNA. This is where, if nowhere else, they belong. The alumni stroll the campus with evident entitlement and ownership. It's as if, paraphrasing Robert Frost, alma mater is where we have to take you in--even if you flunked out here before (and, of course, especially if you later made a fortune despite that!). Like the durable old clock tower at Bethany, a college campus remains formidable, commanding admiration, demanding respect. Here was where you had to prove something to someone, a long time ago, and the old brick walls bear witness.

I like to think that my alma mater, West Virginia Wesleyan, will be around many years after me. We work hard to ensure that same happy outcome for Bethany College, as I know my fellow presidents do for their institutions around the country. It's a tough business we've chosen. Some homecomings, we smile through our fears and put on the best show we can.

But most of the time, for one afternoon, win or lose at the stadium, all of the metrics and objectives, enrollment targets and spreadsheets of my job are left on the desk, replaced by a kaleidoscope called homecoming.

And, yes, there is nothing like it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Morgan Jacobs, one of our super Associates in the Office of the President, was a member of the Homecoming Court for 2013. Her long-time boyfriend Cam Cooper was the Homecoming King.

Graduate School Fair

With John Osborne, Distinguished Lecturer and Director of Career Counseling and Place, and Amy Van Horn, Administrative Assistant, at the Graduate College Fair in Commencement Hall Oct. 2. 37 colleges and universities from throughout the country took part in the fair.
Bethany College is fortunate to have two national nominees for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching/Council for the Advancement and Support of Education national Professor of the Year. Only 350 nominations were accepted from 4,150 colleges and universities nationwide. Dr. Anju Ramjee, the John and Evelyn Casey Steen Professor of Finance, received her award from Provost David R. Black and I Oct. 4. She was unable to attend a dinner in which Bethany’s other recipient, M.E. Gamble, Chair of the Department of Communications and Media Arts, received her honor award last week.

Monday, October 7, 2013

This Week's Trivia Question

Q: When was Irvabell Harlan Hall dedicated?
A: Harlan Hall was dedicated on September 29, 1960, in honor of the wife of Campbell Allen Harlan. The three story structure was built as a dormitory for women.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A surprise visitor at Bethany Homecoming: Mike Komondor, a cross country teammate at West Virginia Wesleyan in 1978. His wife, Barbara, is a Bethany graduate. Daughter Claudia joined them for the visit.