This stuff really works…

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Last fall we worked with The Mary Louis Academy, a private, Catholic school for young women in Jamaica Estates, New York. Enrollment at the school was dropping, girls were not listing TMLA as their first choice, and nearby co-ed schools were competing for and attracting girls who no longer seemed to want an all-girls education. We began in the admissions office to see what was working and what needed to change. We suggested how to approach new markets, how to increase campus visits, how to improve attendance at open house events, and more. With a vigorous admissions plan in hand, we then created a new website, print brochure, and graphic standards manual to ensure that all communications stayed on message.

Results as of February 2016 are remarkable. Students who selected TMLA as first choice rose by 50%. Second choice rose 11%.  The story is ongoing but we can clearly see things are looking up at TMLA. Smart marketing really works!

Mixed messages

I noticed this eye-catching display outside of a restaurant in Rome. What a great idea! Too bad the cigarette butt and ashtray were left carelessly in the scene. Suddenly the idea of dinner here is much less appetizing. What a great reminder about the importance of minding the details when we reach out to our audiences. Happy marketing and buon appetito!

They’re B-A-A-A-CK!

I confess. I’m addicted to the lowest-rated cable series on earth: AMC’s The Pitch, a cringe-inducing reality show that pits two ad agencies against each other in a battle to win a juicy account. The first season’s ratings were so low that the Nielson score for the April 30, 2012, episode was 0.0% or a total of 45,000 adult viewers in the US.

Imagine my surprise to learn that The Pitch is back for another season! AMC is known for gutsiness. Perhaps the enormous successes of other AMC programs like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead have given the network space to stick its neck out for a second year in a row.

Back again are the client de-briefings, the late night brainstorming sessions, the internal tensions, the snarky assessments of the competition, the shaping of the creative, and the panicked deadlines, all leading up to the big pitch to the client. You don’t need to be in advertising to feel the chill this show is designed to bring. Anyone who has ever had to create and present an idea understands the dread, the fear, the joy, and the sorrow of exposing ideas for judgement. What makes the show so enticing is that we viewers get to size up the work of the two agencies and decide who has the better idea and the better chance of being awarded the account. Interestingly, the best idea does not always win. Check out the show to see what I mean.

QR Codes: Dead or Alive?

Are QR codes dead?

Seen any QR codes lately on higher ed materials? They seemed all the rage for the last few years, but now technology folks are saying the trend is fading. Research shows, however, that people all around the world are actively creating and scanning QR codes.

According to an August 2012 report by Nellymoser Inc., a mobile marketing company in Arlington, Massachusetts, the number of mobile action codes printed in the top 100 U.S. magazines more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. The study was limited to national titles readily available on newsstands that did not require membership, such as AARP. Nellymoser analyzed every page in each issue of the top 100 magazines. The result was a 61% increase in code use from Q1 2012 to Q2 2012. Seventeen’s September 2012 issue contained more than 250 activated images. GQ’s September issue activated every advertising page. Check out the research details here

What if you’re not a magazine editor? How else are QR tags being used in higher ed? At Washington and Lee University, IT Services members donned t-shirts imprinted with QR codes that when scanned led to web pages with helpful information like passwords and how to contact the help desk. Hamilton College in New York used a giant QR tag with the single word “Hamilton” underneath for a recruitment poster. Lebanon Valley College put up banners with QR tags to update students about campus construction progress.

Yes, QR codes have been overused, misused, and abused, and unhappy user experience has tarnished the brand. The technology is a bit clunky since you need to download a code reader to your phone, and not all are reliable. In spite of these negatives, I think QR tags are set for a comeback. The research shows the trends—and smart phone use is on the rise, big time. Perhaps with a new name, better technology, and new branding, we’ll see an increase in use. After all, QR codes are still the best link we have from print to web.

How not to use QR Codes

1. On a website. You wouldn’t think I’d have to mention this, but I’ve actually seen QR tags on college web pages. I won’t embarrass the schools by listing them here.

2. On banners. Ok, so this was mentioned above as a cool idea, but tags are difficult to scan if they are blowing around in the wind. 

3. To lead to complex forms. Think about this one. If you’re on a smart phone, how difficult is it going to be to fill out that college application form with your thumbs? 

4. In places where there is poor reception. Like subway platform ads. In the basement of Old Main. No reception, no link.

5. To lead to useless information. You’ll lose audience trust if you take them to something they already know, or don’t care about knowing. Give them something they can only get from the scan. And, give them an explanation of where the code will take them.

6. To lead to a miniature version of your college homepage. If you’re going to use a tag, also use responsive design. Once again, those big thumbs can’t aim that small. 

7. Tags created in rich black. Designers like to use black made from CMYK. It makes black and white photography look great. But this confuses most tag readers. When printing codes, specify black plate only.

 

 

College taglines that work

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We’ve all seen them—taglines that are stale, comical, or simply forgettable. I’ve talked to some college communicators who see taglines as a distraction and refuse to use them at all. Writing a great tagline is one of the toughest challenges we can tackle. Abraham Lincoln once wrote: “ I’m sorry I wrote such a long letter. I did not have time to write a shorter one.” Brevity is one of the challenges of tagline writing. Imagination, simplicity, and authenticity are others.

“Think different.” “It’s the real thing.” “Just do it.” “Pizza! Pizza!” Corporations have long used imaginative taglines to reinforce their brands. A well-written tagline can cut right to the essence of a company and create a lasting message of quality or benefit to the consumer. Like a haiku poem that derives its power from a few carefully chosen words, the tagline can distill a complex admissions program or capital campaign down to a strikingly powerful message.

Well-written taglines work. Poorly written taglines don’t. Unfortunately, clichés and corniness dominate the college tagline scene. Here are suggestions that will help you keep it fresh and make the most of your tagline opportunity.

  1. Make it personal. Write a tagline that will make sense only for your institution. We created the tagline, “Success begins with CCSU” and a logotype, CCSUCCESS, for Central Connecticut State University. The tagline transforms a commonplace word into a personal and powerful message for the university.
  2. Use short, punchy words. Choose a crisp Anglo-Saxon word over a longer, loftier Latinate word. Use ask instead of inquire; start instead of commence; build instead of construct; pick instead of select.
  3. Give yourself time to do it right. Great taglines are the product of thorough understanding. Don’t create unrealistic deadlines that force a poorly conceived solution.
  4. Reinforce your institution’s mission. Consistent messaging is vital in all we do as communicators, and taglines are no exception. If you find the tagline and your mission in conflict, it’s time to change one or the other.
  5. Highlight a key benefit or attribute. “Think is for girls” is the tagline Sweetbriar College displayed in hot pink letters to appeal to Gen-Y students who might not have considered enrolling in a women’s college. The campaign was a hit and first-year enrollment increased by 40%.
  6. Play with words. “The power of X” makes good use of the serendipitous letter X in Xavier University’s name to create a memorable tagline.

Video tips and tricks

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Most colleges recognize the value of admissions videos and make a point to include them on their websites. The downside is that many of these videos are poorly conceived and produced so watching them is a chore.

I talked with Bill Denison, an amazingly talented educational photographer, about making great video. With his input, I’ve put together a list of things to do to make your videos stand out—in a good way.

1. Know what you want to accomplish. Don’t just shoot and pray that something will emerge. Outline your goals. Without a clear idea of what you want to say, you could wind up with a lot of footage that never gets to the point.

2. Keep it flexible. You need an idea about where you’re going, but you also need to be flexible enough to rethink it as the project proceeds.

3. It’s about story, not technology. A good story can deliver a powerful message. Be sure you are focused on telling that story, not showing off that you have the latest zoom camera with sliders and fill lights.

4. Don’t be literal. Use video to express the story rather than merely record action. Interpret rather than document. This is where shooting style comes in. A small detail can sometimes be more powerful than showing the entire scene. Different angles can add dramatic interest. For example, showing feet descending a set of steps can be more interesting than shooting the full staircase.

5. Shoot a variety of angles. Include a variety of low and high angles, long shots, medium shots, close-ups, etc. Don’t move to the next scene until you are sure you’ve covered the subject with multiple angles and ranges. It’s always better to shoot too much than not enough.

6. Know how to roll. Documentary videos are composed of A-roll and B-roll. A-roll is the footage of the interview. It can be shot in the studio or on location, and the focus is the person speaking to the camera. B-roll is everything else—like the video that plays during an audio voice over.

7. Know when to shoot B-roll. Shoot B-roll after the interview. Why? The conversation may inspire ideas on how to shoot the person in action.

8. This is video…move! Get your subjects walking, running, or going in or out of a room. If you’re in a lab, follow the student as she gets up from the table and walks to the specimen case. Record the organic sounds around you. This adds a sense of realism to the action on camera.

9. To make great video you need to watch video. If you want to learn to draw, you study the old masters. The same is true for video. Take the time to critically assess the work of exemplary videographers.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Great concept.

Narrated by Werner Herzog, this video uses humor to tell an important story.

A simple idea that gives a glimpse into the thinking of a number of people.

From Bill Denison’s portfolio, photographic stills with voiceovers create a dynamic experience.