The pandemic left everything up for question, including your institution’s marketing goals. How do you follow your marketing strategy when nothing is going according to plan? How do you stay on brand after a prolonged crisis? And when you’ve finally returned to campus, does your brand strategy even resonate anymore?
It turns out that returning “back to normal” poses more questions than answers. But here’s an undeniably good thing: Now is the most opportune time for your team, brand, and marketing strategy to take on new-and-improved roles, visions, and directions. Think of it as an early New Year’s Resolution for your entire marketing team.
Whether your team leapt over the hurdles of marketing your institution from their home offices or, like most of us, you limped your comms plan through an ever-shifting obstacle course, what matters most is what you do next. From long-distance audits to sprint-like initiatives, here’s how to pick up the marketing baton where you left off and come back stronger than ever.
Perform an audit to awaken new team and brand opportunities.
Before forging ahead with any plan, you need to take stock of where the last year has left you. That means assessing the progress you’ve made, areas in need of some TLC and goals for the future. You guessed it. It’s time for an audit.
Not only will an audit allow your team to determine where your brand stands after a year-plus of tumult. It will also illuminate areas where your team has grown and flourished.
Aside from what you would normally audit, be especially on the lookout for:
- New skills within your team. Besides picking up sourdough bread baking, it’s possible people on your team picked up some valuable work-related skills. Did anyone assume a role as an exceptional organizational resource? What about a new speech or copywriter? Did your president become a fixture on social media? Perhaps someone learned more about paid media opportunities and now they have a greater sense of emerging trends for how to reach your university’s audiences. Whatever the case may be, it’s entirely possible you have new skills and talents within your team. Consider reassigning your team where people can bring the greatest value.
- Gaps that need to be addressed. For many, this last year was nothing but a struggle-fest. People were largely working on their own without the usual safety nets of colleagues and, you know… normalcy. Many teams did what they needed to do to get the job done. There’s a good chance some of the work was sub-par. No blame! But it’s time to think about getting back on track, and an audit can be the best way to point out how.
- Opportunities to integrate new staff. If your team is welcoming new hires, they’re going to need some help onboarding and getting socialized with your brand. After all, you’ve had the benefit of being in the office and knowing your brand like the back of your hand. If your newer colleagues started virtually, they have some catching up to do. What do they need to know? What does it look like to be part of your culture and adopt your institution’s brand?
There’s truly no better time than now to talk about what your team has enjoyed doing (or not!) for the past year. There’s also no better time to get your new hires on board with your brand, and address areas where you need to step it up. Seize the moment.
Revisit and reconnect: Give your institution’s strategic plan and your brand some extra love.
Reconnecting. It’s happening a lot these days, and for good reason. People have been deprived of real, meaningful connection. It’s true in their personal lives, but also when it comes to their work. Your work. Your brand.
You need to reconnect your team with your brand for a couple of reasons. One, so that the integrity of the brand remains intact. And two, so everyone is bought in. This means pulling out familiar items like your brand guidelines, purpose statements, or messaging matrix. Everyone should be comfortable using your brand elements the right way and talking about your brand in a way that aligns with your messaging.
It’s surprisingly easy to forget these seemingly unforgettable things when you don’t put them into practice on a regular basis. And it may seem insignificant. But it’s worth knowing that you’re doing all that you can to maintain and jumpstart your brand after such a topsy-turvy time. Plus, who doesn’t love a reunion? That’s essentially what this is!
Connection isn’t the only thing that was disrupted. So was your institution’s strategic plan. If, after review, it’s looking a little stale, it’s probably because you simply haven’t been able to execute on that plan.
So, where does it stand now?
Resurrecting your institution’s 3-5 year marketing plan may be impossible given the circumstances. Therefore, consider opting for a short-term, interim strategy instead.
You may not know what the next 18 months looks like, but you may have a good idea what the next 6 do, and that’s a great place to start. It may go without saying, but this short-term marketing strategy needs to be in line with the overarching brand and marketing strategy.
When in doubt, focus your higher ed.’s marketing plan with the help of a marketing agency.
Auditing your team’s work can be a heavy lift. And truth be told, it can get uncomfortable. Egos can get bruised if it’s pointed out that someone’s work wasn’t up to par in the last year. Hey, everyone was just doing their best! But an audit is essential if you want to bounce back when everything’s gone awry. Bottom line? Someone has to be the bad guy.
Pro-tip: Get an outside perspective to do your audit, like a marketing agency. They can perform an audit with nary a clue as to who produced what. They can give an unbiased, honest opinion paired with a productive, expertise-fueled path forward. With a wealth of auditing experience, an agency can tell you what you need to do in order to reach your specific goals. (And they can even help you set them.)
Another advantage to bringing in a marketing agency? If your new hires are overwhelmed with understanding your style guide, an agency can translate it. Returning staff might feel overwhelmed trying to resume work as usual. An agency can facilitate a collaborative brainstorming session to get that recruitment campaign started on the right foot.
You already have enough on your plate. If the last year has taught us anything it’s that we can’t do things alone. If you need a hand getting back on track, you wouldn’t be the first. We’re here to help.