Why Purdue University’s Brand Is the Stories They Tell

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Ethan Braden, Senior VP of Marketing and Communications at Purdue University, joins the podcast to talk about why a university marcomms teams’ primary role is Chief Storyteller and how critical storytelling has been during the pandemic.

We needed to use storytelling and really digital means to tell the world what we stand for, who we are and why they should care. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect ETU podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education, and we're here today with Ethan Braven, senior VP of marketing and communications at Purdue University. Ethan, welcome to the show. Thank you, thanks for having me. Really excited to talk with you today about how our university brands are only as strong as the stories we tell. But before we dig in, can you give listeners a little bit of background on both Perdue and your will? They're sure so. You know, I've served as the center of the Chief Marketing Officer here at Pu University in West Loft yet Indiana. been here for three years now, serving in that capacity for almost too fortunate report to presidentm's Daniels, our former to term governor of Indiana, and as one of the top ten most innovative schools America now four years in a row by US news and roll report. I'm really fortunate to lead an organization of about seventy marketers and communicators and then influence the role of about another three hundred individuals on campus as we position and promote and protect the pretty university brand and worldwide. I think it's that scale and scope of the markoms world at produce is going to make this conversation so interesting. Maybe even to kick us off today, tell us why you believe that our mark cooms team's primary role is as chief storyteller for the university. Yeah, I mean we've been on a journey in that but but coming from my former employer in the pharmaceutical...

...sector, there was a transformation there, I think, over the years, maybe ten years before it came to hire Ed, where marketing was really seeing as the catalyst for exemplary customer experiences. And so the journey we've been on here at per university has been one from starting as essentially a short or a cook of the random acts of marketing that we're essentially being asked for by departments, colleges or outside entities. Right, make me this post or make me this add I need a website, I need a low good to podcast. Ever, maybe, and I'm continue to call that the driven. We were driven by something else, right, and the journey we've been on has been, then, an evolution to the driver, to the driver of the positioning, the promotion and the brand protection that I speak of, right, the driver of the brand experience, the driver of the identity, the driver of the experiences that a variety of audiences have with us. And and while that's really attractive, I think, to the purest marketer, you know, as you go a step further, I think, from a step of authenticity and engagement and moving more into the lens of audiences and putting yourself in their shoes, what they really want is to be captivated by the stories of an organization. David Aker talks about this a lot in signature stories, and so for us it's really been a next stop in serving as the chief storyteller and the driver of inspiration and the driver of growth and the driver of prosperity here at pretty again, by deliberately positioning us, promoting us, and protecting our brand, but doing it by telling the amazing story and stories of all the people and the endeavors and the breakthroughs and the alumni and the hundred fifty two years of history here at Pretty University. Seems easy. Let's talk about the practicality of storytelling, especially recently even. How critical has good storytelling been during the pandemic? It's been that that's the word. It's been critical. Yeah, right, I think in the past, particularly when you can lean on other means, like visits, like time with existing students, like maybe engaging with...

...alumni or others in your local community. Right, there are other vehicles to learn about the university. But really during two thousand and twenty in particular, you know, as Jamie Gilpin as, about socialist sad these days social media is about the only door open to some brands. You know, March to August to two thousand and twenty for us was a period where we needed to use storytelling and really digital means to tell the world what we stand for, who we are and why they should care and and for some that was about having confidence and perceptions of competence, about coming back to produce. You know, in that fall, when we were coming back as one of the first to announce that and to you, had this this environment of students that were maybe admitted the multiple places, making a decision, making decision where they were going to vote with their feet to go in the fall. And it was our stories, it was our character, it was our essence. It was the stories that help you understand what life is going to be like here, what life is going to be like after purdue, that were so necessary and so rich to paint that picture when they couldn't come to us physically or when they couldn't use those you know, you know, tried and trude vehicles to get an experience and assess fit. So throughout the pandemic, you know, the necessity has been storytelling. But let's talk about, you know, the richness of these stories of universities providing PPE, of the breakthroughs that they've made, of the endeavors they've made to be open and active and safe and protect. There's amazing stories across the board to be shared with this country in this world about what we've done throughout the pandemic. Their inspirational, their emotional. They create action, they create emotion. So storytelling has been a really rich way, I think, of really saying who we are, what we stand for and why can people get excited about that or why can they believe us? And when you think about the most critical mediums for which to tell these rich, emotive stories, your team is put a huge focus on creating video content over the past year. What is your strategy been there, from both...

...a video production and promotional standpoint? Yeah, so that was one of the early Epiphanies, and I go back to that Jamie Gilpin's quotation from from sprout. But the notion was when we were sitting all respectively on our couches and March with a lot more downtime right to watch joe and Joe, Joe Exotic or tiger king and things of that nature, we looked deeply at ourselves and said, Hey, one of the places of great engagement will be Youtube, and we had an arsenal video that was sitting there that, in many respects great stuff, hadn't been seen by enough eyeballs. Yeah, so the first thing for us was actually making sure that the youtube experience, the cataloging, the quality of content, was not only updated, but it was, you know, friction list to find what you were looking for and engage with. And so we put a lot of time and effort in in March and April two thousand and twenty in particular, to really revamp the youtube experience. And then from then we rolled out a program we called air cover, and air cover was just this idea that we were going to go out to the world over the next sixteen weeks and we were going to segment or compartmentalize our contents against themes, eight themes. There are brand pillars, two weeks each, and in those you would you'd be predictably engaging with purdue on the topic of innovation or discovery or inclusion or persistence, etc. And I say that because that gave up a playbook to marshal the three hundred folks here on campus to talk to the world versus just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. And probably what I was most excited about is, you know, it was really the first time that we've excelled with Youtube and during that period we saw a hundred and fifty percent greater engagement than our competitors. During that period and we saw almost a six hundred percent increase in our engagement versus produced content the year before. So something was working. But the the my favorite, was during that period we actually saw some more views of our content on youtube than we did the combine of five of our peers are benchmarked peers, so people you can anticipate or expect, and that told us that we were putting...

...meaningful content out there that people were engaging with. Hopefully frictionless, hopefully easy, but boy, you know, what do you want to consume? Right and during that period on the couch, a lot of it was video and we've learned from us. So that that speaks that period. Since then we've invested heavily in our video capabilities and beam in our drone work and thereafter again in the distribution. This can't be a tree that falls in, you know, in a forest that nobody's there to here. We're really focus now about distribution and consumption of that content after we hit, you know, publish, and we're doing that through a range of work, not only internally on social and with a couple of bender partners. Your video esthetic is super rich and and super beautiful. Talk to us about that esthetic. Moving produe from a you have fifteen secondary color options in our Rainbow Brand Palette in two thousand and nineteen to a much more limited you got four blacks, you got four golds today. Yeah, that was a fun journey. You know what, when I got here in eighteen, what we found, I think, was largely marketing for ourselves, and it was certainly a house of brands, it wasn't a house and there was very little concern, I think, about putting things out in the market that are hitting shared audiences whereby you know an individual who is a graduate who now is a parent of students, who was in the band, who was in a fraternity, who's advising now our startups, etc. I think it's seven pieces of male and it's all in the vein of how that local departmental marketer wanted to showcase perdue versus, how produe can look like it's best form of itself. You know, no matter the college, no matter the department, that's very different. And so one of the things we had to do is get away from this skittles or sweet tarts color Palette that we had been utilizing, which was really relegating some of the power of our brand. Right Michigan. You know, if the blue and maze doesn't go out and do a lot of stuff in purple for that reason, right. They own their identity. Well, produce needed to own the the strength...

...of gold and black and and so we did. We have a great designer here who proposed this notion of Color Quito and we we did away with all of the Color Palette besides forms of blacks and silvers and grays and forms a cult of gold. And we said, if we ever need to let that Secondary Palette or some of it back in, we will, but let's let's go on Keto for a little while. Let's go ketogenic on our on our colors, and see if it works. And and it's provided plenty of flexibility. It's provided plenty of clay to mold something really beautiful, but to do it in the produce character that our audiences expect and they've come to love over many, many years. And so in we're not marketing ourselves. Were marketing to our audiences and we're marketing this incredible brand that has an identity. Don't screw with that by making a purple. Don't screw with that by trying to replicate, you know, ebay or skittles. Let's own black and gold the way our sporting teams do, and let that speak to our audiences. It also it prevents them from having to expend much cognitive strain or intellectual calories to understand us. When they see the golden black, they know it came from produce, you know, purple and orange and red. In their mailbox they go who sent this and when they say it's producing, though, they scratch their head. So it's about being in character and the campus has embraced it beautifully. In the limitations of an audio based podcast like this one is, I say, this kind of monochromatic blacks and golds. What you can't see is that, when you're living in that world from a primary color Palette, the students are where the color shine, the stories are where you can get all those other colors. So definitely head an over to to produce site in their video to to check out how that works. Even let's talk about campaigns from a storytelling perspective. Talk about protect perdue and how important a campaign, specifically this, was to integrate within your new brand strategy. Yeah, I think what's important a note was we had launched essentially a new brand platform the...

...last days of January. Of Two thousand and twenty and six weeks later we were sending all of our students home on spring break be springing them back right because of covid nineteen. And so what we had to do quickly was this this notion of pivot to what we hatched as a campaign called protect produe. But we had to do it in the vein and the understanding and the character and the essence of the brand platform that we had just worked a year on. Right we had incredible assets, we had incredible understanding, we had incredible equity that was ready to be utilized. To throw that out and say, okay, pivot because a covid nineteen, we would have lost all of that magic. And so what we did was with protect produe, it's really an internal campaign. It's really about creating a culture, not just on campus but in the community, around everyday compliance, in our student population and our faculty population, our staff population, around what's called the protectortuy pledge. And in doing that we believe that if we could, we could change, reinforce and create behaviors, attitudes, beliefs about what it took to be here in person, to do it safely. Then a lot of the other measures that you do in terms of opening a campus during covid nineteen would be certainly incidental or at least less necessary. And so protector too, was was really an internal campaign to get our fifty five thousand onto the same song sheet again in this instance, to come here to protect themselves, to protect others and to protect this community, so that we could be open, operational and it's active as anybody in the fall of two thousand and twenty and beyond. And so we've done it all through all kinds of messaging, all sorts of creative our website, all kinds of social and probably the most impressive was the initial recruitment of two hundred and twenty protector to ambassadors, student little heat seeking missiles that were out there as ambassadors and spreading the good word right and reinforcing the positive behaviors necessary to thrive, you know, on campus during covid nineteen. And what they did on a credit Katie Pratt and Bailey slide ground, or Bai left...

...for on my team, as they quickly became a student marketing organization in many respects. They spun up the Boiler Ambassador instagram account. It's already got four thousand followers at this point in time, and so as we went into year two, we scaled that back to about sixty five individuals instead of two hundred and twenty out of need. But now they're providing incredible content to the campus, authentic content for their peers around the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that we need. Need again to thrive. And what we're going into your three of the pandemic. So Protector. It was our way of it's not, you know, this isn't marketing dust. This was a behavioral change, a behavior reinforcement campaign to say these are the things we're going to have to do differently again with eighteen to twenty two year olds, Fiftyzero of them, in a pretty condensed space to thrive together versus be home, you know, in our parents basements, apart ethan really, really great stuff. Finally, leave us with some next steps, advice for institutions. Listen to this. They're looking to better lean into their critical role as story teller. Where should they start? How should they think about that? Yeah, you know, I think even at the most enterprise level and also within departments in college, as I say this a lot, I think a Tim Caulkins breakthrough marketing plans book, and the reason I cite that is it really needs to stem from a deep understanding and alignment with the terminal goals or metrics or objectives of the university or the College of the department. Right, these aren't random acts of marketing. Our Marketing and communications efforts should be collectively contributing to the realization of our vision, to the realization of our goals, to the result realization of our business results. So I think it really starts with a deep understanding of your president or your board or your provost, your chancellory or your deans. You know terminal goals and metrics that they're trying to achieve. And how do we bring wood to that fire? How do we make sure that our tactics, that are strategic initiatives, are campaigns, that are strategies, actually aligne and benefit the realization of those goals, of those metrics, of those objectives, versus...

...you know not to be immeasurable and say well, we're just doing this for not no, we're contributing this to those realizations and if we don't, we shouldn't be doing them. And I think that's how you get the alignment, to become the driver of brand versus the driven by the requests of a bunch of non marketers, quite frankly. But the thing I'll also leave you with on this one that we talked about as a team a lot, is if we don't do it, no one will write. I think that's really important. The the brand, the the marketers, the brand managers, the CMOS, whoever listens to this. I think we have to remember that these stories, that these precious brands that are positioning our promotion and the protection of it. If we're not accountable to it, if we're not responsible for it, I don't know who will be. And so if it's going to get done, it's going to get done by us. To drive the brand intentionally and successfully is our job. If we don't do it, it doesn't get done and that's a scary environment. So I hope for many marketers can align, that they can understand, you know, their leaders objectives and where they're headed, and that they can meaningfully contribute to that through their marketing craft and all the things that they do very well. He thank thanks so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to reach out if they have any follow up questions. Well, the most impressive thing we have is my team. It's not me, and so I would just direct everybody to markcom Dot Produ Dot eedu. It's a beautiful brand site. We talk a lot about an environment here at per university where we don't feed everybody. We want to help others fish for themselves and eat well. Well, that's the site where all of those assets, all those resources are, but all about our team. Is All of our contact informations. There biographies, Etcetera. So more conduct produced at EU is your onestop shop to learn about what we're trying to do and to find the people that are doing it. Awesome, you think. Thanks so much for joining us today. I was a pleasure. Thank you. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the...

...second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook you've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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