Webcentricity And The Future Of Print Designers

We’re in the middle of a shift in the way we do business in higher ed marketing. People are coming to the realization that the Web has reached parity with print (if not toppling it altogether) as the focus of energy in the marketing department. And, as the Web becomes more central in higher ed marketing, a proverbial question naturally arises, “Which comes first, the print campaign or the Web site?”

Advocates from both sides make their case. Print has always held the prior claim, but the Web is clearly the number-one communication medium. A “print vs. Web” discussion then quickly ensues. But it ends in a kind of stalemate. It clearly won’t due to have a print campaign turned into a Web site. We’ve all seen that this just doesn’t translate well and we don’t need more links to PDFs. But building a campaign off of a Web design doesn’t solve the problem either. Good Web sites are typically minimalistic in their designs and lean more toward information. So what do we do with these two tribes? Who should prevail?

I tend to think that the “print vs. Web” discussion involves a false dichotomy, which is largely why the “either-or” answer is so dissatisfying. We’re asking the wrong question. The question is not “Which comes first, print or Web?” Because we know that neither of these comes first. What comes first is design. Print and Web are merely platforms for design. It just so happens that the print platform came before the Web platform and now our time is becoming more equally divided between the two (although some could argue that we should be spending more time on the Web and becoming more Webcentric).

As I see it, this is the coming of the end of the print designer as we know it and, perhaps, the Web designer, as well (I’ll explain what I mean by that in a second). Print designers will begin to learn more about how to apply their designs to the Web, and a clearer distinction will be made between a Web designer (one who graphically designs Web sites) and a Web developer (one who programs the functionality of the Web site ). In other words, the titles “print designer” and “Web designer” will disappear. I already see this beginning to happen in my department (although you can’t tell that yet  because we’re just beginning the process of redesigning our site). Those typically considered “print designers” are learning Flash and HTML. They have a desire to apply their design to the Web platform. I believe this is a natural evolution and that the sooner we recognize it, the sooner we can adapt and get on to asking different questions. And the sooner we can make it OK for true Web developers to hold positions in the marketing department and not have to refer to them as Web designers.

To summarize, print and Web should not be seen as competing with each other. The essence of both is design. In the future, we will only hire designers who can work on both platforms. And it will be more common to see Web developers moving out of IT and into the marketing department, not as Web designers, but as those who oversee functionality.

Can Higher Ed Marketing Be Divided Between Those Who Use Facebook And Those Who Don’t?

This is somewhat tongue and cheek, but have your noticed that those who really get marketing on campuses tend to be the same people who actively use Facebook?

Marketing insight is not really about how old one is or what generation one is from. It’s more about how connected one is. And one of the primary means of connection for college students these days, for better or for worse, is Facebook. I graduated from college before the Internet became mainstream, but I find myself using social media, like Facebook, more and more to stay connected with friends and colleagues and to meet new people. But I also find myself learning new things about my university, its students and the culture in general.

I’ve noticed that my colleagues who don’t use Facebook tend to appear “out of the loop” in many ways. And I also find that those colleagues of mine who have recently begun to engage regularly on Facebook, both older and younger, are noticeably more insightful and engaged in what’s going on than they were previously. They also tend to become more insightful and engaged when it comes to issues related to higher ed marketing.

Anyway, this is completely anecdotal, but I thought it was an observation worth sharing in case anyone else felt the same way.

UPDATE: Facebook Surpasses MySpace

House of Brands or Branded House?

Brand portfolio strategy is an often-misunderstood concept in higher ed marketing, if it’s considered at all. As many of you know, I’ve taken a new post at a different university. Prior to my arrival, the marketing department chose to follow what’s often called a “branded house” strategy. For those new to this concept, brand strategies typically fall on one end of a branding continuum often referred to as a brand spectrum. At one end, you have a “branded house” strategy, where the brand is firmly established and plays the driver role across all product offerings. Harvard is an example of a branded house (e.g. Harvard Business School, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School, etc.).

The “house of brands” strategy is on the other end of the continuum. My old school, Biola University, is an example of a house of brands strategy. It has Talbot School of Theology, Rosemead School of Psychology and The Torrey Honors Institute. Creating new brands or line extensions can help schools reach niche markets they wouldn’t otherwise be able to under their master brand. Toyota used this brand strategy when it created Scion to reach the emerging youth market that saw the Toyota brand as a brand for older people who were more interested in fuel economy than customization.

Some school brands, like the University of Pennsylvania, use a house of brands strategy (Annenberg School, Wharton School) but are closer to the branded house side of the spectrum.

There’s a tendency for smaller schools, like mine, to want to emulate established brands, like Harvard, Nike, etc., and follow a branded house strategy. But these schools often fail to realize the limitations of their master brands, especially when they attempt to reach niche markets. So they stretch their brands across their product offerings only to find that students don’t connect their brand with the product offering, like a Christian college entering the grad school market with a MA program in Artificial Intelligence. The only hope it has is a new line extension.

Granted there are merits to adopting a branded house strategy, like leveraging the established brand, lower branding costs, synergy, etc., but if your master brand cannot connect with the intended audience or make sense to them, then these benefits cease to be benefits. In addition, if you offer a new product under the established brand and it fails or goes sideways, then you could risk damage to the established brand. For example, those schools that started degree completion programs under a brand extension in the late 1980s are likely glad they did given the decline of the degree completion market.

So, it pays to think carefully about brand portfolio strategy and to understand that schools can’t simply adopt a brand strategy just because a well-known company did.