As the University of Minnesota tells it, its researchers (both students and faculty) are driven to discover. And that’s what distinguishes U of M from other higher ed institutions. This $2 million, two-year branding initiative, dubbed "Driven to Discover," focuses on the University’s path to become one of the top three public research institutions in the world.
I really respond to this innovative campaign, that integrates signage, a monthly e-newsletter, Web presence, sidewalk clings (the signs plastered on sidewalks around campus featuring various "discoverers" in the U of M community), print and broadcast advertising, solicitation of questions that will be posed to researchers and more. One particularly innovative component is the University’s new Web site for the media, designed to serve national radio, TV, print and Internet media outlets to access the latest research news, timely experts addressing current news topics, university guests and free news columns.
"Ideally, the campaign will alert more Minnesotans about the importance of University research and how it affects their lives," said Linda Thrane, vice president for University relations. "We found that there is broad awareness of the University and broad support for the University, but it doesn’t go very deep," Thrane said. "In particular, (people) don’t understand the research that makes us different from other schools."
Student opinions vary. The student newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, reported in depth on the campaign, positioning Thrane’s point of view vs. that of many students who find the branding expenditure hard to swallow. Several student skeptics questioned spending the $ on branding, rather than on research itself, and some insist the campaign is designed simply to support a university re-org.
My take? I like the campaign’s slant and strategy, finding it interesting and creative even though I have no connection to the U of M. Although I do find the "We are all search engines." headline a bit weird and very impersonal. It just doesn’t work out of context.
But I predict that what’s really going to make a difference in this campaign is the focus on training U of M’s brand ambassadors to spread the word. The University has done a great job here of outlining:
- What the campaign is all about
- What the rollout will look like (this site was launched before the campaign)
- How community members — the site was promoted to U of M students, faculty and staff throughout this huge institution — can help.
U of M does a great job with this site and has provided a turnkey communicator’s toolkit (in print and online versions) to its brand ambassadors, along with downloadable supplements. These brand ambassadors are poised to carry "Driven to Discover" many more miles forward than the advertising budget alone. They’re on their way already. U of M marketer Ann Aronson pointed me to this powerful e-promotion from Bob Elde, Dean of the College of Biological Sciences.
Alumni are obviously the missing link to date, but Aronson and colleagues are working closely with the U of M Alumni Association to tie the campaign into all of their initiatives. Seems like U of M has the universe covered.
Take a note from the U of M in training your colleagues and other stakeholders to carry your brand forward. These are your greatest fans and, when you provide them direction and support materials, they’re likely be more effective marketers for your nonprofit than any print or online campaign.
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