Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Marketing By The Coffee Cup: A Tale Of Harvard And Yale

I collect coffee mugs of places I've been. 
Sometimes they measure the marketing experiences I have had.    

First impressions count in content marketing, just like they do in the rest of life.  That first encounter is the point from which a customer either grants or withholds permission for you to have a continuing conversation with her.  And those conversations can stall or blossom into a relationship that benefits you both.  

But do first impressions count in the academic world?  Absolutely and here's a small example.

Harvard and Yale are two of America's long standing and most prestigious schools.  Both have produced US presidents, esteemed diplomats, corporate leaders, pioneering researchers and generations of blue chip lawyers.  I recently toured both campuses to saw first hand how they introduce their brand to the world. 

Yale traces its roots back to the 1640s but its marketing is as fresh as anything corporate America  serves up today.

It is a bitterly cold New England morning when I arrive at the Yale Visitor Centre, a colonial building on busy Elm Street in New Haven. Straight away I feel welcome. I'm guided to the restrooms, shown where to park downtown and invited to inspect the highly visual displays throughout the Centre.  

Dead on time a welcome video comes on to tell me about student life.  Theater students at Yale have been assigned the task of turning what could be a dry topic into a music video. Blending facts and stats with great imagery and a dollop of fun, they create a video that just screams energy. A hat tip to whoever has produced this.  They obviously know something about communicating.

Then I am out in the cold for a one and half tour of Yale's historic buildings.  My guide, a student from Singapore, is informative, easy going and punctuates history with talk on current happenings and stories about student life. I like the guy.  His energy and enthusiasm leave the feeling he is excited about being at Yale ... and if he's excited then I am too even though I'm only visiting. 

When tour time ends, I return to the Visitor Centre, ask some follow-up questions and leave clutching campus newspapers and a bag of literature (which I read).  I have had a good experience and want a  Yale memory to take back home.  I buy a $6 branded cup for my coffee mug collection. I leave happy. I've been engaged and informed so if for some reason Yale should ever contact me ... hey I'm ready to listen.  

More importantly Yale has set up a positive platform for future conversations with the parents and high school grads on my tour looking at places for a college education.


The coffee cup I don't have
A few days on and I'm at Harvard.  Again it's brutally cold if anything Boston is colder than New Haven. Harvard was established in 1636 and now has around 2,400 faculty members and 21 000 students. It's world famous.  Like Yale I sign up for the free campus tour.

I do so in a sparse, barren shopfront opposite the old campus. The staff are efficient but lack the warmth that attracts visitors and counters a cold day.  A corporate video grinds away to the side.  A continuous loop shows authority figures like deans and professors talking about how important they, their research or their courses are.  The acoustics are poor, the walls are bare and I'm not paying attention.

The tour commences. An undergrad student takes us around.  While my Yale guide snakes me through alleyways and squares, my nice enough Harvard leader sticks to a tight script moving me quickly from site to site. I certainly don't get that special backstage feeling I get at Yale.  The weather is cold and the experience is marginally warmer.

When the walking ends I search out a Harvard coffee cup for my collection.  At Harvard's official shop I can't find one and the staff have not much interest in helping either.  Later I spy one in a nearby bookshop but it's expensive and still it's freezing so I need to move on.

So .... Harvard leaves an impression but not enough to register a coffee cup.  On the other hand every time I use my  Yale mug it will always bring back memories of communicators who put personality in their marketing.  

Harvard and Yale give me a free lesson.  Put personality into your content marketing and you're off to the best start possible in building a relationship.


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