This weekend, I’m off to Chicago to attend the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. One of my favorite annual conferences, AMA is alway jam-packed with a wide variety of sessions to choose from – not to mention it's one conference that’s always hosted in one of America’s most exciting cities. Having said that, this year’s Symposium is only 3 days long and, with so much to pick from, I find it’s best to plan ahead.

As I skimmed over the list of sessions, I began to notice a trend. Brand is big. It’s encouraging to see so many colleges and universities investing in defining what makes them unique and discovering new ways of telling their story.

Below is a quick list of branding sessions that you may want to check out at this year’s conference.

  • The O Mission with University of Oregon

  • Creating Emotional Connection – The Key to Brand Building with Michigan State University

  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant and Owning its Might: A Case Study in Establishing a New Brand Framework with University of Glasgow

  • When Brands Unite: Creating a New Multi-Campus Brand with University of North Georgia

  • An Application is Worth a Lot, but it’s not Worth your Brand with Albion College

  • How to Successfully Activate a Masterbrand in a Decentralized Culture with University of Denver

The Cart and the Horse: How the Website Redesign Process Can Inspire Your Brand Marketing Strategy (Not Just the Other Way Around)

While each of these sessions sound compelling, I feel obliged to also mention that VisionPoint’s own Tony Poillucci will present in partnership with Robin Oliver, Director of Marketing at Western Carolina University at 2:15 pm on Tuesday in Sheraton Ballroom II.

At conference after conference, you’ll hear higher ed institutions and marketing agencies imploring you to build a “brand-driven website,” to “let your brand strategy inform your website’s architecture, content and design.” That’s gospel advice, tried and true. Still, that advice can be daunting if you desperately need a better website, but you don’t have a strong brand marketing strategy or even a resonant brand promise. Put simply, how can you build a “brand-driven website” without a strong brand?

That was precisely the situation in which Robin Oliver found herself when she accepted the marketing director role at Western Carolina University. A seasoned brand strategist with a passion for content marketing, Robin knew that to achieve long-term marketing success, the university needed a compelling brand message and a website capable of conveying it. Still, redesigning the school’s dated website was mission critical, and Robin couldn’t afford to fully establish a new brand promise and hone a robust brand strategy before beginning the redesign process. She needed a new website, and she needed it yesterday (sound familiar?).

It would have been easy for Robin to settle, to give the dated website a much-needed facelift and shelve the brand work for another day. Instead, Robin chose to lead university stakeholders in an ambitious journey to completely reimagine wcu.edu, capitalizing on the redesign process as an opportunity to build a true brand and spark a new messaging and content marketing strategy. What resulted was not only a beautiful new website, but a website capable of anchoring the university’s brand marketing strategy for years to come.

During our session with Western Carolina,  we will explain how the process for redesigning your website can spark a transformation in your brand messaging strategy. We'll share the steps involved in crafting a brand messaging strategy that is the heartbeat of your university website, showing why putting your brand and website development on parallel paths is not only an option but perhaps the best option. And, we'll reveal how the decisions (and the decision-making process) in goal-setting, information architecture, content strategy and design can help you hone your institution’s brand story and cultivate an internal community who are excited and passionate about helping you tell it in ways that will resonate with the audiences you most want to reach.

When you need a break between sessions, we’ll also be in the exhibit booth. Look for the orange floor and stop by to tell us your biggest marketing challenge. We may even give you a free t-shirt.