Dan Tudor

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Build a Brand Message Your Recruits Will Connect WithMonday, September 10th, 2018

You and I, just like the teenage prospects that you are recruiting, love to align themselves with good brands.

Coaches talk to me all the time about the idea of establishing their own unique brand, and telling the story that’s effective in the eyes of their recruiting audience. It’s hard to do, but they know it’s important, and so they make every effort to tell a great brand story, and to develop a unique overall brand message that differentiates their program from their competitors

In the world of Internet travel resources, TripAdvisor is a great brand. I myself use their rating system and reviews for hotels I’m considering, and I often look up fun things to do on family vacations if we’re in an area for the first time. TripAdvisor is one of our go to resources, as it is for many people.

I even have an added reason to align myself with trip advisor: Our favorite local burger place here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Al’s Burger Shack, just got named by TripAdvisor as having the best hamburger in America, according to an average of all the reviews of their hamburgers compared to other restaurants around the country.

And yet, I would never even think for a second of buying this TripAdvisor coffee mug that was advertised prominently inside of a Charlotte International Airport gift shop.

It’s odd, out of place, and probably is being featured just because somebody in the corporate office at TripAdvisor figured it was good to put their brand name on some sort of items that the general public might want take with them on their way to the next flight. Except that’s not what the general public is usually looking for when they are on their way to their next flight. Honestly, I can’t think of any compelling reason anyone would want to buy a TripAdvisor coffee mug.

So, what does and oddly placed Internet travel website coffee mug have to do with recruiting, and your college marketing message efforts?

Glad you asked. It’s largely up to you to define your brand to your recruiting class. When it comes to branding, which every coach these days seems to be concerned about, I want to offer up some advice  to follow when you and your staff are trying to craft your brand message for your next batch of potential recruits:

Decide what you are, and what you aren’t. And when you do that, be specific and as discriminating as possible. By ‘discriminating’ I mean this: Define some things that would potentially turn prospective student athletes off of your program, essentially explaining who isn’t right for you as a coach and for your program. There are things that aren’t right for every prospect on your campus. The more you explain what those things are, along with the aspects of the college or your program that would be right for recruits, you’ll begin to establish the basis for a good, solid brand a message that stands out when compared to other programs who are trying to get the same attention of the same prospect.

Making an outrageous claim, and then work to prove it to your prospect. If you want a good example of  being on the edge when it comes to ideas of brand development that really become successful in the marketplace, grab a copy of the outstanding book, Marketing Outrageously. You’ll know it when you see it, because it’s the one of a with a picture of the sumo wrestler dunking a basketball on the cover. It’s the story Joel Spoelstra, the man in charge of season ticket sales and marketing for the lowly New Jersey Nets of the NBA many years ago. He describes how the used outrageously creative branding and marketing ideas to go from the bottom of the pack in season ticket sales, to the top team that was getting sellouts every night – even when their team was still really bad on the court.  He describes the mandate he gave to his marketing staff when it came to creative ideas they would use to market their brand: It has to be an idea so out rages and on the edge, that eventually they would say to themselves “I’m not sure if the owner will let us do that“. That, he said, was when he knew they were getting close to a great idea that would actually work. For most college coaches, they could use a dose of outrageous, creative, one of a kind marketing and branding ideas that set them selves apart and really define their program in a compelling way to recruits.

How are you different than everyone else they’re looking at? For a detailed explanation on this important point in the branding process, listen to this recent podcast episode we did on the topic. In summary, it’s vital that you explain why you were different then other programs they were also looking at. Because of that short timeline that I just mentioned in the previous point, they are trying to assess differences, and whittle their list down as quickly and as efficiently as possible, the best they know how. Understanding who’s different, and why, is one of the big ways they do that. Like I said, we go into a lot of detail on that topic in the podcast episode. Devote a few minutes of your day listening to it if you have the time. (Listen on iTunesGoogle Play, or Sticher)

Branding with out measurable action is worthless. The one difference between you and the marketers at Ford, Kellogg‘s, or TripAdvisor, is that you don’t have a long time to let your brand image sink in for most recruiting classes. You have a 6 to 18 month window, in most cases, to attract the attention of your retreat through whatever branding message you choose to put forward. That means you are aiming for them to become a buyer in one to two years, tops,  like many companies do. You need action quickly. So, your branding message should consistently be asking for action on the part of your prospect. That interaction, coupled with the introduction of the brand that is justifying why they should take action, because its is the ‘secret sauce’ that a select few coaches have discovered is one of the secrets to attracting good recruits on a consistent basis.

Branding is your responsibility, Coach. The faster you establish you brand, and then go about the daily business of putting that message in front of recruits, the faster you’ll see your prospects being able to define who you are, and what your team is all about.

40 Ways to Craft Better Recruiting Stories for Your ProspectsMonday, August 21st, 2017

Not all will apply to you, but most of them will.

  1. Decide what your brand is all about. Define it.
  2. List three things you know your recruits don’t care about.
  3. Stop talking about those things. Immediately.
  4. Every year, read two books about marketing, sales, communication or branding. Start later today.
  5. One of those books should be this one. Its an easy read, but it will change the way you recruit.
  6. When you have an extra 17 minutes, watch the author teach you how to get your idea – and recruiting message – to spread.
  7. Tell your story in a variety of ways.
  8. That includes social media, but don’t make the mistake in thinking that’s all kids want or need. Far from it.
  9. Use Facebook if you want to tell your social media story to parents.
  10. Use Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter to tell your social media story to your recruits.
  11. If you aren’t sending old fashioned mail to recruits, your competition is sending it thanks you.
  12. In any story you tell, how you construct it matters.
  13. Listen to our special podcast episode on constructing a smarter, more cohesive, story for your recruits.
  14. Tell them very little about your school and your program when you first reach out to them.
  15. Remember: They don’t care about you (yet), and are usually hoping someone else recruits them eventually.
  16. (Assuming you believe #15, how does that change the tone and focus of your first few messages?)
  17. They’ll believe what the Freshmen on your team tell them way more than what you tell them.
  18. Consistency > Volume.
  19. What would your current team send out to their friends back in high school to get them to come play for you? That might be a worthwhile thing to ask them.
  20. Ask questions in when you tell your story. But make sure their answers aren’t the “right” ones. (Let me explain).
  21. Don’t be afraid to talk about the scholarship you want to give, or the cost of your school, early on with parents.
  22. Outline what’s in it for them if after they verbally commit to you. What would they get to do next with you?
  23. Don’t give up on kids who don’t seem to be engaged with your story. Many are still listening, just not responding yet.
  24. Don’t worry if they don’t seem to “love” you yet as you’re telling them your story.
  25. The campus visit is the most vital aspect of your story. How is it a different feel than your competition’s?
  26. Your story needs to talk about a deadline. Fair, but firm. Don’t be afraid of establishing one.
  27. At this point, are you still remembering to center everything around #1? It matters to your recruits!
  28. Stop making recruiting the last thing you do every day. It should be a priority for you. Schedule time for it.
  29. Look for objections, and happily and enthusiastically address them with your recruit.
  30. As it gets later in the recruiting process, continue to tell your story.
  31. What we said earlier about consistency holds true late in the process: They need you to tell them why to pick you.
  32. Your goal in telling a great recruiting story is to get them to campus. That’s where the decision is made.
  33. The later it gets in the process, the more they need you to ask them about their process for making a decision.
  34. Their decision is the central part of THEIR story. And they need you to play the role of asking them to commit.
  35. As the recruiting process moves forward, the story should get more and more narrow, focused on them specifically.
  36. Most parents will vote to have them stay close to home, or go to the school that costs less. UNLESS you tell them why your school is the better, smarter choice.
  37. Ask for the sale. Ask for the sale. Are you ready to hear them say yes? ASK FOR THE SALE.
  38. If they say “no”, it most likely just means “not yet”. Now ask them “why not?” That moves the story along.
  39. If they verbally commit with a “yes”, after the celebration, tell them it becomes official with you when they announce it publicly on social media. (I’ve heard the arguments against having them do that, but I’ve seen exponentially better results by following that course of action).
  40. Get an answer to this question from your prospect: “What were the three biggest reasons you said yes/no?”

Recruiting, like story telling, is a process. Respect that process, and manage it.

Watch what happens when you do.


Fancy FootwearMonday, April 17th, 2017

Chris Mateer, Front Rush

Athletics have always been rooted in testing the limits of human capabilities. As much as head-to-head competition provides excitement and entertainment, it’s the records and milestones that are remembered. Whether it’s Wilt Chamberlin’s 100-point game, the home run world record and its ensuing steroid controversy, or the 4-minute mile, the world of athletics has always been fascinated by exactly what is humanly possible. The advancement of these milestones has always stemmed out of continual developments in training, conditioning, and strategy, but an undeniable aspect has also been the role of constantly advancing technology and equipment. Nowhere is this intersection of conditioning and technology more clear than in Nike’s coming assault on the 2-hour marathon.

Despite continuous comparisons by both Nike and track fans alike, attacking the sub 2-hour marathon is a feat that exists on a different plane than that of the 4-minute mile. When Roger Bannister broke the world record by 2 seconds in 1954, he lowered the world record by less than 1% (0.8%, specifically). Meanwhile, the goal Nike has set of under 2 hours will lower the existing world record by 3%. Both of those fractions are small on paper, but they become enormous leaps when dealing with the world of human limitations. For reference, the last improvement of the world record for the marathon was only about 0.5% when it was improved from 2:03:23 to 2:02:57. To break 2 hours requires a drop of almost 3 minutes: 6 times greater than that of the last improvement.

This, of course, begs the question of how Nike plans to accomplish a feat of such magnitude. Their first goal was to ensure they have the best athletes, in their possible condition. Per their website, Nike started with a pool of 60 of the best athletes in the world and whittled that group down to 3 individuals. Although none of these individuals currently are in possession of the world record, they contain an Olympic Gold Medalist, the Half Marathon World Record holder, and a Boston Marathon Champion. These athletes have been training together under Nike’s supervision for months.

Furthermore, Nike is precisely engineering every aspect of the record attempt. Nike has chosen a perfectly flat, tree-lined course for the record attempt to reduce any environmental factors and have even left the race date ambiguous. This allows the coordinators to pick the date where the weather will be ideal. The window has been set for early May when temperatures will be cool and prime for fast times. Finally and perhaps unsurprisingly, Nike has made it clear that their shoes will be a part of this record attempt. Since launching the record attempt, Nike has released a new shoe called the Nike Vaporfly 4%. The 4% is included in the name since the shoe has been built and tested to improve running economy by 4% and this number should jump immediately off the page, given the current gap between the existing world record and sub 2 hours. Nike has designed a shoe that, per their claims, should be able to bridge the gap in human capability from where it currently stands to traverse what has now become a near mythical feat in the world of the marathon.  

Sometime in early May, the world will see if Nike’s attempt will be successful. If they fall short, the myth of the sub-2-hour marathon may only grow, and Nike’s attempt will be remembered as nothing more than an overly ambitious PR stunt. But, what if they succeed? One of the three athletes will go down in the history books as the first sub-2-hour marathoner, but how much credit goes to Nike? And what will be remembered, the shoe or the athlete?  


Trust Over PriceMonday, June 22nd, 2015

542242_10201795155827901_994503587_nby Michael Cross, UltimateSportsInsider.com

Recruiting is a euphemism for sales, and sales isn’t for everyone. But we are ultimately all in sales – selling yourself, your institution and your program. Selling isn’t easy and you probably hear “no” many more times than you hear “yes.” People in sales often resort to price as a primary means to get a commitment. If you are selling a commodity (such as gasoline) price and location are a strong determinant because only the most sophisticated consumer can determine the difference between Mobil and Shell. You don’t need a high level of trust.

Two family purchasing decisions – cars and pet care – come to mind where trust is essential.

The other day I took our car for an oil change and new tires at Mike Miller Auto Park in Peoria, Illinois, a purchase that was going to approach $1000. Many people think there is no more expensive place to have this type of work done than the dealership. But Mike Miller’s service and relationship building is legendary. He’s given Green Bay Packers tickets to people who have purchased cars from him. He remembers birthdays. He is fair and honest. He is personally invested on a daily basis in making sure that the customer is always right and feels valued. Most importantly, he established TRUST from the day we purchased a car, when we left feeling great about the purchase rather than beaten into submission. Today we never even think of comparison shopping to save a couple dollars and the volume of people having work done at his dealership the day I went said we weren’t alone. In fact he singlehandedly saved the Cross Family as a customer for Hyundai after a horrific car purchasing experience at a counterpart dealer several years before that left us swearing we would NEVER buy another Hyundai.

The other example is Play All Day Doggie Day Care. We love our English Golden Retrievers, Jocelyn and Clara. We trust they are safe and happy when we travel. How do we know? When they first went to Play All Day, the dogs (and my wife and kids) were skittish. We had recently adopted them and they were older and a little shell-shocked from the transition into our home. To aid in their transition, the day care owner had both dogs stay at her house for multiple nights until everyone was comfortable with the new environment. She groups dogs by size and demeanor, has birthday treats, and posts daily facebook videos for the owners to see that they are having fun. Yes, it’s a little over the top and it costs a few dollars more – but the peace of mind is priceless. We would never go anywhere else.

So as you try to figure out how to get a recruit to commit focus on trust over price. In fact, if you are recruiting someone who is solely focused on where they can get the best deal, I’d encourage you to thoroughly evaluate their fit for your program. While college is a very expensive investment, the long term value of building trust with recruits and honoring your commitments when they are current athletes will provide the results you are seeking year after year and create a more enjoyable and differentiating recruiting approach. College and your team are more than a commodity – they are priceless opportunities where trust is paramount.

Michael Cross is an intercollegiate athletics consultant with an emphasis on athletic department evaluations and organizational culture development, as well as career development for coaches and administrators. You can read other similar posts and subscribe to his blog at UltimateSportsInsider.com.   You can contact him through LinkedIn or connect with him via Twitter @USinsider.

Branding Your Program Effectively at the Start and End of the Recruiting ProcessMonday, December 15th, 2014

Why should a college coach care about their program’s “brand”?

Seriously, do you even have time for that?  With your limited budget, not enough hours in the day, administrative duties, student-athletes knocking on your office door, parents emailing you about playing time…am I really suggesting that you even begin to care a little bit about what your “brand” is in the eyes of your recruits?

Only if you really want them.

With this generation, branding is everything.

What shoes they wear, what music they listen to, what private school they attend, which clothing contract your school has, where your U.S. News ranking sits…it all matters at two certain points in the recruiting process, according to our ongoing research:  At the very beginning, and (if you don’t change their minds during your ongoing conversations) at the very end.

How you control those two points in the process will likely dictate the outcome of each and every one of your recruiting battles.

(That’s why you should care about your program’s “brand”)

Here are my recommendations for building a strategy around those two important parts of the recruiting process:


Controlling your program’s brand perception at the start of the recruiting process

Understand that nobody but you can establish your program’s brand at the start of your conversation.

Nobody. But. You.

If you don’t buy into that reality, you can stop reading now, because nothing else we talk about is going to matter.  Too many college coaches believe one of two things: 1) When it comes to their brand, they are hostage to their location, conference, division level, budget, history, and all of the other reasons coaches invent to not firmly and consistently establish their brand for their recruits.  Or, 2) their job is to coach, not try to establish their own brand and learn exactly what that entails.

A few coaches – many of whom are the coaches you admire in your sport because of their success – have figured out an amazing secret: If you consistently, confidently an creatively tell the story of why they should want to be a part of your program, you have a strong chance of landing that recruit.  You can be one of those coaches.

What it takes, at the start of the process, is to understand that most recruits don’t come in to the conversation with you as a “blank slate”.  There is some kind of definition they have started to assign to you at first contact, and most of the time its negative.  So, starting with that concept, let me ask you:

What are you saying to those prospects to convince them that you’re worth considering?

What are you telling them that makes the case for why they would be crazy not to come and compete for you?

Those aren’t throw-away questions.  They are the start of developing a real brand as a college coach who wants to take recruiting to the next level.  So, here are three things to do next:

  1. Develop a calendar of consistent messaging to your recruits, across multiple formats (mail, email, social media, phone).  Commit to it, and don’t leave any of those options out of your plan.  They all count, according to your recruits.
  2. Don’t prove to them that you want them.  Prove to them why they should want you.
  3. Let your prospect determine whether or not what you’re selling is “good enough”.  Don’t make their buying decisions for them.  Your job is to make the best case possible as to why they should want you and your program.  Focus on that.

Controlling your program’s brand perception at the end of the recruiting process

At this point, you’ve spent months either doing a really fantastic job of establishing your brand, or a horrible job of it.

Let’s deal with the more negative possibility first: If you’ve ignored those three core principles outlined for the start of the recruiting process, it’s likely that – at best – your recruiting results are random, and at worst they are really suffering.  Without controlling your brand identity at the start of the process, it is impossible to re-define it at the end of the process.

If, however, you’ve done a fantastic job of establishing your brand, you’ve now set yourself up for a strong branding message at the end.  Which is vital, for one big reason.

At the end of the process, your recruit’s natural inclination is to gravitate to the “safe” choice: The school with the winning record, the highest ranking on one of the twenty three college lists out there, the college closest to home, the one that’s offering the most money…those are all the “safe” choices.

Your job, at the end of the process, is to anticipate that they are having second thoughts about your brand.  No matter how much you think your recruit is leaning towards committing to your program, assume otherwise.  Continue to confidently, consistently and creatively explain to them why they should want to be with you and your program.  Especially after a campus visit.  Especially in the weeks leading up to their final decision.

So let me ask you two important questions as you end the process:

How are you managing your prospect’s timeline and tailoring your message to that timeline?

How are you calming their fears and making it o.k. for them to choose you over one of their “safer” choices?

Just as is the case at the start of the branding process, those aren’t throw-away questions.  They are the culmination of developing a real brand as a college coach who wants to take recruiting to the next level.  So, here are three things to do next:

  1. Control your prospect’s decision-making timeline.  We’re not talking about forcing them to choose you (that’s impossible, by the way), we’re talking about fully understanding when and how they will make that decision, and then holding them to that timeline.
  2. Maintaining your level of confidence and enthusiasm at the end, just as you (hopefully) have been doing since the beginning.
  3. Giving your prospect an ongoing supply of positive reasons to choose your program.

Branding is a key part of successful recruiting.  At it’s core, its coming up with a compelling story to tell your recruits, and then doing that consistently over a long period of time – just like a television ad campaign.  Take this part of your job as a recruiter very, very seriously.

If you’re a Client or Tudor University coach, we’ve produced a 20 minute video talking about the entire concept of successful branding in college recruiting.  Watch it here when you get a chance.

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