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 two core 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 it is going to be 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:
- Develop a calendar of consistent messaging to your recruits, across multiple formats (mail, email, social media, and text messaging). Commit to it, and don’t leave any of those options out of your plan. They all count, according to your recruits.
- Don’t prove to them that you want them. Prove to them why they should want you.
- Let your prospect determine whether or not what you’re selling is “good enough”. Don’t make the 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 – especially 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:
- 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.
- Maintaining your level of confidence and enthusiasm at the end, just as you (hopefully) have been doing since the beginning.
- Giving your prospect an ongoing supply of positive reasons to choose your program.
Branding is a key part of successful recruiting. At the core, its coming up with a compelling story to tell 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 developing your program’s brand is a priority for you and your coaching staff, you might want to look at Preseason. This group of marketing, social media and branding experts work solely with college programs and other entities on campus – and, it is lead by a former college coach who understands the unique recruiting cycle you are faced with on a daily basis. Click here to see what they’re doing for athletic departments and individual programs around the country.