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 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 he 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 outrageous 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 themselves 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.
Branding without 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.