Are Higher Ed Brand Videos Worth It? Making the Case and Maximizing the Investment

Are Higher Ed Brand Videos Worth It? Making the Case and Maximizing the Investment

Author: Forge Team

15 September 2018

We get it. No university marketing department has ever complained to the budget committee about being burdened with too much money. Nor has any admissions director ever proclaimed, “I am so certain of my attribution model that I can tell you the precise source and acquisition cost of every incoming student.” It’s these types of challenges and uncertainties that have driven higher education’s interest in audience profiling and micro-targeting, sophisticated narrative planning for behavioral retargeting, and other trackable hyper-personalization.

Now don’t get it twisted — we love to geek out over that stuff. And when it comes to video, the medium provides endless, data-driven opportunities for targeted prospective student engagement, segmented fundraising campaigns, and more.

But what about the big picture? Or rather — the big video? In an age ruled by ROI, PPC, CPV, etc., is it still worth it to create an institutional anthem video? You know the ones — those sweeping brand pieces designed to drive awareness and emotion rather than specific, attributable action.

Short answer? Yes, as long as you do it the right way — and plan ahead to make the most of it. We review our best practices for a compelling institutional anthem brand video, and a few examples of colleges and universities that get it right.

Be a ruthless advocate for authenticity

How do you keep an educational brand video from lapsing into “flyover ad” territory? If you’re not familiar with that cringe-worthy category, just tune into a NCAA March Madness basketball game this month and you’ll be sure to catch a few. Diverse groups of conventionally attractive students laughing in a dining hall, a professor nodding thoughtfully as a student points to a petri dish in the lab, birds-eye campus shots so generic it could be stock.

Our advice when it comes to aerial shots and institutional branding? All colleges look the same at 10,000 feet. A good rule of thumb — if you could swap out a mascot and the video would work just as well for another school, then it’s not going to work very hard for yours.

A good video tells a story. A great video tells your story. To make your higher education anthem video successful, you’ve got to keep it really true to your college or university brand. Not exactly sure what your brand is or how to express it through video? Well, time for some tough love — you’re going to have to figure that out first. Developing, executing, and institutionalizing a strong, differentiated brand is no small task. But the clarity that comes from messaging so authentic that it feels inevitable is the only way to make a video feel believable. And it takes believability to connect with — and move — your audiences.

Once you understand your brand, there are plenty of ways to bring it to life through video. Maybe it’s by crowdsourcing ten-second clips of students expressing what the university positioning means to them. Maybe it’s by telling just one story that feels universal to your institutional community. Maybe, as Forge and the Isenberg School of Management recently did, it’s about translating an intensity of tone into not just the script but imagery as well:

Make it work hard — But don’t ask it to be more than it is

The best thing you can do to help your college or university’s brand video succeed is to embrace — and espouse — what it is and what it isn’t. As we mentioned, this type of content isn’t designed to target or provide attributable results. Stakeholders shouldn’t be looking to your brand video for lead generation metrics or capital campaign dollars.

With anthem pieces, we need to knowingly exchange the tactical and practical for something less tangible — emotional impact. These videos spark a sense of connection. They inspire, they energize, they galvanize. They drive pride. How do you measure that? While there are myriad uses for a brand video — building awareness with prospective students, empowering the current study body, celebrating the alumni experience — higher education marketers and their stakeholders need to accept the inherent unmeasurability of the piece. It can be tough to do, especially when it can represent a significant investment, but that acceptance can allow the anthem video to add value in a thoroughly unique and holistic way.

When unshackled from metric-based expectations, the anthem video can become a marketing tentpole for a college or university. By selling in the objective of the video as emotional impact, rather than recruitment or fundraising, we can focus on the authentic brand and unique attributes that move people to connect with the school. And in the funny way that these things work, we’ve often found that when we focus on connections, results follow.

For a good example of a university brand video that’s laser-focused on a single emotion, look no further than UCLA’s “We the Optimists” — no matter your alma mater, it’s hard not to feel a swell of pride for the Bruins’ accomplishments in the face of adversity. Now just imagine how much powerful it is for those who are alumni:

Maximize the investment

Now’s the time to strike the balance between realism and optimism. By working with your creative partner to develop a full picture of where this video might end up and how it might be used, we can plan for a shot list and editing scope that accounts for current and future cuts.

While it’s important not to ask too much of the brand video as a single product, that doesn’t mean that the effort we put into planning and production can’t do double duty. If often takes hours, if not days, of filming to capture the right shots for an anthem video. And as anyone who’s coordinated a campus-wide shoot can tell you, the hardest part of pulling it off can be coordinating dozens of schedules.

By thinking ahead, we’re able to plan for an editing budget that makes the most of all that footage — and the work it took to get everyone onboard and on camera. A brand video may feature a few seconds of key players on campus, but with strategically-aligned foresight, we can capture the additional footage necessary to flesh out each of those snippets into a focused mini video for your college or university’s social channels. Talk about segment-able content catnip.

Beginning this type of thinking early not only helps an institution and agency prioritize, but it opens up opportunities and can prove immensely helpful in getting buy-in from across the institution.

We’ve learned a few things over the past decade working in college and university marketing, so we understand that this kind of brand-driven, emotionally-impactful anthem video is a big undertaking, even before engaging an agency. So, for higher education marketing professionals curious about the process of getting a great brand video made — from the institutional politics of selling it in to hidden opportunities in the production planning process — get in touch to discuss about how we can move your next piece beyond the flyover.

Forge’s Education Marketing Group is exclusively focused on driving institutional reputation, an optimized enrollment funnel, and alumni engagement for colleges and universities. To learn more about Forge or our Education Marketing Group, email Lauren Mello.