Author: Harry Chapin

5 March 2024

So I’m stuck in soul-sucking morning traffic making my way into our Boston office. I’m diving deep into a podcast about the ‘Big 7’ tech moguls—yeah, the Apples and Amazons of the world who are basically running the S&P show now. It got me thinking—back in the day, the big dogs were Exxon, GM, IBM – you know, those old-school giants that feel, well, old. But the game’s changed. And our college-bound kids? They’re looking at a whole new playing field.

Now, as someone who lives and breathes branding for colleges, I’m all about finding the perfect idea to give universities an edge to draw in bright young minds. But let’s face it, the pace of academia embracing innovation is often glacially slow. We don’t need to outpace Tesla but, like being chased by a hungry bear, we certainly need to move faster than the competition around us.

Colleges today have strong marketing teams, and there’s always a buzz about wanting to break the mold and stand out from the competition. More often than not, however, the inertia of traditional academia is hard to pull away from and overcome. We end up spinning the same stories—”world-class”, “scenic”, “vibrant campus community”, etc. All important stuff, but all table stakes today, especially for the challenger schools that we specialize in helping. We’re here to make these institutions win, not just catch up with the next tier of colleges.

There’s plenty of awesome stuff happening on campuses, and we believe it’s just a matter of shining the right light on the right parts. Think of it like the “halo cars” of automakers – those sleek, futuristic models that car brands build buzz around, even though they usually end up being purchased by the very few. But these cars make you dream and they make you start to think differently about the brand and where it’s going. A few of these ‘Halos, or innovative bright ideas’ can help a business school embrace innovation, and actually guide it to becoming more innovative. Business schools should be as innovative as the companies driving our economy.

So how can a business school inject a bit of that Big 7 energy into their brands?

  1. Uncover Hidden Gems: Dive deep into the academic and extracurricular landscape to spotlight innovative research, unique programs, and student-led ventures that set your institution apart. Then tell these stories. Think of them as your Halo stories that redefine what’s possible within your walls.
  2. Narrate Authentic and Extraordinary Journeys: Shift the alumni narrative from embellished testimonials to genuine tales of entrepreneurial grit and success, making the stories relatable and aspirational. Always be mining for these stories with alumni – it’s a win/win.
  3. Establish a Student-run Marketing Agency: What better way to capture and share the real pulse of campus life, innovation, and success stories. Plus, nothing performs better than user-generated content on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Empower student marketers with autonomy, a paycheck, and real responsibilities to bring fresh perspectives to your brand’s storytelling.
  4. Host Innovation Challenges: Organize high-profile competitions that invite students to solve real-world problems, supported by industry partners. These events not only showcase the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of your students but also position your institution as a crucible of actionable change.
  5. Collaborate with Innovators: Forge partnerships with startups, tech companies, and industry disruptors for guest lectures, workshops, or joint projects. (Something our agency did to help Isenberg School of Management by showcasing Apple co-founder, Steve Wosniak, in a live branded talk with influencers and alumni.) These collaborations bring the energy of the outside world in, offering students firsthand insights into what it takes to succeed in today’s fast-paced business landscape.

In essence, it’s time for business schools to channel a bit of that Big Tech energy. Not by trying to be something you’re not, but by capturing that same daring, convention-defying vibe that catapulted those companies into the stratosphere. Let’s make the next wave of students feel like they’re not just enrolling in a program but becoming part of the feeder system for the future of business success.