Your Study Abroad Office is a Brand. From the moment a student steps on campus, sports teams, student groups, and academic opportunities vy for their attention.
What does it look like for a study abroad office to “cut through the noise” and build a case for study abroad for students who may not otherwise consider it?
Consider Lee, a student representing a typical first experience with study abroad.
Lee decides to visit the office after seeing a classroom presentation his first semester. He has a hard time finding the office and when he finally arrives, all the chairs are full and no one is there to greet him. He randomly picks up a brochure out of the hundreds stacked in the lobby library and balks at the price tag he finds on the first program. Fifteen minutes later, he’s told he has to schedule an appointment in order to speak with someone and he leaves feeling overwhelmed and out of place.
Now, envision Lee in an alternative scenario.
After the same classroom presentation, Lee decides to visit the study abroad office. The signage is clear and he is able to easily find it. He walks in, and the chairs are full and a student worker cheerfully greets him and invites him to join the hundreds of other students on campus in getting matched to university approved programs online while he waits to speak with someone. He meets with a well-trained advisor who creates general context before diving into details and follows up with his questions within 24 hours of his first visit.
The difference between the first and second scenario is about branding.
In part IV of our mini-series, Ethical Sales and Marketing in Study Abroad we’re looking at why developing a unique brand in study abroad is important and how study abroad offices and practitioners can find their voice.
Your study abroad office is a brand.
According to Seth Godin,
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”
In essence, branding cuts through all of the noise and paints a clear picture of an offer, or experience.
Study abroad and student advisors are brand ambassadors.
Brand ambassadors tell the story of the product, or in this case, the international education experience .Study abroad advisors are AMAZING brand ambassadors because they have a knack for speaking about the experience as both an alumni of a program and a professional guide
Study abroad advisors as brand ambassadors ask: What is the value my office brings to campus? Answering that question as a team will help to formulate the vision and mission of your office — and your mission is the centerpiece of your brand.
Brands are distinct communities with a clearly articulated identity.
If you are still wondering how branding relates to study abroad, consider the way that SUNY Oswego first understood, and then effectively changed, the study abroad brand on their campus. In his book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin argues that the internet has opened up new possibilities for social organization, and that we are in an unprecedented time when it comes to our ability to create social movements. He describes a modern tribe as:
“a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
Building a brand means building trust.
Your programs are the culmination of your brand experience, not the brand experience. Consider that every student who participates on your programs interacts with your brand for months (or even years!) before applying. What kind of experiences are you creating in that time?
One key component of a strong brand is trust and trust is built through creating consistency with students in the key areas where your office has contact points: your staff, your physical office, your website and software, your programs, and your coordinated efforts across campus and/or with partners.
In sum, building your brand means building a community around study abroad through delivering consistent messages and encounters with every facet of the study abroad experience, before, during, and after the program.