How to uniquely position your institution: advice from an agency owner (and a parent)

Episode 4 September 19, 2022 00:43:08
How to uniquely position your institution: advice from an agency owner (and a parent)
College Is Worth It
How to uniquely position your institution: advice from an agency owner (and a parent)

Sep 19 2022 | 00:43:08

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Hosted By

Vi Nguyen Justin Gillmar Drew Melendres Jonathan Shores, Ph. D.

Show Notes

The College Is Worth It Podcast, welcomes to the show Justin Ahrens. Justin is the Chief Evangelist at Rule 29, a creative agency specializing in Branding, Story & Marketing that works with several higher education institutions. He describes the pitfalls of higher ed marketing and what colleges and universities can do to brand themselves uniquely and effectively. As a parent himself, Justin provides insight about what families seek when looking for colleges.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:04 You're listening to the College Is Worth It Podcast, learn from leaders who are transforming higher education to ensure that a college degree will pay off for this generation and the next by exploring innovations in education with us in each episode. And now your host Vi Nguyen. Speaker 2 00:00:21 Hello, everyone. I'm Vi Nguyen. And I'm really excited to be speaking with Justin Ahrens today. The chief evangelist of Rule 29, a company that works with businesses, develop branding and marketing strategies to basically communicate their own stories. He gives us some professional expertise from his projects with colleges and universities and how higher ed institutions can best brand themselves as students. So let's get to it and with great pleasure. Here's Justin Ahrens. Hi, Justin Speaker 3 00:00:51 Hi Vi. My name is Justin Ahrens and I am the chief evangelist of a strategic branding company called Rule 29. And we work with a variety of organizations helping them connect their story to their ideal customer. It's great to be here today. Speaker 2 00:01:08 Yeah. We're super excited to speak with you and learn more about how exactly you market higher ed institutions. So thanks so much for sharing and I'm sure a lot of our listeners are curious about exactly what your work may entail and what projects you've been working on. But before we get into the thick of it, let's backtrack a little bit. And just wanted you to explain your personal higher education story a little bit. And what exactly led you to working with higher ed institutions? Speaker 3 00:01:37 Oh, that's a great question. Yeah. So back when I was in high school, I was an athlete and an artist, which was an odd combination and I was at least smart enough to know that I needed to find a school that had a great art program. Cause I had no idea really what to do with it. I assumed I was gonna be an art teacher and a coach. And so, uh, that is what I had in my mindset. And then I found out that, I actually could potentially play college sports. And so I had a bunch of division three smaller schools look at me. And when I went on my recruiting trips, I, the only thing I knew for sure I wanted to do was be creative. And so luckily for me, I ended up picking a school that was academically rigorous, but also had the best art school out of all the schools I looked at. Speaker 3 00:02:33 And the reason why that was good, in hindsight is the first day of football practice. I blew my knee out. So suddenly this person who identified himself as an athlete probably first, although I wasn't going anywhere further than, you know, small college football, basketball, and now was not a college athlete and I was a student and needed to figure out what to do. And so luckily I ended up going to Illinois Wesleyan University, which is in central Illinois. And I loved my experience and it was an awesome liberal arts education. That was perfect for the, for me, but it was a really, I wouldn't advise people to pick their school the way I did. I honestly there was some good choices I made, but also a little luck in there too. Speaker 2 00:03:21 Yeah. Um, well, do you wanna branch out a little bit about that? I'm curious how you exactly chose Illinois. We cuz you talk a lot about art and being passionate about sports. Do you think when you say you wish you put other things into your decision, do you mean thinking about the value proposition or location? I'm curious what exactly led to your decision of Illinois? We, Speaker 3 00:03:44 Yeah. Uh, no, that's a great question too. So I was the first in my family to graduate from college. So I just wanna, I say that only to set the record straight in the sense that I didn't have a lot of support or oversight or institutional knowledge, for lack of better terms on how to pick a school. So I first wanted to pick a place that really felt I could see myself at, in number one. I believe a lot of students, I have four kids and, and we kind of go, I have two in college and, and you know, I say you have to get on campus and feel it cause that's a part of it. Right? The second one is at the time they were a decent sports team. And so I was attracted to that. And then finally they were ranked of the schools I was looking at as being a very, you know, highly respected educational institution. Speaker 3 00:04:35 And I thought I was at least smart enough to know that I, I needed to have a job someday and that this was gonna be a good thing for me. What I wish I would've known that I don't know what 18 year old thought about. This is what happens if I get hurt and don't make it, can I afford the school that I'm going to, and that was not, not even in the realm of possibilities in my mind. I don't know why I just wasn't right. And what harsh reality I learned pretty quick was after I was done playing sports, uh, school suddenly became very expensive. And so I wish I would've had some guidance and input and uh, vision on that. Speaker 2 00:05:19 Yeah. I can definitely relate to that as a first generation student myself. I think we both ended up pretty okay. I'm not sure yet because I'm only a year out of college, but I think I'm okay right now. Um, but yes, there's a lot more to think about college than just, you know, the first acceptance letter and then past the first year. And of course in your experience what comes after college sports. Um, but so going on to talk more about your art degree, I'm curious exactly what you were studying in your art degree. Did you have a specific focus? And of course you're not an art teacher right now. I'm wondering how you went from art major to exactly where you are with art or Rule 29. Speaker 3 00:06:02 Yeah. So when, uh, I went to school, like I said I picked art education because I didn't know how I'd make money being a painter. I'm saying that not getting around, I just really didn't know. You know, a lot of the people in my family were, you know, not just blue collar workers, but you know, just didn't have any sort of creativity from the arts sense in their, in their profession. So I didn't quite visualize how I would do that. And I had a great art teacher and a great coach in high school, several of each actually. And so I'm like, oh, I want to emulate them. Right. So I went to Wesley and I was a art education major. And what was several lining in my injury was I took an extra class cause I had time now I didn't have to, you know, take less hours during the fall because of, um, I didn't have football practice anymore. Speaker 3 00:06:56 And so I picked up intro to graphic design, had no idea what graphic design was. You know, this is a long time ago. This is in the 1990 actually. And you know, brand design, it wasn't as popular or as well known today. Not even, I mean, it's completely different now. Um, all I knew back then that was designed was kind of advertising, you know, so I was into sports. So it, I remember Michael Jordan commercials and Bo Jackson and all these sorts of things and I'm like, oh, that'd be cool to do, but how does one do that? Like, that seems magical. Like how do you get from an idea to that? And so when I took a design class, something started to change, it started to click, I was finding the thing right that I was really made to do. And the more I did that and the more, uh, from a liberal arts education standpoint, that's really what graphic design is a lot, uh, uh, day to day work is we take a lot of different perspectives and information and um, you know, we take an account, uh, culture and personalities and history and all that sort of thing. Speaker 3 00:07:57 And, and that's really kind of what a designer does, which is super exciting. Yeah. And so those things together started to form this idea that I should, you know, be a designer. And then when I did my student teaching, I loved it. But at the same time, I also had an internship at design internship and I really, really loved that. So it became very clear to me that that was the path I needed to go on. I'm very grateful for that. And that was one of the things that Wesleyan did for me that was fantastic is they gave you a lot of opportunities outside of the classroom to understand what really made you tick. And so that was a, that was a really great moment for me. And so, um, I slowly moved into, uh, design and found out later on that I also had a minor in education, so that was nice. Um, <laugh> and that's coming to handy, you know, in, in design cuz I, I often interact and, and work also with universities and that sort of thing. So I still get a little bit of that, um, teaching, um, uh, love, uh, in my day to day work. Speaker 2 00:09:00 Yeah. That's super exciting to hear how you turned a passion to this career. And it's funny that you talk about how graphic design wasn't as big of a thing as it is now, because I feel like that's actually a really common, um, career pursuit just because of how big advertising and marketing has become in sort of our technological age, I guess you could say. And so to sort of close off this chapter, um, talking about your college degree and college experience, if there are any perspective students listening right now, what advice would you give them or is there something specific you wish you did differently in your college experience? Speaker 3 00:09:40 Yeah, I think it's, it's a couple things, so mm-hmm, <affirmative>, I don't believe you have to have your path chosen before your start. I think, you know, you won at least consider things that interest you, you know, like I said, I knew I was gonna be in art of some way shape or form that could have taken a ton of different directions. And so I used what I knew about me that I liked as one of the, um, main points of research to figure out where I wanna go to school. The second reality is, you know, uh, if I would've looked at what the average income is in the profession, I was looking at to what I was paying. I wish someone would've come alongside me and said, um, maybe this is <laugh> maybe there's another option for you school wise. Right? Because, um, when I left school, I had a, I had a mountain of debt and uh, I just assumed that's what you did. Speaker 3 00:10:38 I had no, you know, like I said, I had no idea, you know, my parents weren't signing loans. I was signing in loans. And so, you know, I think, um, that sort of level of advisement and support would be super, uh, wonderful to have at, at any rate. So I would, I would tell students, you know, uh, pick a school that you feel comfortable at that has things that you're interested in for sure. Right. And don't be quick to burden yourself with debt. You can always transfer schools if you find a passion and a school that has that major better than, than the one you're at. Speaker 2 00:11:13 Well, thank you so much, Justin. That's great advice. And that's definitely a story, many Americans know bit too well about just sort of, I guess the burdens of debt and such. And so thank you for sharing, but I'm curious after graduating college with this art education degree, and I guess you have an education minor by surprise. What were your next steps and how did this lead you to rule 29? Speaker 3 00:11:38 Yeah, well, after, uh, discovering the design bug, uh, I went to the career Ava, uh, advancement office, uh, at Wesleyan and they had all these internships that people had not applied for and so applied for everyone. And so I, um, continued to get this work experience and that was great because for two reasons, one, they were paid, I needed the money. And secondly, uh, I was able to get exposed to a bunch of different, uh, parts of the business. One of those internships led me out to Arizona, where I was able to meet a bunch of professionals out there and, uh, decided that after graduation, I wanted to get out of central Illinois weather and start my career in Arizona. And so, um, I went out there and worked for a couple agencies and started my own agency with two other, uh, partners, which was awesome and did that for several years. And then my wife and I decided we were sick of the sun in the beautiful weather and wanted to come back to Illinois and start a, a new business here. Speaker 2 00:12:48 That's awesome. So I'm curious how you, do you think this entrepreneurial spirit came from just yourself personally? Did you learn that from school? Was there a reason why you started, you thought to start a business? Cuz I feel like that's sort of an uncommon next step post grad for a lot of people to imagine or conceive of. Speaker 3 00:13:08 Yeah. You know, I think about that question a lot actually, because you know, being a business owner now for over 22 years, just at rule 29, this rule 20 ends like my third business, I never would've used, I don't know if I knew what the entrepre entrepreneurship wasn't as popular now as it was then. Right. So I don't even think that was, uh, something I even imagined when I moved out to Arizona, my degree was really great and I was lane, but it wasn't nearly as competitive as others out in the west who actually had really regimented design programs. So I started doing a lot of freelance and work on my own because I wanted to work at better and better agencies. I wanted to get better at, at, you know, the craft and the thought and the strategy of design. So the starting my own company just kind of happened because I wanted to create opportunity for myself and it just kept evolving. Speaker 3 00:14:04 Right. So I, I, when I was out in Arizona, I worked for an agency. I loved it. Um, a couple of us started a, a company I thought was really exciting. I had no idea what I was doing, but yet I had great partners and we learned and developed a great organization. And when I came back to Illinois, I was working for another company and, uh, there was some work I needed to get better at. So I just did it on the side, right. Just to kind of hone my craft and ended up turning into rule 29. So, uh, I think it was what I learned at Wesleyan was, you know, you can really be great at any school you go to, if you put the time into it, right. You can make, uh, that experience, um, amazing. Or you could, you know, not take advantage of it. And so what was really awesome to me about Wesleyan is every class I walked into, it felt like I was at the best of the best of their high school. Right. So, uh, that was really exciting. And so I feel that prepared me to have that entrepreneurial spirit or really that, um, that drive to work and get the most out of a situation. Speaker 2 00:15:16 I love that. Thank you. And so can you give our listeners a little brief or a little bit of a reminder of what exactly Rule 29 does, and I'm curious what inspired you to create rule 29? Speaker 3 00:15:31 Yeah, so starting in the, in the design advertising marketing field, I really admired those organizations that would do work, that they really felt passionate about and they were inspired to do. And I thought to myself after, you know, working with a group and being a junior partner in an organization for a while, I really loved that experience. But we over time kind of, you know, um, got off track, uh, and I'm like, man, I really would love to start an organization that stood for something that had rules and values to it that would really use this concept of design and storytelling to, uh, make impact, you know, either in their world or the world at large. And so rule 29, the, the name, the whole concept, uh, of the company came to, uh, me wanting people to ask what rule 20 meant. So I could get into this concept of, you know, every organization we feel has a unique story to tell and, uh, every organization has their own rules. Speaker 3 00:16:38 And so for us, we wanted to create our own rule and we called it rule 29, which is to make creative matter. So we wanna make how we see the world, right in story and strategy and color and concept and connection and apply it to your business to help you stand out. So more practically speaking. Right? So if, if you're a university, what we would do for you is we would come in and, and help really crystallize, define, expand, um, you know, what makes you unique as an organization and make sure that you're communicating that the most authentic way possible to your ideal student, parent, donor alumni, whatever this assignment is. Right. And that could take form of messaging, um, advertising website, um, overall brand, right? Uh, there's so many cool touch points could be social, could be video, could be the environment. When you walk into a building, what does it make you feel like, right. Speaker 3 00:17:35 Does it connect the spirit of who you are as an organization to the ideal student? And so it's a fascinating, awesome field to be in. And there's so many layers to it. That really one of the things I love about what we do is, um, we can, you know, be a part of impacting all the senses and, um, do it in a way that, um, from a financial standpoint helps an organization grow their business. Right. Um, so in higher ed, our job often is to help attract the right students and tell a story in a way that, um, encourages them to apply, to attend, to donate, um, or to share, uh, what makes them special. Speaker 2 00:18:19 Cool. I like that. And I like that unique story with the name Rule 29. I actually didn't know that previously. So thank you for explaining. And so like, you were just talking about Rule 29 sometimes does work with higher ed institutions and a lot of our listeners are higher ed folks. So I'm curious, what, what are some of the things you learned from these projects you worked on about higher ed marketing and branding? Speaker 3 00:18:45 Yeah. I think there's one conversation that comes up almost every meeting. And that is we as an organization are unique because of these things and, you know, most businesses say that. And they're also true. It's right. It's, you know, if, if you and I went on, um, you know, separate college visits and we went to the same five colleges, most likely we would have different feelings about each one. And it's because we have different preferences, you know, um, uh, different, you know, ideas of, of how we would see ourselves on the campus. And so what we try to do is really kind of get rid of all of the noise and get down to the essence of really what makes that, um, institution or organization college, university, whatever that experience ultimately unique, and then figure out how best to communicate that to again, the incoming student or alumni or, or whatever audience that we're going, we're going after. Speaker 3 00:19:45 And so in some ways I remember one of our meetings, we had, uh, an admissions counselor say, if you could just make our print materials, feel like you're walking on campus, then you've, you've, you'll be a genius. And I said, that's true. I would be a genius and I'd be on the beach somewhere, you know, drinking pin clouds or whatever. Um, but I was, she was serious. And, and I mean, I was kidding around, but I understood what she was saying. She's like, can you help evoke, um, you know, uh, what makes us unique to our ideal student? And I said, we can, but it really comes down to the story we tell. And is that story really true? A lot of times people will in higher ed will have conversations unless say, Hey, we wanna do these things because that's kind of the, the trendy thing. Right. And I understand that, but how can we do it in the U a way that's both unique and true. And then we have seen that having the best return on investment when it comes to marketing and branding higher ed. Speaker 2 00:20:47 Thank you. And so I feel like with marketing, any sort of project, you sort of do wanna tell a story, make this product seem unique. And so what, what is different about branding and marketing higher ed institutions that makes it a little bit more difficult or different than branding and marketing other products? Speaker 3 00:21:10 Yeah, well, I think there's a lot of, that's an interesting question, cuz there's a lot of similar was about to say is that really comes down to the, the key nuances of each, uh, college. Right. But okay. Products, products out of those two, but um, with higher ed, there is often a perception of a place, right. And, and that perception can be in your favor or not in your favor. And so what we really wanna make sure we understand is, um, what that perception is and, and how true it is. Right. And really continue to either, um, position it in a way that that really takes advantage of what makes the school unique. You know, so, um, uh, for example, there are some schools that have just unbelievable, beautiful campuses, right? And, and some people just wanna go there for that. That's kind of their first hook. Speaker 3 00:22:03 And so we can use that as a entryway, but really what is the most true, authentic, helpful thing about that experience? And it's gonna be, Hey, you're gonna come here and you're gonna feel amazing going here, but we also are gonna give you a great education and experience and career and alumni support and all that sort of thing. And so that's one of the, the nuance to think of higher ed is there's, there's this, um, sort of stages of experience that you want to continue to communicate all the way through a prospective student to student, to alumni. Right. And it's really important for you to understand that whole lifeline to create in, in our opinion, a significant brand strategy over time, really kind of reaps rewards for both parties. Right. I think higher ed is a two way street and I think too often higher ed would be like, you should come here because we're X, Y, Z college. Right. Um, and that just isn't gonna play anymore. I mean, there might be a few examples, you know, you might have the exceptions like Harvard or Stanford or whatever school that is for, you know, X, Y, Z person, but that just isn't gonna work anymore. Speaker 2 00:23:15 Yeah. I definitely agree. Especially with the stage of alumni and kind of when you're analyzing the return on investment in college, there's sort of increasing questions of whether or not college is worth it in general, but also is this specific college going to be worth it for me. And so I'm curious what, how you think colleges should be thinking about ROI and their value proposition in light of this certain questioning, or how would you market a college, a college's ROI and value proposition? Speaker 3 00:23:48 Yeah, let me start that answer with a quick story. So I was a year out of, out of Illinois Wesleyan, and, uh, I was struggling to make ends meet, right. I had a lot of debt and, uh, entering my field. Wasn't very lucrative. I was working in a small agency and I got one of those calls, Hey, Mr. Ahrens, this is class of blah, blah, blah. Would you love to give, you know, so much money? And I was just so shocked and appalled. They called me just six months after graduating asking me to give, I don't know, it's like a hundred dollars, but it might as well have been $10,000 at that time. And I remember, I got really frustrated and I said, great, here's my credit card number $5. And he's like $5. And I was like, yeah, $5. Isn't is my $5. Speaker 3 00:24:42 Not good enough for you, cuz that's all I can afford. And what I walked away from that experience was how is it that some colleges don't understand where people are at, right. Uh, in different stages of their experience. And I don't take any that wasn't the student's fault. He was, it was a student, you know, it was probably a student need job. Right. And he was just reading a script and doing his thing and, and um, you know, I think it was more of a college problem. It was like, Hey, we're gonna dial for dollars here. And I think for many years I was upset about that. Cause it just felt like they did not really understand me as a student. Suddenly I was a number and I have a great ex I have a great relationship with the university. Now I've actually had this conversation with, um, several levels of the university. Speaker 3 00:25:33 And, and um, so I think for schools to share their ROI, they, they, they have to continue to have value to me as an alumnus. Right. I think oftentimes someone graduates from university and they get the diploma and sometimes I feel like the attitude of the college is like, here you go, you're welcome. Right. And it really was a two way experience. Right. I, as a student, I was there, I was pro I was also part of the culture, you know, I'm part of the future. And that's the thing. I think if colleges need to understand their alumni are part of the future and they should treat them like that and, um, understand where they're at ask for reasonable involvement or give them options. Right. And so I think if, if college universities are not aware of that, then I think they're really tone deaf and missing an opportunity, right. Speaker 3 00:26:34 To engage people continually throughout the rest of their life to create, um, a great experience. Cause again, I, I shared this in the beginning, my experience, it wasn't as great. , I still work with some people that I met. We have a network that we continue to support each other. You know, we continue to, you know, we even give each, you know, each other's kids internships, right. I mean, that's how networked we are. So it was a great experience. And I think that, uh, what we've seen over time is in my case, Wesleyan change and become better at that. But I'll be sitting in meetings a lot of times. And uh, you know, I understand that colleges have dollar and cents pressure just like any other business has, but I think it's really important for them to understand, you know, uh, this continual story of, Hey, listen, we're, we're part of this community together, right? We're here to continue to help you and we hope you continue to help us. Speaker 2 00:27:37 Yeah. I really love that story, especially because as I said, I'm a recent grad, so I've been getting those text messages myself. Um, and now with the information you've given me, maybe I can go back to my school and be like, Hey, I don't think you should be text messaging. You know, recent grads. I remember being in the midst of my job search and getting a similar text and thinking to myself, I'm not even making a salary quite yet. So I don't know why I'm. Speaker 3 00:28:05 And how did you, yeah. And how did you feel was it was a turn off, right? Speaker 2 00:28:08 It was a total turn off. Um, I know some of my other peers who, you know, got more upset and, you know, text messaged back. I mostly just usually, um, like hide the number or mute the number, but don't tell my school that I just, yeah. Yeah. I it's just something that, and of course that's like you said, that's me kind of shutting myself off from a community that was really helpful. And I loved my college experience, but I do agree that those stages of marketing branding are so important, especially past graduation because having a strong alumni network is so critical in having a good college experience as a whole, for a student. Speaker 3 00:28:48 They have, let me ask you, let ask you this question. Okay. Let's say you get a text and the text is different. You ready? Mm-hmm <affirmative> text says D be so thankful that you went to XYZ school. You know, we're starting our annual fundraiser and we realize you may not be able to contribute right now, but we just wanna say, thank you for you being a student. And we hope that if you can you consider supporting us at any of these amounts. And if not, we just wanna let you know that, uh, you know, thank you for blah, blah, blah. You know what I mean? It's, it's a lot of the way you ask, would you feel better about that? Speaker 2 00:29:23 A hundred percent, so much better? Just, I feel like any acknowledgement of knowing, you know, that this person didn't just send a mass text message to a thousand people. And I was just one of that thousand and they don't even know what I'm going through at the moment is kind of what makes me and other people feel like unheard or, you know, kind of disregarded as an alumni, um, network. Speaker 3 00:29:48 Yeah, no, I, I hear you. And I think again, so that's part of my job. So part of our job would be to come into the school and say, Hey, let's talk about this messaging. Let's think about this whole experience, right? You're really the, you're really the guide in this story. You're not the hero. Right? And so I think at some point the college will switch from a guide to a hero or be the hero the whole time. And I, I think that especially the generation now is just like, now wait a second. <laugh> I just paid all this money. Right. Um, and now you want more money and I haven't even reaped the benefits of my experience yet. So anyways, that I can get in a soapbox on that. But my point is, I think there's a lot of opportunities for, um, higher education to shift that conversation. And I believe that shifting it in the right way will actually create a greater, um, participation from alums both financially and also in positive word of mouth and, you know, uh, that sort of thing. So, uh, but it takes, it takes a, a, you know, kind of vision to think that way. Speaker 2 00:30:53 So we just touched on a little bit about how colleges could better market toward alumni. I'm curious, Justin, what you think colleges could better do to market their value proposition to prospective students or current students. Speaker 3 00:31:07 I love that question, especially since I've been going through that the last couple years with, uh, my two oldest going through the recruiting process, it's actually been very fascinating. I think in some level, a lot of the colleges do it, do it well, they'll send, you know, um, great direct mail pieces of, you know, who they are, their unique story and, you know, um, why they would want someone to come there. And, and that's really fantastic because you wanna create excitement, you know, but what I have found, the colleges that really personalize use kind of modern technology from a brand standpoint, that experience more and more is really what has caught my eye as, uh, on the parent on the parent side, but also has caught my student's eye. And I think in today's world, there is a couple things that I think we just have to be realistic about one there's a ton of data out there, right? Speaker 3 00:32:16 So I think college and brands use the data well to really target and focus, uh, to their student. The more that student will feel, wow. They really want me, the second thing is, and, and I think this is a harder pill to swallow is that colleges is just expensive and we should just make sure that from a brand standpoint, we share what the value of that investment is, right? If I'm gonna go to this school and, and I, maybe you have a great football team, maybe you have a beautiful campus. Those are all things that are great. And I'm, I'm excited about, but talk to me at, at, in ways that I would care about it, the age I'm in to help me think about the investment and the, and the, just the great opportunity. I'm gonna have to go to your university and continue to repeat that message. Speaker 3 00:33:11 Not only because I think it's incredibly valuable. I think it's something they have to do. They have to continue to help. I mean, they're a higher education institution. They should be educating those people who wanting to go to their school on why their school is valuable, right. Consistently, constantly from the first engagement all the way through the life cycle of, of them as a student slash alone. And I believe the schools do that well in different types of media, right? So from a brand standpoint, whether it's print HTML, you know, social video, all those sorts of things continue to share a mixture of their culture, but also the value now cultures of value, right? Like going to a, uh, a certain college that has a great culture is gonna be value to you as individual. But I'm also talking about the value you have when you're actually on campus being educated in what you're gonna do with that experience afterwards. I think that it's incredibly important and that should happen through the administration or the, you know, admissions process, excuse me, all the way through the student's life cycle at the college. I think there's great opportunities for, uh, consistent engagement from a brand standpoint to, uh, continue to educate the students on what great choice they made and what great future they have, uh, once they graduate. Speaker 2 00:34:44 So when you're looking at these colleges and you're of course looking for a college to exemplify the value proposition of their college, what sort of statistics do you like? Cause you mentioned you really like seeing these data and statistics, do you think job outcomes like internship opportunities? Is, are you thinking about jobs and such, um, when you're referring to the ROI? Speaker 3 00:35:06 Yeah. I mean, I'm referring, referring to all those items, but also, you know, um, it could be things like the average salary from someone who graduates from here compared to the average debt. Someone leaves the school with, um, those might be easier from some colleges than others, but again, these are all points of differentiation from a brand standpoint. I think that, you know, one of the areas that is really interesting to me is, uh, as you continue to look at these statistics, what really does matter to, you know, uh, students, you know, going into college. So for example, um, uh, I have two kids in college right now. One really was just about the experience, right? Experience, experience. Can she see herself there? Will she make friends there? Will she fit in there? And that all makes sense. Right. And that's a very important factor. Speaker 3 00:36:02 And the school did a really great job with that. And then my second is my son. He wanted that too, but he was as, uh, concerned about what he was gonna leave school with debt wise. Like, was he gonna be able to pay that off? Was there gonna be crazy? You know, should he go to junior college for a couple years? You know, that they're just totally different, um, experiences, uh, from how they processed it. But yet they're both going to the same college. They're both having a great, um, time, but they have different, uh, concerns. And so I think the challenge, and again, I'm, I'm sort of answering your question when I'm coming back a little bit. The challenge from, uh, branding in this space is that it is not a one size fits all solution, right? So a brand has to understand the different types of personalities that are looking at the information, including the students, and really try to feed the information, um, to them in a way that they can hit all of those high points for those different personalities. Speaker 3 00:37:05 And if they're able to find out that personality even sooner, then they can feed even, even more direct information, which is really kind of the way brands are going these days is to customize it experience more and more. But those are the big things. It's, if you're gonna show statistics, don't show statistics are gonna make just parents happy. Right. Uh, because I don't, like I said, when I was an 18, 19 year old, I, I don't think I cared about those as much. It was more of, um, Hey, how many people are in the classroom? Uh, you know, how much is my earning potential? You know, things like that. Speaker 2 00:37:42 So from your perspective as a parent, what would you advise colleges or what is something that you think that, sorry, let me rephrase that. Okay. So from your perspective as a parent, what are some suggestions you have for colleges to improve their messaging in value proposition going forward? Cuz I know you mentioned that you would like them to kind of communicate to a diverse array of students like your son, who's worried about an ROI and your daughter, who's worried about her experience. Is there something you see lacking in a lot of the schools you look at? Speaker 3 00:38:21 Yeah, I think it's really key to just understanding the school has to be honest with itself. Speaker 2 00:38:29 Mm-hmm Speaker 3 00:38:30 <affirmative> not every school can do what the other school down the street does. I, a lot of times they see themselves being competitive with, you know, maybe a school that they're not competitive with. So I think it's really getting down to like, we'll do a competitive analysis on, on, on, um, colleges kind of competing with other colleges in the region, which in some level makes sense. Right. Because until you know that, uh, something about that other university, it's a competitor, but really we say what really makes you unique? What makes you some place that I would wanna go, right? Every, every higher education, um, institution has something or some things that are very unique about them. Right. And so are, are we talking about that in a way that makes them very attractive? So that's one that that's kind of like branding 101, who are you authentically? Speaker 3 00:39:17 And you sharing that in a way that really connects with your ideal student. I think number two it's and, and this is the part that's overwhelming is can you break down those differences into modern language, like seeing people at, at, at their level, not talking above them. Right. But just saying, Hey, listen, college is expensive, we hear it, we get it. But it's also an investment and here's, what's awesome about investing, you know, uh, by coming to our, uh, institution, here's, what's gonna happen for you. Boom, boom, boom, boom. And we're gonna be with you every step of the way. And you know what I mean? It's just telling a story that is really true and authentic and, and really highlights, um, uh, what makes them different. And I think that's, it's hard because you get in, you get caught up into old formulas or, you know, higher education has traditionally been something that's, you know, it's like an old barge when it's turning, right. Speaker 3 00:40:09 It just takes a long time to shift direction. And, uh, and I've been a little bit unfair and at every institutions like that, but you really wanna make sure that you continue to, uh, hit home, uh, those things that are unique about you as customizable as possible. And, uh, I think in my kids' experience, that is really what made them choose the, the university they're going to that's the university happened to do a really great job, uh, marketing to them. And then, then when they went on, campus experience was true, right? Like they felt what that brochure or what that email or that video said that actually happened in their experience. And so that was really what sold them and me, Speaker 2 00:40:54 Cause both opinions are very important depending on who's paying, I guess. Um, but thank you so much. That's a great piece of advice. And I loved hearing about your college experience and share your, thank you so much for sharing your professional expertise, as well as your perspective as a parent. And so I have one final question for you, in your opinion, Justin Aarons, chief evangelist of Rule 29, do you think college is still worth it? Speaker 3 00:41:24 Oh man. A thousand percent big time for tons of reasons we didn't even talk about, but I think college is an unbelievable experience, a great investment to a student's future. And I think, make the right choice for you. And it is a life changing moment Speaker 2 00:41:49 Would not agree more. Well, thank you so much for being such a wonderful guest today. Justin, that's all the questions I have for you today, but thank you so much for sharing so much wonderful information. Do you have anything to add to our conversation? Speaker 3 00:42:04 Oh, I just wanna say I'm really grateful that I get to talk to you. I think these conversations are so valuable. I wish I would've had a podcast or some sort of information like this for me when I was, you know, figuring things out or trying to figure things out as a student or even a young alumni. So thank you for the work you guys are doing and to you know, help more and more students and fulfill their dreams of going to college. Speaker 2 00:42:31 Definitely. Thank you again, Justin, Speaker 1 00:42:34 This podcast is brought to you by Ardeo Education Solutions. Ardeo Education Solutions provides loan repayment assistance programs known as LRAPs to increase access and enrollment at higher ed institutions. Ardeo's LRAPs help graduates with modest incomes, repay their federal student parent plus and private alternative loans. The powerful promise they provide gives students the confidence. They need to enroll to learn more about Ardeo. Visit us on the web at Ardeo.org.

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