Higher Education and branded content : Issues and its future
PR Culture website talks to Brigitte Fournier, director of the Noir sur Blanc agency.
If branded content continues to be a leading light in the business sector, it remains an under-exploited communication strategy for universities and institutions of higher education. Yet the very nature of these organizations lends itself to the idea of community and storytelling.
Let’s take French business schools and universities as an example. Even if they have begun with some difficulty their transformation to digital communication and social networks, they are still behind in the creation of branded content that would feed these new communication channels. Brand content reinforces brand image and shows in a concrete way the culture, DNA and the founding values of an institution. These are the key elements for schools and universities that want to stand out in an increasingly competitive market.
What holds back these institutions is largely fear; because offering branded content via digital channels and social networks also means offering an invitation to critical audiences. This is especially true when it comes to "consumption experience” in such an engaging and constructive activity as a person’s future, namely their education.
Parallels can also be drawn with the health sector, another particularly delicate and serious market, which faces the same issues of engagement with its audiences. Now, students as well as graduates, faculty and partners of these institutions have all become an active audience who can comment on content and even produce their own content around the brand, be it positive or negative.
Given a choice, it is better to act than have to react. Brand content is a great way to start a conversation on an interesting subject, which reflects the values of an institution, an important component in building the image of a school or university. This mechanism, which must be an established strategy of original content and framed creativity, can adapt to each "product" and/ or "under-class" of the institution's brand.
This creates a lasting bond with the public, on topics that really interest them. Thus, a French cosmetic and perfume school could create one or more video reports on the creation of luxury perfumes in France. This type of content would attract prospective students for its informative content, and enhance their image of the school’s expertise on this topic.
The content, optimized and tailored to each media, must also be able to ride out the long term. It is not a one-shot. For this, one must be proactive and responsive to produce the right content at the right time and keep it alive through feedback from the public. This requires a significant investment from schools and universities - which also highlights the vital role of community managers within schools - and helps measure how communication should be central to the institution, in constant and direct contact with senior management.
Moreover, it is not enough to produce the content, it must also communicate it where it can be shared. On the web, including social media, there are many communities already established that must be identified and used in order to integrate and disseminate the content. If the content corresponds to them, it's a safe bet that the number of shares and likes will take off. Brand content can trigger the creation of content by the same public.
When Noir sur Blanc created a video Campus Tour for EM Strasbourg, it organized the casting of the main actors and extras, which included students, via the school's Facebook page. This not only boosted the project, but by extension, also strengthened and grew the brand’s community. This mechanism ensured that the video was shared across social networks, with over 20,000 views in less than a week on YouTube alone. The project was partly financed by the company Steelcase, and featuring one of the brand’s NODE chairs, and the film also received the Jury’s Prize at the Strategies Grand Prix for Brand Content 2012.
If fear of feedback and the management of communities is holding back higher education institutions, there is also a delay in the exploitation of content in all forms: beyond written content, original and engaging videos are not so common. Most often, it is home-made videos, creativity ill-conceived or poorly matched with the organization's strategy and values. This is a shame when one considers that most of the time, they are aimed at young people, born and raised with screens, and therefore particularly experienced in image and video creation.
The result: this type of communication further weakens the brand image rather than reinforcing it. In addition, many schools and universities are struggling to be innovative in communication. Investing in innovative projects is an image issue often neglected by schools and universities, while it might be an impactful and differentiating strategy.
By observing innovative companies in terms of communication and brand content, we can broaden the discussion of branded content to that of brand culture. In his 2013 book "Brand Culture", Daniel Bô defines this concept as the "way that a brand has to register as a cultural agent" both by what it is (its history, its values, etc.), but also because of what it produces and the cultural effects this may have on the lifestyles and trends of tomorrow. In this sense, the power of a brand cannot only be judged by its commercial power, but also its cultural influence.
In large innovative companies, projects of this type are increasing and offering the public to experience new brands with a real impact on their lives and how they define themselves. One can question the legitimate reasons schools and universities want to be part of this process. Because they are by definition cultural agents. They train people for jobs that will define them later, based on an ethical (know-how) and philosophical (worldview) culture, which is now part of the global market, at the crossroads of cultures and knowledge.
Thus, one could easily imagine an engineering school teaming up with the Ministry of Transport to create the transportation of tomorrow through a testable prototype by the general public. Similarly, a school of architecture and a graphic design school could partner with the Mayor of a big city to conceive street art workshops open to the public, tracing the history of the movement and its impact on the urban environment. So many powerful experiences for audiences, and highly rewarding for brands and their image.
Read the article in French on "Culture RP"
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