Most of the world’s population relegates penning New Year’s resolutions to late December, choosing to look upon January 1 as the quintessential annual fresh start. But those of us who live in education enjoy a bonus fresh start with the launch of every new academic year.

This year, rather than make a Fall Semester New Year’s Resolution (or six), I’m going to challenge you to make just one: rethink—and elevate—your school’s brand around WHY, rather than HOW or WHAT you do for your stakeholders.

I watch Simon Sinek’s now-famous golden circle TED talk a handful of times every year. While Sinek’s presentation is titled, “How Great leaders Inspire Action,” revisiting it always reminds me that my core consulting mission is to help clients embrace the fact that their stakeholders—prospective and current—are humans first, and customers second. And as humans, they (we) make most of our decisions on the basis of considerations that are decidedly more heartfelt than “headfelt.”

As marketers and higher ed administrators, we’ve been lulled into the notion that our target audiences are shopping on the basis of features like an academic program or a convenient online delivery model. But when pushed to think more deeply about their considered puchase, most prospective students, donors and even employees will realize their “buying” behavior is significantly—if not overwhelming—influenced by a complicated collection of emotionally compelling considerations. We hear it every time a prospective student tells us she chose a college “because it just felt right to me,” or a prospective donor who supports a scholarship or research program “because the stories really moved me.”

Too many colleges and universities begin the positioning conversation with their end game. There’s a very good chance your school has, at one time or another in its history, tried to distinguish itself from its competitors on the shoulders of concepts like “personal transformation,” “leadership development,” “experiential learning,” “practical application of liberal arts learnings,” “world-class research,” “access,” “engagement,” “personal attention,” and the like. While noble and well-intentioned, these are overused and subsequently forgettable features that don’t pack nearly the emotional engagement potential your school deserves, and your prospective stakeholders seek. And in reality, these are all manifestations or the end-products of a much more emotionally engaging collection of factors at the core of WHY a school exists in the world.

So as you launch AY2015 by welcoming a new class of students to your classrooms, challenge yourself and your colleagues to think deeply about WHY your school does what it does, the way you do it. Let Simon Sinek’s golden circle talk inspire your positioning efforts to a more compelling level, and you’ll breathe new meaningful, memorable life into your marketing efforts.

It’s time to elevate your brand.

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