The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode · 1 year ago

How To Win The Loyalty of Your Students w/ Exceptional University Offerings


With all universities vying for students, creating value through exceptional experiences and differentiated offerings is the only way to stand out. And our guest is here to share exactly how his university has achieved this time and time again.

Ethan Braden, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Purdue University, provides insights on what’s made Purdue so successful as a brand.

Join us as we discuss:

- Fast Company’s brands that matter & the first class marketing engine

- Scaling through the COVID-19 pandemic

- What’s next for the Purdue team

Resources mentioned during the podcast:

- Contact Ethan: Linkedin

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

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You were listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, don'tor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketer podcast. I'm troy singer and along with my cohost and Kevin Heart joke rider, Art Taylor, and today together we're going to interview Ethan Braden, who was the senior vice president of marketing and communications at Purdue University, and he is someone that I feel that is very wellknown within the Higher Ed Marketing Community itself as being recognized as a dynamic marketer himself, but also leading an award winning team. Yeah, troy, that's great. It's a pleasure to have him back on the show. He was our inaugural guest back on episode one. We talked with him about his you know, he was awarded the American Market Association High Ed Marketer of the year last year in two thousand and twenty, as well as his team. So they kind of swept that with the AMA, but he comes back on today. We wanted to talk to him a little bit about the recognition that Purdue University garnered in Fast Company magazine. They were one of the only they were the only university that was recognized as one of the brands that matter, and so we talked with him about that, how that's impacted perdue and then how his marketing team is helping to tell those story. So it's a really good conversation. He is so inspiring, full of wonderful appropriate quotes and I'm excited to pick the brain of the person who is leading one of the country's leading higher ED marketing teams. So here's our conversation with Ethan Brayden. It's our pleasure again to welcome Ethan Braden, Senior Vice President of marketing and communications at Produce University, to the High Red Marketer podcast. Ethan, it's great to see you again and would love for the people who may not know who you are to give us a little bit about perdue and a little bit about your role there. Sure, what's great to be back, guys. Thank you for the opportunity. Terms of produe, you know, or a world class research institution here in West Loffiat, Indiana, of about fifty fivezero people. Right now, currently we got the number one basketball team in the nations, a fantastic and a sweet sixteen volleyball team and a bullbound football team. So it's a good time to be a boiler maker. But yeah, I serve as the Senior Vice President of marketing communications here, the chief marketing officer for President Daniels, and look after a Central Marketing Organization of about seventy individuals and then a marketing community that spans the campus of about three hundred. So it's a pleasure of been here three years. I've got my dream job. I have a get to job, not a guy to job, and couldn't be happier. Well, Ethan, it's great to have you back and really appreciate it. We've got a...

...chance to talk a little bit about a kind of another topic. We talked a little bit about brand the last time. It was an episode one and appreciate you being our inaugural episode, but I think that one of the things that we wanted to bring you back on was recently produe university has been named one of fast companies brands that matter, and I saw that come across in my issue of the magazine was really excited. So that recognitions honors organizations that give people compelling reasons to care about them, off for inspiration for others and authentically communicate their missions in their ideals. So tell me a bit about what that is all about and and how that came about. Yeah, we're tremendously honored to be named that list. You know, Fest Company Magazines A, I think, a tremendous, innovative, progressive publication. It has been for twenty years now and we've really aspired to break free and not necessarily, when you know, local market addeas, or necessarily even appear in hot you know, inside hier et etc. But we believe we've got an iconic brand. You know, six Hundredzero, a lum's and our students on this campus, I think, validate this and it's a brand that matters, especially today. So to be, you know, chosen as the only University of the ninety five on our he's there with Nike, Threem for General Motors, Sonos, zoom yet e, etc. Was a real honor. We're thrilled in many respects to have that affiliation and I think it's been very validating for our product, but also our marketers who can see the the fruits of their labors and telling a powerful story and and mattering in this day and age. So we've couldn't be happier. That's great and I can speak and I've been pretty transparent before as a as a boiler maker parent. My son's a sophomore. In all transparency for everyone at a produe and so I think I can join that community at I've just been so excited to be a part of the of the produce community. Even as a parent. It's been exciting and and even in our first episode we talked about how impressed I was with the protect produced campaign, you know, when my son was entering his freshman year in the middle of the pandemic. It was just refreshing to see that and I know in the article you kind of talked about one of your quotes was the fact that you've got thousands communicating on the behalf of purdue daily. No one can whistle a symphony alone. You know, it's got to operate like an orchestra and I I just applaud you and I think that's exactly right and and tell me a little bit about how does that? How does that then evolve into this first class marketing engine that you also talked about, into that? Well, you know, I think you know. Number one is we've got a tremendous product. And so, as Jack Butcher says, right, he's like, Hey, it's a really busy, noisy world. So what we need, or a thousand people say, you know, sharing the entire in the same story with the world over and over for some sort of saturation. So we do? We start with an amazing product with amazing support from our board of Trustees, Mitch Daniels on down, and our group of seventy, you know, has really pivoted, I think, from being the driven on campus, you know, of local needs, of posters, flyers, things we talked about last time, to the driver and and what that meant and what that's meant in two thousand and twenty. Two Thousand and twenty one is really pivoting to the chief storyteller, really feeling that we're a driver of inspiration, of...

...prosperity and growth at Perdu University by deliberty, deliberately positioning our brand, promoting our brand and protecting our brand and then that spreads beyond the Central Marketing Organization but to our thirteen colleges and the thirteen, excuse me, the three hundred other marketers, communicators and graphic designers that we see a cross campus again in the Adam grant spirit of not necessarily on brand but in character. And how do we share those stories in a unified fashion, localizing to the college but still under the umbrella of Perdue University, being the very best version of ourselves at Pretty University, with the world and parents and students like you know of our so it's been tremendous. But again it starts the product, right. They talked about the reasons we won. It's it's living our brand. Yeah, persistent innovation together. It's the date of mine right. That's taking students from all of our thirteen colleges and bringing them into a learning, living community, no matter they're major, and making them data experts, date of fluent for the days that they're after the data science is working together, from fashion to pharmacy and everything in between. Its initiatives like the the polytechnic high school, right when we weren't seeing the underserved, the urm student, coming to produe with the fervor and the frequency that we wanted. We went out and built our own high schools, three of them now in the state of Indiana, and so there are a pathway for students that were usually underserved by traditional high school and, I'll underrepresented in higher education. And we just had forty students, you're Om students, come to us from that first graduating class. Right. That's x what we were getting from the entire Indianapolis Public School System previously. So it's that commitment to persistently running in when others run out, a you know, a commitment to innovation, a commitment to value and doing it together. But again, when we tell that story we want to be on the same song sheet. Everyone gets their verse, but we're going to sing the chorus together and thankfully that's been well embraced. That's great. That's great. Appreciate your sharing that and I appreciate you kind of talking about living the brand. That was it in my notes here on the article. You know, when you have the quote, it gave us a playbook to continue to show the world that we are and the persistent innovation that we stand for, even in the most discert certain of times. Note they're living out the brand and I think that's really one of the things that I think fast company was recognizing in you and put you to put you in the Panthem of those other kind of companies that they have. So I'm try. I know you had a question, yeah, and it was about the growing freshman classes that produce is experiencing. I know for the second year in a row you are welcoming your largest freshman class ever, I believe. Yeah, I think there's three things that really shine through in this last year or two. Their the students and their parents are telling us. You know, this is why we're choosing you and we're choosing even more often than we did in the past. Right, we've grown twenty percent in the last five years. We essentially added an additional class of tenzero students to the exit per university of the last five years. It's incredible, I think in the state of High Education in the state of Indiana and public universities, etceter it's it's bucking the trend that we're seeing nationally otherwise. And so you know, in state students are voting with their feet to come here, but put out of state, students are two and that's what made the big difference this past year and they've told us three...

...things. They've said number one, your reputation. I know coming into Prett University I'm going to get a rigorous education that will pay off, as the NBC noted last year, when I graduate. So I have that great brand, I have that great alumni network, I have that great training to live out the future that I'm that I'm aspiring to have the ambitions that I want to achieve. Number One. Number two value. Right, we just announced our eleventh straight year of a tuition freeze. Sixtyzero students now are going to graduate having never seen the price increase while they were a pre university. Families across those ten years, now eleven are going to save a collective one billion dollars versus had we just raised our rates at the average of the big ten. And now sixty percent of our students are graduating debt free, which we've seen with generation Z, is a huge piece right there, dead averse, and that's versus a national average of about thirty nine percent. So they're saying hey, I can come and not only get this incredible product. The numerator is really good, but the denominator sings to and it creates an equation of value that's really powerful, whether we cross state lines or we stay in state. And then the last again, right speaking to the segment of students that Produn A, your verse, the Appeals To, and I get that we're not for everybody. The produce student and the POMONA student are likely not the same student, and that's why we have to segment and that's why there's four thousand, you know, Greek degree granting institutions across North America. You spent fifty million to prepare to have the vulnerable protected, to get de densified a campus and bring us back and give us the most normal, open and active undergraduate experience you could imagine. We appreciated that and we want to do that in twenty one and twenty two and beyond, and so our response to covid really shines through in our surveys right now of why students, both in State Nawt a state, are are picking Pretty University to come with their four years. I think that's great night. I want to add to that that I think that you go go back, going back to what you said earlier, Ethan, it's it's having a product that you can kind of get behind and actually do something with. As marketers. I think sometimes we were kind of given you so unfortunately, some highered marketers are given this this monumental task of selling something that's really not a product that can be sold, and I think that that's a challenge sometimes. And it gets back to, I've quoted you off in the idea of being a short order cook versus a chef, and I think that you have to really have that the proper ingredients to really be a chef and I think that that's one thing that I've noticed that produe having a good product having, you know, commitment beyond you know it throughout the entire organization, like you said, from the Board to the administration to President Daniels, who are committed to doing the things that are kind of bucking the system, whether it's freezing tuition, whether it's, you know, saying in April of two thousand and twenty, we are going to come back and we're going to figure out how to do that to give our you know, to give our students a real college experience, because that's what they invested in, that's will create and lead through that branding, create and lead through that marketing. You know, it's one thing to have a great product, is another thing to have a great support system. But then I think that as marketers, we actually have to do the work to get that to happen. Would you agree with that? Oh, absolutely. I mean, again, as... move from the short or to cook to the things that really matter, right, we want to be critical and material to the collective contribution that realizes our goals at PT University, those being the board's goals, Mitch Daniels goals, are probos goals, etc. Right, we're not here for marketing dust. I'm not here for logos and colors and pamphlets and hey, can you know on Friday, can you make this prettier for Monday? I want to tell amazing stories that captivate audiences, that inspire audiences and create action. Right, whether that means you apply, you come work for us, you move, whatever it may be. You know, marketing supposed to create actions, supposed to create change. We're supposed to be the catalyst to, you know, exceptional experiences with our brands. And so that's the that's the perspective, that's the orientation, that's the empowerment that are set. You know, team of seventy really needs and wants to have and the culture that we want to have in terms of the contribution that we're going to give people on a daily basis. Right, John Gordon says, Hey, driving a positive, high performing culture requires more than words. After you know, everyone's got a mission, but what you really need or people who are on a mission, and it's I'm what I'm seeing in marketing here in a lot of other places across higher education, are people on a mission to do great work, represent their brand, create change, create action ultimately inspire folks with these iconic brands that we have, these iconic brands that people gravitate to believe in are defined by advertise across their chest, put on their bumper stickers, put on their license plates. Right. That's the kind of marketing I think that the Higher Ed needs and, thankfully, many organizations these days are embracing and I think we're seeing the, you know, the fruit of that. Yeah, and I know that we talked to you know before we got on the on the recording here today. is about the idea of you, since you arrived at produe, kind of transforming that marketing communications from kind of being driven, you know, that shorter to cooked, to being the driver of the chef. Tell us a little bit about, you know, how that transformation has been going. I mean it's been going through covid nineteen. You know, I think you've been doing some pretty impressive things in the middle of that. Maybe you can give us a little bit of an update on that. Yeah, happy to so. You're right. You know, we had to earn that bully pulpit. So it really came from one having the orientation and the charge from the board and the president on down to say we are committed to having a high powered marketing engine and we're blessed to have that. Not everyone has that and I want has that orientation and that has to be a tailwind, I think, to a team success. You know, number two. I got here in November of eighteen and of the fifty four individuals that were here at that time, thirty three have gone to different pastors at this point, where they retired, whether we move them along, where they took promotions, etc. And we've added thirty three back during that period of time as well. We've added twenty five individuals since the beginning a covid and the quality and the profile of those individuals is incredible. We're getting people, you know, out of Borshoff, out of matchbook. We just got the associate director of creative services out of Vera Bradley two weeks ago. You know, she's on a Friday shooting the holiday spot, the commercial for Vera Bradley and Sun Valley Idaho, and she starts with us on a Monday there after because of her affinity for Pretty University and her ability now to remotely work. So we've had that...

...transformation. But the big one is let's pivot. Let's pivot again from the posters, the flyers, let's pivot from the random acts of marketing, let's pivot from the requests of the colleges and instead let's create a movement. Let's create a movement that that's really aligned and impactful and emotional and inspired by our brand, and let's get those three hundred, you know, swimming with us, rowing with us, and that's what we've been able to do over the last couple of years. Thank you, Ethan. Would love to know what you think is nixt for both you and your team at Perdue. Yeah, what's next? I mean it's it's always the pursuit of greatness. Right now. We're never done. I was asking our day. Will you have some time around the holidays when you're busy, seasons etc. That I think hired market is these days. Get it. It's it's never done. Right. There's the next story, the next opportunity to tell the next for A. There's postulating into the future and seeing what's coming, especially with demographic decline and the diversification of Gen Z etc. So lots right, but I'd say probably the most exciting thing that we're looking at is really moving from the the mirror, which is still very power. Are Full produe university and Westlafayette, to becoming, you know that, a juggernaut portfolio in higher education. Now we have our high schools and we're producing students that are coming to university. We've got our west off yet campus of fifty five thousand, the top ten most innovative come, you know, innovative campus in America four times in a row now, top ten value, top ten public, etc. We got an amazing thing going in West offayette. We are two regionals in Fort Wayne and in produce north northwest and the northwest side of our state, but here at pretty in west off yet as well. We've got our online offering, which was just ranked by news week is the number three online education in America right now too. And as we build that to say you can have that, that fully branded Perdu University degree, whether you're in west off yet or your albuquerque. That's the next right and bringing that under the portfolio and the sixty percent over the age of thirty going back to school for Philpis and the stories are amazing. So hopefully, as we build out that portfolio and the way you would with Hilton, the way you wild with beat BMW, whatever it may be, within there, no matter where you're coming in your journey, there's a high quality perdue university offering for you, again, whether you're albuquerque or you're here, and then all of that spits out into an incredible product which is produced for life. This notion of lifelong learning, this life, you know, this notion that we're going to continue to be associated with those six hundred eight hundred thousand alumni, no matter where you graduated, moving forward, boiler makers, Peru University brand, etc. So we're really focused on a portfolio that matters now and being really good, no matter where you enter in that segment the it's great and I just a note that I wanted to say about that. I've been really impressed and to hear you talk about it and to hear where it's going. The story of produe global. I mean, you know President Daniel's vision, in the board's vision, to be able to see how to take a for profit company, purchase that and pull it under the produe brand and then to see you guys kind of merge that all together into the produe brand. I think is is a is a great story. I'm curious to kind of continue to see that play out. But I...

...think again, that goes back to that business leaning that I think Mitch Daniels has, and I mean he's did. He did a lot of very creative things as governor here in the State of Indiana and I just I'm so excited to see him continuing to do that and hire at as well. Yeah, you know, it's the twenty one century land grant mission. I mean that's the way we're articulating at this point in time. We were, we're a land grant university. We re formed and created for that reason to take education to the masses, to take practical application to the masses, and now we can transcend state lines using technology. I mean that's incredible. We talked about one of the attributes of our brand being accessible prestige, prestige through sustained excellence, not scarcity, and that's the idea of being able to take the produ brand wherever we need to with produce global on students terms, right in ways that that allow them to continue their student their schooling, when life gotten away, and what they're telling is us, US is challenge accepted, I'll do it. And so we had two amazing speakers on Friday. Or A board. That's great individuals who have persevered to their first and to their third degrees using pretty global again, adult learners on their terms, getting valuable produe degrees, advancing the careers, advancing their families. It's the it's the twenty one century Land Grant Mission for us and we're committed. Think you even you're such an innovative and inspiring leaders. So as we come to a close, we like to ask you to share at least one takeaway that other marketing leaders could benefit from. And Higher Education and can be that can implement some time in the very near future. Yeah, you know, I thought about that question that you guys posed an advance and I've thought about what we've tried to do with our culture. We have a culture that's that's founded on four values here in marketing. Okay, for virtues. We talked about them. Empowerment, optimism, excellence and care. We want people that are going to come in the door forward leaning, with a positive attitude, with a very high bar, who love and care for each other. Right. But we're talking about the other day. What really drives some of that, and I think a lot of that, is the curiosity that we're finding in the individuals and within the group of our culture, and so we're really committed to lifelong learning. Right now, we're consuming a lot of books, we're consuming a lot of podcasts, whether it's Tim Ferris, whether it's Shane Parish's knowledge project with it's, whether it's yours right, whether it's the highed marketer, whether it's barts emails. What I would encourage people to do is make sure that you're managing that schedule and allotting the time to lifelong learning, to curiosity, to continuing to absorb and capture that info and connect the dots, because what I'm seeing on my staff right now is them take readings, take podcasts, take other institutions best practices and connect the dots and say how do we do that here? But you know, I think it was well, I got a several. We got Mark Twain, I think it was said. You know, the person that can't read in the post person that won't read are equal, and I think it was hawking that said that the biggest threat to knowledge isn't ignorance, it's the belief that you know it all. I think our curiosity and I think our our lack of ego right our humility, combined turns us into really powerful learners and thus marketer. So I just encourage people to a lot the time to consume, to think, to connect, connect the dots...

...and then execute. Thank you, Ethan. It's been a wonderful conversation with you and for anyone that would like to reach out or connect with you, what would be the best way for them to do so? I'm pretty easy to find. I'm Ethan braiding at produced Ot et. You are Ethan Braden on twitter, but pretty married to the phone, so shoot me an email if there's a something we can do to help or a resource we can provide or an idea we can kick around together as just so appreciate the collaborative nature of the higher education market and the people have helped me along the way and those that like to help if possible moving forward. So anyway I can give it back, happy to thank you, Bart would you have any clues in comments for us? Yeah, I just wanted to kind of pick up a little bit on what Ethan said there at the very end, that very last thing about being ongoing, you know, lifelong learners. Another quote that I was thinking of when he is kind of quoting Hawkins and Twain, was Alvin Toffler and what Alvin Toffler said. Ways today, where you can't walk in and say, Oh, I know that marketing stuff, to be able to realize that, okay, it's changing, it's changing rapidly and very fast, and you've got to be willing to put your ego aside and say, okay, what I knew yesterday doesn't apply to today. I have to relearn it for tomorrow, and I think that that's part of what I'm hearing. That's the success of a lot of what produced doing and I really love always talking to Ethan and Athan. Thank you so much for being on the show and it's been a pleasure to have you again. The hired market of podcast is sponsored by Kaylor solution, in education marketing and branding agency specializing in higher read for over twenty years in by think patent did, a marketing execution company uniquely combining leading edge print, mail and digital marketing tools for higher yielding campaigns. Thanks everyone for giving us a listen. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time.

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