5 things to know about storytelling in university marketing

June 30, 2016
Sarah Fracek Senior Marketing Specialist

We’ve talked before about how to be sure your university marketing doesn’t start to sound like Any Univeristy USA. But there’s another super simple way to be sure your higher ed messages are unique and individual – and that’s through storytelling.

We believe in order to stand out, a brand has to make itself more human; and storytelling is one of the most primitive traits of what makes us human. Each year, thousands of students stream through your halls making memories that are unique to them and only them. And your school has a starring role in each of these stories.

If you’re about to wrangle students and staff to tell their own stories, here are five ways to assure their stories are engaging and meaningful:

1. Pass the talking stick.

Set up a camera and let your students speak in their own words. Don’t give them scripts. You’ve made an impact on their life. Let them tell you how. Their words will be far better than what any copywriter could have dreamed up because it’s authentic.

2. Sit around a fire.

Location and setting enhance the emotions coming from your storyteller. If a student is telling a story about their favorite secret spot on campus, film or interview them in that spot. They’re more likely to point out intricate details.

3. Don’t be afraid of the dark.

Encourage sharing of negative moments: fallouts with roommates, a horrible first impression of a professor, dropping out for a semester. Good stories need conflict and turning points, and admitting that not everything is always sunshine and roses makes your school realistic. Just make sure you find stories of students who found the light in the dark and ask them to tell you about their turning point. It’s in these moments when your school shines.

4. Participate in the rain dance.

If you have the chance to film DURING the memory-making process, do it. This adds color to your student’s story as they reflect back later. We had a beautiful story from a student at Concordia University Ann Arbor who told us about the work he did for the homeless. We made sure to attend their next “sweatshirt drop” event and capture real footage that was part of his story.

5. Respect the elders.

While it’s great to capture stories from your students, let’s not forget that we’re living in an age when more and more 18-34 year olds are still living with mom and dad. Parents have a big influence on our students’ decisions. And parents influence other parents. This is an influencer audience that we made sure to capture with a recent story we told for Concordia University Ann Arbor.

Thousands of tiny stories are what make up your unique university brand. Recording and capturing them will help you to show potential recruits what makes you different.

The best shoot I was ever on for a university took place when we followed a group of students down to a sunset bonfire after finals were over. We set up camera, and captured real moments as this group of 20-somethings laughed and reminisced about the year. And then one of them picked up a guitar. And they all started singing. I kid you not. It was one of those REAL moments that couldn’t be recreated by all the staging and scripting in the world. So we did what marketers should do more of: We observed. We listened. We learned. (And we shot the hell out of the scene!) As a result, we were able to show prospective students a UNIQUE moment from that school that assured they were most certainly NOT Any University USA.


Core Creative is a branding agency that specializes in telling the life-changing stories for mid-market healthcare systems and the emerging med-tech world.



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