People Like Us Do Things Like This: Marketing in Christian Higher Education

I had the pleasure of attending “Business Gets Personal,” a one-day conference with Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog), Dave Ramsey (@DaveRamsey), and Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee). The conference was designed to be a way to connect us (business owners) to our clients in a personal way based on the expertise of the three speakers who put the conference [...]

I had the pleasure of attending “Business Gets Personal,” a one-day conference with Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog), Dave Ramsey (@DaveRamsey), and Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee). The conference was designed to be a way to connect us (business owners) to our clients in a personal way based on the expertise of the three speakers who put the conference together because “they just liked each other.”

If you know me well, you probably have heard me espouse a Dave Ramsey-ism or two (or twenty). Dave was his usual great self. However, it was the other two speakers, neither of which I had really followed, that really surprised me in a great way.

To start the day, I arrived to find that my seats were front and center in the venue. We were in the “spit zone” of those who spoke at the front of the stage. GREAT seats!

Then Seth Godin got up to speak. I’d heard OF Seth but really didn’t know much about him. I found him to be a keen intellect (and not just because he had a similar hair style and an appreciation for the finer cult movies of the 80s. . .I’m looking at you Buckaroo Bonzai). He began describing how we had changed from an Industrial Economy to a Connection Economy. We used to go with a mass marketing appeal to our potential clients. Now we are going with a more coordinated, trust-and-permission-based exchange of ideas based on generosity and art. He shared how we used think of the two standard deviations from the norm as our marketing target because it contains 95% of the population.

Seth shared, though, that when marketing is in play, we are seeing a flattening of the curve and more of the population is going to the niches. Therefore, we are not getting the same bang for the buck by appealing to the masses. Instead, Seth reflected, “People like us do things like this” to represent the idea of how marketing needs to be done. That is, we as consumers like to be around people that do things that we like to do. If you’re familiar with the construct of the tribe (people like us), the tribe is our marketing target, Seth noted.

Gary Vaynerchuk was up third for the day. Instead of doing a traditional presentation/lecture, he decided that he wanted to have audience members line up and come to the stage to ask him questions that he would 1) attempt to answer individually and 2) attempt to answer in a way that had meaning to all (or at least the majority) in the auditorium. (On a side note, if you are new to Gary, as I was, and particularly if you are in the conservative circles that I am in, Gary may be. . .how to say this. . .a little bit “salty.” That is, his vocabulary tends to be laced with heavier profanity. It’s part of who he is, to the point that he addressed it given the Dave Ramsey audience which is often pretty conservative. However, don’t let that scare you away from the points that he makes. While I won’t be using his same phraseology, I greatly appreciate what he shared and will continue to follow his information. Thanks Gary!) While Gary answered a number of questions from the audience, there was a theme that emerged that tied in very well with Seth’s points: You must become a media company. Instead of paying attention to being heavily involved in “social media,” we must think in terms of just being involved in “media.” Gary noted that the “second that people understand that they are a media company around their product, they begin to own the field.” Use social media but use it as a company providing information of value that you own.

So, coupled together, the two main points that I took from the conference really hit home for me in relation to Bible and Christian Colleges and Universities. First, we need to realize that our market is not going to be everyone and their dog. Yes, we can have a wide range of people that are going to be part of our tribe and we can attempt to continue to expand our adherents. However, a mass marketing appeal doesn’t work the same way it used to. We need to be strategic in our marketing to get people to our institutions. Part of the way we do that is by providing value to people with whom we come in contact. One way we provide value is through media (social, traditional, technology, etc.). Our attitude needs to go from trying to be a good sales person to caring well for the people with whom we connect giving them resources and information to help them (and not just “get our message out”). As Seth noted, we need to capture the art of our work and have generosity as our center.

As leaders of Christian institutions, we sometimes expect the value of our product (education) to speak for itself and we expect students to flock to our buildings, our classes, our perspective. We forget that the Great Commission told us to GO. In Matthew 28:18-20, we hear Jesus say:

18 I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

In the same setting (right before His ascension), Jesus said this (as recorded in Acts 1:8):

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

If we are to follow the Great Commission and go into the uttermost parts of the world to make disciples of all nations, we should recognize that there is a world that needs to hear the care and value we bring them.

How will you do that through the institution in which God has placed you?

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