Create memorable experiences

I recall back when MySpace was a popular thing, I must’ve added the band Splender to my favorites. They weren’t an all-time favorite, just a band Iiked at the time.

As bands are won’t to do, Splender broke up. A few months later, the lead singer was in a new band. The new band sent a letter from him to all listed fans essentially saying, “hey, I’m in this new band if you liked my old band check out my new one?!”

The failed premise here is this idea that someone who liked what you once did will be following what you do after, just because it’s you. I can appreciate this notion in theory.

Investing in people makes sense when you realize they posses world class skills. World class here only implies the field in which we’re playing on. It takes a different set of skills to be successful in every context. What’s world class in a rural town might not make you as successful in a large place and vice-versa. You might learn tactics or skills that make you successful but it’s not the same as being exactly the same in both contexts and expecting it to work. It takes dexterity to make different circumstances serve you best.

You have to give people a reason to care. It starts with creating a series of memorable experiences. The distinction begins with crafting a sustainable narrative that lives well beyond the time of what you’re doing. These situations vary in the minds of people differently, but I think you have to be meticulous in ensure every detail of how you cultivate an experience to ensure people leave with as good or better memories than you hoped. It can’t feel manufactured.

The thing is, creating memorable experiences takes work. It’s not something you can buy at the store because you were too busy to make it. It has to involve some semblance of deliberation and requires you to care about the end result. It’s not always easy unfortunately when other people get involved to execute these ideas perfectly or at all.

You need vision. Having made a few songs I remember a few years ago, doesn’t imply an ongoing relationship. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but if everyone does it, what makes you stand out amongst the fray?

The search for engagement

Do you know why everyone’s always on their phone? It’s not because their antisocial. It’s not because they are addicted to the Internet. It’s about a need for information.

Growing up, I cannot count the number of times that I would go someplace with my parents and find myself with a bunch of hours without anything specific to do. Not everyone had cable, and while I was pretty good about bringing a book to most places there just weren’t always ample opportunities for foresight.

Having the entire world at your fingertips is really powerful. Especially when you have the network to match that. I think part of the challenge for people who watch other people on their phones, in situations where it might not otherwise be rude, is the fact that not all of us boast far-flung networks of friends in disparate locations.

Did you ever have a penpal when you were a child? In elementary school, I had the bright idea of soliciting for penpals by simply sending a letter to any similar grade student at any school in a random part of the country. Once my tactic worked, my classmates wondered how I did it and I help them do the same thing.

If you can remember the feeling of getting mail when you’re a kid, then you understand why people would be engaged, when they’re able to radio from their penpals all over the world in many cases that they’ve already met in real life.

I had a penchant for reading encyclopedias as a kid as well. So carrying an encyclopedia in my pocket with seemingly unlimited volumes, delights my seven-year-old heart somewhere.

On the flipside, I spent the weekend with a good friend not too long ago. And we both agreed we wouldn’t tweet or use social media at all.

Relating to others is hard. And there are just may situations where people can feel isolated, without the others around them knowing it. Perhaps they’re selling kind of merit to that sort of awkwardness that comes from interactions that lack The sort of engagement that some of us are seeking, but I’m not entirely sure of that.

This isn’t an excuse for using your phone in inappropriate settings, or where it’s deemed to be rude to do so. The problem is we still haven’t worked out the social mores of using these kinds of tools in particular situations, so there isn’t always an explicit knowledge of when it is appropriate or when it’s not.

I’m also talking about adults, not kids. Not that the former are necessarily any better about knowing the right versus wrong time, or are any less willing to sacrifice moment to tethered to a device.

But I’m not sure that waxing poetic about moments that generally don’t come, is really something to express ire about. Ultimately if you don’t like it, speak up.

What If Higher Ed Was Customer Centered?

If I’ve learned anything from being on the customer experience side of higher education marketing, it’s how crazy the admissions process makes parents and students. For all of the grief we give so-called helicopter parents for being overbearing, protective and unable to let their kids fly and make mistakes, I can see the look on their faces really stems from the investment they’ve put in. You spend nearly two decades grooming something to be as perfect as it can be and you’d want to make damn sure that whenever you gave them away to someone else that they’re going to put your kid in the best possible situation to better themselves.

This obviously leads to some detachment from reality. Like when a kid with a B- average hovers near the counselor at the semi-elite school he’s interested in, because he thinks that nagging someone and asking a ton of questions is going to make him more attractive. (In reality, it’s probably the parent who is doing the hovering. But I digress…) Or the people who want to major in six things, because they think the key to cracking the modern economy is not specializing but simply being good at everything. (Because it’s that easy right?)

My personal favorite is this question: What’s the best major to get a job? 

I usually bristle at this question, because I’m not exactly the guy you come to for anything other than straight talk. I’m of the opinion that if you believe in your product, you don’t to do a hard sell. You configure your entire strategy around providing an experience that gives the customer a chance to see how it’s superior to anything else they’re considering. The issue is, not all of us know who our customer is.

So going back to the whole “best major to get a job” question.

I will then laugh and say “look, no one here is going to tell you this probably. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. College isn’t about finding a job. It’s about finding yourself.” 

The fact that I took the classes I took didn’t prepare for my the job market by themselves. It’s about what you do with the skills. Obviously this applies less for some careers than others. For all of the people who show up on Day 1 — or before then — talking about being pre-med as if it’s a career path that everyone can manage, you obviously need a foundation to ensure that you’ll be more successful taking that long, arduous path towards your ultimate goal. But for the undecided liberal arts major considering four unrelated things, it’s really about pushing yourself to think critically.

It’d be easy to blame the market. We’re just giving them what they want, after all. We tailor the messaging towards the clientele. But it’s pretty clear that people don’t know what they want. Or better put, they’re low-information consumers even in the best of times. We’ve built a foundation on a rickety system that wasn’t developed organically. We change the rules all of the time. Everyone has different rules. Imagine applying to live in a new country but there are thousands of them and each has their own rules, processes and standards for admitted new citizens. Not to mention you have to pay them for the honour and after you’ve done so, if you have success they’ll be calling you soon after to ask for more money to support new citizensDoes this sound like a good deal? When it’s standing between you and success in a global economy, probably so.

Instead of simplifying the process, we just keep making it as difficult as possible. When is the messaging to be simplified and will someone have the courage to be honest in every aspect of the process, high minded ideals be damned? Or is the notion that college is about learning how to think no longer a worthy cause in itself?

Do we in marketing have a responsibility to the barrage of information at people’s disposal that’s done nothing to improve the process for customers? Or is the fact that our customers come to us, enough of a reason to keep them generally in the dark because it’s good for business?

Lots of questions with no elegant answers abound.

Note: I realize there are different kinds of college experiences, many that focus on vocational programs rather than liberal arts. But I’m intentionally choosing to focus here on the non-profit industry of academic institutions both public & private.