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We've been working on an RFP for a college lately, so I've been thinking a lot about this issue. Schools are unique even among services, because of the fuzzy nature of the product. Think about it in terms of following the money.

To the prospective student, the product of an education brand is the education, the prestige, the lifelong contacts, the credential, marketability on the job market, the coolness of the experience...stuff like that. But in the complex equation of school funding, this is just one piece of the puzzle.

To the alumni, the product is a prestigious name and reputation, continually renewed programs and facilities, an insider way of talking and thinking (consider the value of being a Skull and Bones man from Yale), an assurance that there are those before you who will share your experience...and those after you who will share that experience, the opportunity to be a part of something big and important, and the chance to be immortalized through your financial support of the institution. This is a huge piece of the funding puzzle. But there's more.

To the governing/funding entities (boards of regents, legislatures, foundations), the product is the assumption that students will be accepted, educated, and graduated according to certain standards. This serves as a sort of guarantee to prospective and current students and their families, as well as to prospective employers, colleagues, and society at large.

To employers, prospective employers, and the economic development community, the product is the graduate, with the accompanying skills and abilities. So, to one of the customers, the product is another of the customers. And vice versa.

The challenge, then, is to develop a brand that is unified, yet engaging, true, and relevant to all of these diverse target audiences. To be relevant to both parents and students is hard enough. But to carry that to government entities, nonprofit organizations, financial institutions, and diverse can see why this is not branding for dummies.

I don't know about you, but I love this stuff.

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