Suzanne Grigalunas
Enrollment Marketing Strategist

Finding space for long-form narrative

Increase your messaging value and deepen your impact

“You are here now.” The pilot was at least thirty seconds into his speech. I popped out my ear buds realizing that he wasn’t merely delivering a droning predictable pre-flight announcement—he was beginning a monologue.

“Many of you left your homes or your vacations early this morning for on time arrival to the airport. Then once you got here, you had to navigate crowds, long lines, and security checks; then find your way through a maze of gates and more crowds; only to wait and wait to get onto the plane.”

He was just talking to us, and his message was not rote; it was concise, targeted, and highly relevant. It occurred to me that these were the typical drivers for any communications plan and messaging strategy I work on. Yet there were no talking points and no brand messages, just crystal-clear and effective dialogue.

As higher education marketers and communicators, we rely on crisp and consistent usage of well-timed messages to communicate our brand, because the window for engagement with prospective students is relatively short and very intense. After 16 years of designing communications plans for schools operating in a congested, competitive marketplace, I am a firm believer that “cut to the chase” messaging that slices right through the monolith of information, is the best approach…. except when it isn’t.

“But now you are here,” he said. “You are in your seats. Your only job now is to sit back and breathe. I and my whole crew have brought our A-game. We are going to get you there safely; so there’s nothing to worry about. We are just so grateful to have you on our flight today and appreciate all that you did to get here.”

The long-form narrative is an equally important messaging strategy, when applied in the right context at the right time. We have to intentionally find space in our engagements with target audiences for in-depth articulation of our brand. In this instance the message was:

  • Off-script, yet on-brand. This wasn’t business as usual, and it wasn’t scripted, yet he was powerfully conveying a strong customer-centered brand value that genuinely resonated. The sincerity and intentionality did more to positively impact my affinity for this airline than any other interaction I’d had during my engagement.
  • Well timed. I don’t think that message would have worked as well had we not been a captive audience. He took the opportunity to take his pre-flight announcement – the one that is made on every single flight by every single air carrier – to make his message special – to speak to his captive audience. Maybe for you, this is your introductory remarks at a recruitment event, or riding the elevator with a prospective family.
  • Reassuring about the experience and subtly addressed common fears and concerns about air travel. He didn’t say “we know you are afraid that you are going to die.”   A very common refrain we see in recruitment communications is something along the lines of   “we know that the college search is hard…” While the college search is certainly overwhelming reminding people that it’s hard is a discouraging message. Consider flipping the script to a more positive message such as: “As you explore our college and search for your perfect fit, consider us your partner throughout the process.”
  • A call to action. No matter what we are doing or saying, we are always leading. Whether we are leading students deeper into the process or exiting them off, providing a clear roadmap along the way is essential.

Finding the time and space in your recruitment process to engage students with long-form narrative is a key opportunity to re-enforce their connection to the values of your community and institution.