Authenticity: What I learned on my winter vacation

By Karlyn Morissette - Wed, Jan 20, 2010-->


General, Marketing

Last week, I vacationed with my family in Fort Myers, Florida and, despite the HORRIFIC cold, I was able to get out and do some shopping. I went into this one surf shop with my family and came upon the following ad:

IMG 0385 768x1024 Authenticity: What I learned on my winter vacation

Immediately, I was intrigued. “It’s not a shoe…it’s a sandal…WTF??” So I went and sought out the product in the store:

IMG 0387 768x1024 Authenticity: What I learned on my winter vacation

No dude. I’m like 99% positive that those are SHOES….not sandals. In looking around the further ads at the store, they are calling them “close-toed sandals”. Let’s look up the dictionary definition of “sandal” here:

a shoe consisting of a sole of leather or other material fastened to the foot by thongs or straps.

In other words, sandals are an open toed show. Calling this shoes sandals, no matter how comfortable they are, is the dictionary definition of wrong.

When I saw those ads, I was intrigued, but for the wrong reason - I was intrigued because I was completely confused and I wanted to figure it out. Once I did, I was even less likely to purchase the product, because they didn’t sell me on its value.

How does this apply to colleges? Simply put, don’t try to be something you’re not. Embrace an authentic message that is easy for your audience to process and understand.

Every single one of you has a unique brand…something that a niche of prospects out there will want to be involved with. Yet so many schools run away from that uniqueness and do themselves the disservice of blending in with the masses. How many of you have some derivation of this as your key messaging points?

  • Small class sizes
  • Engaged faculty that will know you as more than a face in a lecture hall
  • Resources of a larger university, personal attention of a small college
  • Lots of sports and activities
  • Awesome study abroad opportunities
  • 95% job placement within six months of graduation

I love it when a school founded on a religious tradition stands up and embraces their core values.

I love it when an all-girls schools proudly proclaims that the concept is not outdated, and that you will get a better education.

I love it when schools that have a really unique cultural aspect to their school and they flat out state “these are the kinds of students we want…and these are the ones we don’t”.

In other words, I love it when schools understand that they do not have to be everything to everyone in order to put butts in seats.

So embrace your uniqueness. If you don’t, you might not confuse people as much as if you called yourself a sandal when you’re really a shoe…but you haven’t sold them on the true value your college offers either.

A distinct (and AUTHENTIC) brand makes all the difference in the world.

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This post was written by:

Karlyn Morissette

Karlyn Morissette - who has written 45 posts on .eduGuru

Karlyn Morissette is a thought leader and innovator in higher education. With over 12 years of web experience (half spent working exclusively on higher education web marketing initiatives), she helped pioneer many of the web strategies considered best practice today.

Today as the Director of Marketing Communications at Fire Engine RED, Karlyn works with colleges around the world to execute integrated marketing campaigns as a part of student search. She also teaches courses on Internet marketing and strategy at Champlain College as adjunct faculty. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from Boston University and a Master of Business Administration from Norwich University.

To quote a friend of hers: "Karlyn is a super rad ninja marketing genius who will make your target demographic submit to your every whim through sheer willpower. Oh, and she's smarter than you."  We're not sure about the smarter part, but "super rad ninja" is true enough.

Compulsory disclaimer: The views expressed in Karlyn's posts are hers and hers alone, and do not represent those of any company she's affiliated with. Yes, it's true - the girl has a mind of her own. 

7 Responses to “Authenticity: What I learned on my winter vacation”

  1. Avatar image
    tsandals Says:

    I totally disagree. Sandals are not defined by a book, they are defined by the people who choose to wear them. They are a symbol of a laid back lifestyle. Worn by those who embrace all things awesome and long walks on the beach. Sandals are freedom, a freedom that can not be summarized on the pages of a dictionary.

    To me, the ads say, “This is not a shoe, it’s a sandal for people with funky toe nails.” For freedom should not be confined to those with perfect toes, freedom should be felt by all. Give us your bunyons, your planters warts, your cracked and yellowed nails… for today, you are free!


    • Avatar image
      cliff Says:

      I think @tsand summed it up. Thanks. Now I can escape the formal shoe and live a more “laid back” lifestyle.


  2. Avatar image
    Rob S. Says:

    The bullets you listed are indeed very common and are not that distinctive. That is unless you are a small school that mostly crosses apps with larger schools. Pointing out the differences can be valuable.

    If you are an all-girls school, religiously conservative school, etc., there are obvious marketing angles.

    Sometimes the challenge is the opposite, when a (small) school is all things to all people, a mixture of academics and athletics, conservative to liberal and everything inbetween, strong in the sciences and fine arts, etc. Segmentation can be done at the individual level, but an open house PowerPoint, viewbook, etc., is a whole different story.

    One possibility is to turn those generic bullets into institution-specific stories, with the added benefit of generic bullets being forgotten and a good story being memorable. Indeed, there can be a need to convince people your shoe is different than another shoe. Not sure I’d call it a sandal, though!


  3. Avatar image
    Patrick Says:

    This always seems to be the struggle with university marketers - we always want to be everything for everyone for fear anyone feeling left out. Well, not everyone is going to attend your college and that, as Stuart Smiley taught us, is OK.

    Your messaging is dead on, Karlyn. Embrace who you are. Marketing a college/university isn’t rocket science and it isn’t too far off from marketing oneself. Who wants to be friends with the kid trying so hard to impress everyone? I want to be friends with the person who shares my same values and wants the same things in life. I imagine most students think the same way.


  4. Avatar image
    Kyle James Says:

    At the end of the day… Flip Flops are still the best!

    Totally agree with you here. This also applies to so much more than just a universities brand. Relationships and dating, personal credibility and of course good southern fried chicken to name a few.


  5. Avatar image
    elmhdy Says:

    this is incirdible post … just for inform you i was read something more explaining that from few days in


  6. Avatar image
    Matt Adamo Says:

    Great post!

    I am someone who strongly believes in building self brand. It’s one of the main techniques i teach over at my blog.

    This is my first time at this blog but i like it very much. They way you write and the pictures kept me interested which is something most bloggers can do.

    Thanks so much -Matt


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