Multicultural marketing

My job as marketing/communications director for the largest college at Ohio’s second-largest public institution gives me the chance to tell the story of our great faculty, students and alumni. But, since the college has 22 academic departments, we have a very broad audience to reach – from aspiring poets to lab-coat-and-goggles-wearing chemists. One subject that keeps coming up – and I don’t have a ready answer for, is how do we attract diverse populations? I’ll start by saying that attracting them and getting them in the door are two different things. I met high-school student this summer who was attracted to the school, but wanted to get out of her hometown and try something new. Totally understandable. But when I think of multi-cultural/diverse marketing, I believe many colleges merely do the traditional group photo of multi-cultural/ethnic/race students on the cover of the viewbook and leave it at that.

Isn’t there something else?

I can’t change that I’m a white kid who grew up in Cleveland. My mom spent years teaching in the public schools, but that pretty much was the extent of my exposure to people who had a different life experience than me. But what I observed then and through my college years and as a journalist is that communicating to people who might be different than we are has to go beyond the window dressing of who is in the photo. So, some recent blog posts on the topic piqued my interest. This post points out that universities collect race/ethnicity data in their applications, but never use that data to tailor messages based on that data. And this post shows the language gymnastics that we need to consider as we market on a global scale.

All good things to think about… no easy answer, but I believe that, like all communication, it starts with understanding your audiences.

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