NCAA championships are won on the court or on the field, but the road to that championship began on the recruiting trail. Competition for top recruits is becoming more and more intense and schools are constantly looking for a way to one-up each other. Programs are building bigger and better facilities; the best recruiters are hired as head coaches; and every possible advantage is maximized all in the name of convincing teenagers to come play a game for you instead of them. Recruiting has become a game of one-upmanship. How we can we do it bigger and better than the other guy? This pressure to succeed has led to a monotony where every school starts to look and sound the same. The challenge has now become, in the crowded world of NCAA recruiting, how do you stop the vicious cycle of incremental advancement? Can you stop for a minute, make some tough branding decisions and build for the long term?
Everything looks and feels the same.
We’ve reached a point in the recruiting game where the importance of social media, graphics, and branding are indisputable. No longer are they a “nice to have,” they’re now clearly a necessity. Early on in the evolution of this digital shift, having a rock star graphic designer on staff or on retainer was enough to set you apart. If you were creating modern designs that appealed to teenage athletes, you could win in this new space. No longer. Every school is creating graphics, and if you didn’t know better, you’d assume there was one designer making them all.
Identifying what’s unique about your place.
So, how do you take the next step and ensure your recruiting content stands out? As usual, it’s not rocket science, but it’s also not simple. You need to identify what’s exceptional about your program. What can a recruit get at your place that no other location can match? This is your unique brand promise, and this is what will set you apart from the noise. No longer are you fighting to make a graphic that burns a little hotter than your competitor. You’re playing your own game now and no one else can participate. Some schools are doing this well. Kentucky in Men’s Basketball and Alabama in Football have capitalized on the idea of being the best at getting top talent to the next level. Those schools own those concepts. Just like Verizon owns “best network,” and Pepsi is for those who “think young.” You may get a lot of athletes to the professional leagues as well, but you don’t do it as successfully as those places. So if you’re trying to outsell a concept you don’t own, you can’t win. You’d be far better served to work up your own pitch. Maybe your athletes have the longest professional careers; maybe they end up making the most money. Or it could be your trainers help athletes make the biggest physical advances while on campus. Every school has something unique. The important thing is to identify it and own it.
Communicating that unique brand promise.
Now that you’ve got that figured out, you’ve got a leg to stand on. You’ve got a completely unique idea to rally your recruiting messages around. Whatever your brand promise is, work it into everything you’re communicating. How does your program deliver on its brand promise? Why? Answering these questions for yourself will help you create content to answer them for recruits.
What would you rather be…the second best at the game everyone is trying to play, or the best at the game you deem most important?