The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is a Cinderella factory. Nearly every March, it creates a new one like VCU in 2011 or Florida Gulf Coast in 2013. When a relative unknown makes the Sweet Sixteen, the buzz is undeniable. But beyond a quick boost in merchandise sales, is there a lasting effect?
A one-season flash doesn’t improve a team’s brand long-term because they don’t stay in the public’s consciousness long enough to stick. Remember the 2006 Bradley Braves. Probably not. But Gonzaga in the early 2000s and Wichita State more recently kept up the success and created space in the national conversation.
Former Utah State Athletic Director Scott Barnes once said, “Athletics are the front porch of a university. It’s not the most important room in the house, but it is the most visible.” So, what can a Cinderella run do for the university beyond the court?
First let’s define a brand: it is a unique and authentic message about the school that communicates what it is and what it stands for. It can help schools differentiate themselves to applicants and bond with alumni.
Considering some recent examples, an increase in applications of at least 20% is a virtual guarantee. Some schools will see larger boosts, plus annual revenue increases, and greater licensing royalties. More applications don’t necessarily mean more enrollment. However, a wider and larger applicant pool gives admissions officials the opportunity to be more selective. Smaller schools can carve out a new audience or reach new markets their unique brand has had trouble penetrating before. This blank slate means it’s a great time for the school to shares its story and connect with a new audience.
Here are four ways schools can take advantage of this (it also works for your business if you find your company on a hot streak).
No one plans to fail, but people fail to plan. You may have heard this phrase in some iteration, but it rings true. Expect success and be ready for when the spotlight is on. No team that makes the Big Dance is counting on losing, not even the 16-seeds.
You got here by being you, don’t change now. Coaches often say they’re no better at coaching this week than they were last week, they have just had more success. The same thing goes for an organization. Be true to yourself and stick with what brought you the attention to begin with. Don’t change what you do or become something else entirely.
Tell a story that illustrates your brand
Think of the cool stories we hear about student-athletes every March that help us connect with the team. We all have something like that we can share. Maybe it’s an amazing customer feedback example, a massive client success or a tale about your founder or a key employee. Find that story and while the attention is on you, highlight it – in the media, on social, on your website. A powerful story is sticky and stays with your audience.
Find a way to stay relevant
Recruiting coordinators are texting their prospects and schools can email the early admission students yet to enroll. They’re probably following along already, but this is a good time to make direct contact. Businesses should use the recent buzz to revisit cold leads or forge stronger relationships with current clients.