Center for Applied Technology 4 Steps to Create Marketing that Surprises
CATLab exists to enhance relationships within and outside the Westmont community through the innovative use of technology. To learn about how we're doing that this Summer click here.
Organizing marketing campaigns can be daunting work. Without careful planning, an opportunity to showcase your program can quickly turn into an overwhelming exercise. Instead of creating ideas which support the company’s unique mission, marketing teams often gravitate toward buzzwords like progress, innovation, or synergy. This might stem from a desire to mimic successful companies, pressure to get the job done, or simply a belief that investing time in a creative marketing campaign is not worth it. While challenging, creating a campaign driven by your company’s values will make your marketing both more meaningful and intriguing.
At CATLab, we believe that stories guide action. While we build technical solutions, we are equally committed to crafting stories which help our values inform our actions. For example, each year our creative team picks a theme for the summer’s marketing plan. The theme unifies our content and sets the tone for the summer. For example, amidst the peak of the coronavirus in 2020, our theme tenacity, highlighted one of CATLab’s core values: our commitment to getting the job done in the face of adversity. Similarly, last year’s theme, cultivating community, emphasized our mission to foster authentic relationships through technology.
This summer, our team chose the word “balance” as the guiding theme for our marketing. At first glance, balance might seem like an odd word to characterize a tech startup—something like “modern solutions” or “forward thinking” comes to mind instead. How did our team come up with this surprising theme? Instead of trying to impress, we strive to let our program’s values speak for themselves.
Here are four lessons we learned from this summer to help you do the same:
1. Define your values with your team.
Before building a marketing campaign centered around your values, you need to identify what they are. Each summer during orientation, our team learns about CATLab’s core values—curiosity, authenticity, and commitment—and our mission: “we exist to enhance relationships within and outside the Westmont community through the innovative use of technology.” While discussing our program values, we realized that there are some inherent paradoxes which we balance. For example, at CATLab we balance our commitment to building better technology, while making sure that the technology we build serves a relational and embodied community, instead of promoting an insular or virtual world.
Additionally, as a marketing team, we took time to discuss our team’s internal values. By discussing our top priorities, we discovered that our team collectively wanted a theme which could inspire strong digital design, diverse written work, creative photoshoots, and clear messaging. Once we decided on balance as our theme, we wrote out a definition together to calibrate and solidify our shared language.
2. Take more time than you think you need.
An old folk tale tells the story of a farmer taking a cart filled to the brim with apples to the market. To get there, he had to travel along a bumpy dirt road filled with potholes. Along the way, he passed a traveler headed the other way, and asked “How much farther to the market, friend?” Taking a look at the full cart, the traveler replied “An hour if you go slowly, and all day if you go fast.”
Just like the farmer, marketing campaigns need time and careful planning to develop. In order to balance the proverbial apple cart, teams need to find ways to generate, record, and incorporate many diverse ideas. This process takes time—from brainstorming to rollout, our team spent three weeks, 20% of our summer, to select our theme. Instead of rushing to a decision or picking the first idea that fit, we took time to produce a 20-page document of ideas, the result of two weeks of collective brainstorming.
In every decision making process there is a point called “The Groan Zone.” A term coined by Dr. Sam Kaner in the Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, the Groan Zone is the uncomfortable place in between brainstorming and narrowing things toward a decision point.
Our team reached the Groan Zone at the end of our first week of brainstorming. We had lots of good ideas, but no clear decision. Instead of rushing a decision, we embraced the uncertainty, and took a break over the weekend to reflect. When we came back, two clear categories had emerged: balance and direction. By sitting in the tension of our many different ideas, we were able to narrow our options down into two cohesive themes.
3. Get feedback from stakeholders.
By listening to a wide range of stakeholders, you can gain valuable feedback on your campaign. Throughout our process, we reached out to our key stakeholders, CATLab members (who will be featured in our marketing) and community members (who will read it). By sharing our ideas with people familiar with our mission, we were able to refine the end product to reflect the values and ideas of our wider community.
As a mostly new team, we took time to read published work from previous teams and worked to understand how the program had been portrayed in the past. We also took time to ask questions to more experienced team members, to ask if our theme would fit with their experience of the program. By learning how our predecessors thought about CATLab, we are able to maintain a sense of brand continuity, and integrate our fresh perspectives and contributions with the program’s mission.
When we had chosen balance as our theme, we shared a presentation with the greater CATLab team, and invited them to share how they saw balance playing out in their work and personal lives.
The day after the presentation, we went on a half-day team retreat, with lunch and a hike. Team members were encouraged to journal on the theme of balance and their reflections will be included in our capstone magazine. By inviting our community into the process, we gave them a sense of ownership and they gave our theme deeper meaning and helped it more accurately reflect our entire team’s values.
4. Serve your community, not your legacy.
At CATLab, we base our marketing off of Donald Miller’s StoryBrand. StoryBrand’s core principle is that customers, not companies, should be the focal point of marketing. Instead of bragging about a company’s success, the most successful marketing campaigns identify the needs and goals of customers, and offer to guide them along their journey (or, as Story Brand puts it, to be the Yoda to their Luke).
Similarly, at CATLab, we commit to putting the students, staff, and businesses we serve first. When we narrowed down our theme options to balance and direction, we decided to go with balance because it offered us an opportunity to highlight others. Since this year is CATLab’s fifth anniversary, we want to highlight our program’s progress and the exciting new directions we are headed, but solely focusing on that would not be helpful to our audience. Instead, we chose balance so that we could share how we navigate the tensions of operating a student-run, tech startup in higher ed.
We recognize that CATLab’s story is part of a greater narrative arc, including the higher ed, tech, and student communities worldwide. By prioritizing that larger story over our own, we aim to thank those who have gone before us, and share what we have learned about balancing tensions with our community so that they can apply it to their own lives, both personal and professional.
Our projects are driven by CATLab’s core values—curiosity, commitment, and authenticity. Look for our next article exploring balance with various speakers from Westmont's annual LEAD Where You Stand Conference!
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