Want To Connect With Your Students? Tell A Story

I had the pleasure of attending Hubspot’s annual conference in Boston last year. Among influential speakers that included Michelle Obama, Billie Jean King, Ed Katmull and Issa Ray, I also was able to soak in some great sessions from leaders like Apple, Adidas and Uber to name a few.

In particular, the chief brand officer for Uber, Bozoma Saint John (pictured above), had a great session about building connections. Of course, the question in the room that everyone wanted to know was how do you handle the current stories surrounding Uber’s founder and former CEO, Travis Kalanick? She did quickly address — “Hey we all have dirty laundry aired, right? It happens.” But she was so eloquent in moving the audience forward by saying, “Uber is about making connections, it’s more than just one man’s company.”

And she’s right.

Think of your last Uber ride. Did you talk to your driver? Ask them questions about driving for Uber? Or what other jobs they have? How busy or slow they are? Or did you just sit with your headphones on so you could avoid conversation at all costs? (I’m starting to believe my Midwest background lends itself to meet new people and converse more than my east or west coast compatriots.) As it turns out, according to Saint John, a lot of people do talk, and they do connect. 

The thing that has helped make Uber so real and so successful is the emotional connection people feel with their brand. People long to connect with other human beings in a myriad of ways, and Uber helps people do just that. No longer is it a cab ride from Point A to Point B. It’s a disruptive technology that makes everyone’s life better and easier, and people connect over it. You feel cool, saying “Let’s Uber (or Lyft if you prefer!)” A lot of people share Ubers, and the stories of human connection are endless!

Saint John went on about people connecting to help each other solve problems, or just listen, or just connect when they needed it most.

For her, whether she was leading campaigns at Beats, Apple or Uber, it starts with being authentic. Be who you are, and people will connect.

I see this struggle with colleges and universities each day. Struggling to find their voice in a hyper-competitive market. Guess what? Everyone has small classes, everyone has amazing professors, everyone has a beautiful campus, everyone provides opportunities to travel abroad. Those stories won’t connect with your students.

But have you met Ellen? She studied International Marketing at the University of Tilburg. She was lucky enough to travel Europe for six months and make some of the best friends of her life. Ellen, who still goes back to Europe frequently, will even stay with or see those friends she made over 18 years ago. Ellen, a girl from a small town in Missouri, found her way to Northwest Missouri State University, and then found great counselors who encouraged her to see the world. Her life has never been the same since. You could be that girl too. Now I’m connecting with someone.

Your university has thousands of stories like this to make thousands of connections. Telling great stories will connect with your students.

Inc. Magazine recently published a blog post “5 Proven Ways to Connect with Millenials” — and while we’re tempted to turn our heads to GenZ, the Millenials still comprise a large market for both traditional and non-traditional college students in the United States, and according to AMA, make up the largest group with buying power in the U.S. today.

The first thing on their list?

Make an emotional connection. 

And the second?

Let them tell their story.

I believe universities are able to share compelling stories every day. From first-generation students to mom’s graduating with three kids in grade school to military veterans completing their engineering degree. Put names and faces to these stories. Stop it with the new science laboratory and flowering courtyard photography. Show me real faces with real names, and tell me their stories. Let the customers of your service — the students of your university — be your brand ambassadors.

Let’s start making connections.

By Ellen Stubbs, Founder and CEO of Rally78 and former Vice President of Marketing for Capture Higher Ed