I especially like what Derrick says in the comments at the end:
With little (in terms of academics and amenities) to distinguish one institution from others in its peer group, effective marketing and brand strategy takes place in the margins... I contend that within one's realm of competition, what are most distinguishable are not necessarily the institution itself or its geographic location, but what students do when they get there, and where they go when they leave. In other words, market not what is similarly afforded elsewhere, but what is uniquely achieved on one's own campus. An education after all, is not a widget. In today's College Confidential world, the institution controls its brand only as well as it performs. Student (as well as parent, faculty and staff) experiences and accomplishments constitute the brand. People are the walking, talking/blogging, living, breathing embodiments of that brand. So a good plan of action might be to first, provide a wealth of opportunities for great experiences. Second, focus your energy on telling your institution's story through those experiences - and then you have differentiated yourself from your peers, no matter where you are.
That's a pretty accurate summary of what I've believed for years - a view that led to the genesis of my work with blogging at MIT and Oberlin, and the creation of the Oberlin Stories Project. All of these have been really well-received for the reasons that Derrick cites above.
Lately I've been feeling like we need to go to the next level - we need to open the web-based windows into campuses even wider. What does that look like?
Some of you have heard me talk about our idea for "the Oberlin channel." Here's a brief summary from an email I sent to someone a few weeks back:
As media begins to converge rapidly, it is clear that television and the internet will likely be one in the same within a matter of years. Hoping to be ahead of the curve, we are already brainstorming how we might produce an "Oberlin channel" - a perpetual window into the Oberlin campus through which alumni and prospective students will be able to enjoy concerts, convocations, lectures, plays, and athletics in the comfort of their living rooms.
How cool would it be to plop down on your couch in California, remote control in hand, and say to your wife, "I wonder what's happening in Oberlin tonight? Let's watch." That's a few years off, at least, for budget and technology reasons. I think a lot about what we might explore in the interim.
I guess I should also note that I'm largely interested in broadcasting the "how" and the "why" and not just the "what." That's what makes the blogs work - students don't just tell you what they did, but how they felt about the experience, how it affected them. It builds more "human" connections to campus than simply showing someone a concert might.