Skip to main content

The Ologie marketing concept survey

If you have not yet taken the Ologie Grinnell marketing concept survey, please do so before reading this musing. I would not want to influence your opinions. It should take about fifteen minutes

Warning! This rant, like many of my rants, does not necessarily progress in a comprehensible fashion. You will find some abrupt shifts in topic, logic, or even style.

I had great plans for musings I might write today. I have an email from an accepted student that I was planning to respond to. I had some nice recommendations for students. I even considered a short piece on curmudgeonly fun [1]. Then I made the mistake of taking our marketing concept survey. Now I just have to rant.

My initial experiences with Ologie, our marketing firm, were good. They seemed thoughtful. They seemed to have understood what makes Grinnell special. They were clearly interested in feedback.

I see bits of those impressions in the concepts they’ve provided to us. They clearly understand that we make students work hard, that we mentor students, and that students grow. They seem to understand that we care about diversity and social justice. They’ve found ways to convey those issues.

But then there are the problems revealed by these pieces; there are many.

We’ll start with some obvious problems. The survey is not accessible; I can tell that without much work. There are images that have no alt text. They have videos that we have to listen to and that lack closed captioning. Do they not understand that we have both a moral and a legal responsibility to make sure that any video we put on the Web is accessible [2]? And those are the easy ones to identify; a student trained in accessibility issues tells me that they do not properly link their radio buttons and the accompanying text, which makes it nearly impossible for a non-sighted person to click the right button.

They also use the term brand. I’ve written about my objections to that term before. For those who weren’t paying attention [3], here’s a definition I found of that term [4].

gerund or present participle: branding
1. mark (an animal, formerly a criminal or slave) with a branding iron.

No, I don’t think I want that connotation associated with my institution. We should not use terms that refer to human punishment. We should not liken ourselves to a criminal.

Third, they treat faculty and trustees as the same group in the survey. Excuse me? Don’t you think that the people who interact daily with our students and who are in charge of the curriculum might be somewhat different than those who manage the endowment and interact with our students only on occasion?

I see that they’ve also left out Parent of Prospective Student and Guidance Counselor. I suppose we don’t care about those groups [5].

I’m not a marketing expert, but I also find myself puzzled by the overall approach. We get to watch two five-minute videos that discuss the overall concept, the marketing to prospective students and parents (viewbooks and micro sites), the marketing to faculty (ads in Chronicle), the marketing to alumni (potted prairie or pamphlets), and perhaps other marketing I missed. But those are different kinds of marketing. Shouldn’t we react to them separately? While I think it’s fine that every group respond to all of the kinds of marketing, wouldn’t A/B tests on each kind be better? And, while you would pay attention to all of the responses, wouldn’t you want to be able to focus on the particular target audience?

I also worry that two important audiences are missing from these concept pieces: prospective donors and prospective employers. What makes donors (who are not necessarily alumni) want to give to the College? What makes employers want to hire our graduates? Fortunately, I think both concept pieces help address those issues, at least in part, in that they emphasize that we care about Focus, Diversity [6], and Tenacity.

As a computer scientist, I find the UI frustrating. For example, I wanted to find out about the video player they use, so I command-clicked on the video and selected About JW Player 6.12.4845 (Pro Edition) [7]. But that made it impossible to go back to the survey [10]. You think they could choose better survey software.

In terms of content, something that particularly frustrates me is their advertising for faculty. The advertisement describes Gina Clayton, founder of the Essie Justice Group, and a winner of the Grinnell prize. I admire Clayton, and I’m glad that she won the prize. But the advertisement says nothing about why one would want to work at Grinnell. She’s not an alum, so it tells them nothing about our students. I guess all it says is that we give away lots of money. It wouldn’t be all that hard to update the advertisement to say things like Grinnell Prize winners not only give talks on campus, they also hold workshops for students, host students in internships, and even mentor some students. Through venues like the Grinnell prize, we provide students with a particularly deep exposure to issues of social justice and encourage them to pursue such issues. Of course, I’d prefer Work with amazing students. Teach in a curriculum in which you never have to offer a required general education course. Participate in an active student-faculty research community. Embrace diversity [11]. Even the tagline of A Place of Mind would be significantly better.

There are two concepts, one called A Place of Mind and one called Open [12]. Both are grounded in similar issues: We may be in the middle of nowhere, but we are connected and prepare you to work anywhere; We push students hard; We are diverse [14]; and so on and so forth. Open speaks a bit more to mentoring.

Unfortunately, Open is also an instance of some of the most mediocre typography I’ve seen in awhile. The writing also reflects some institution other than Grinnell. Here’s an example.

And while at Grinnell College our landscape is bounded by vast grasslands and open sky, our people are defined by an intense focus on intellectual greatness and a vast commitment to social good. Students, mentors and peers. To an individual, ready to build a bigger future for all.

What’s up with those last two sentences? I suppose you could combine them into one. I also wish that we wouldn’t like about vast grasslands. Our landscape is bounded by vast farmlands of soy and corn. There are some great bits of prairie, but they are the exception, rather than the rule. I do think the text could be turned in to something great. But it’s really mediocre right now.

Of course, I also hate some of the details in A Place of Mind. In particular, there’s the phrase boundaries are yours to establish and expand. In one sense, I’m glad that it’s explicit that people can establish certain boundaries. That’s one of the things that consent is all about. However, given what No Limits did to student perceptions of acceptable consumption, I worry that this also suggests that students are free to make their own (bad) choices about consumption.

All of the scattered pictures of Mac field also bother me, given that Mac field is currently unusable. I know that it will be back, but still. Seeing pictures of Mac field also makes me worry about whether the Ultimate teams will have sufficient space, given the addition of pathways.

In writing this piece, I went back to look at parts of the survey [15,16]. This time through, I chose Prospective Student since I’m the parent of a prospective student [17]. After about three questions, I got to the following question:

In what year did you (or will you) graduate from Grinnell?

That question makes almost no sense. I’ve just indicated I’m a prospective. I’m not even sure that I (or, more precisely, my son) will attend. The possible answers make even less sense. For example, I can select Before 1970. What’s worse is that if I don’t select something, I can’t progress through the survey.

I don’t know what to do with Through extensive research, the college has worked to better understand who Grinnell College is and the value it brings to students, the community, and the broader world. Our style guide says that we capitalize the C in the College. And is the College doing this work, or is Ologie?

I’m not quite sure why it bothers me, but the sample faculty profile is of a fictional faculty member, Salvatore Landis, PhD with the two following blurbs:

There was a time when I wasn’t this organized. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

A place of work should be no more or less cluttered than the mind who dwells there.

What does that say about Grinnell? Is it even useful? Why an elderly white male as our representative [18]?

They mention that Grinnell is 7th among alumni with PhDs in science and engineering fields in recent years-above Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. I think that’s percent, rather than absolute numbers, but I’m not sure. But why don’t they mention that we do even better in producing foreign language Ph.D.’s [19]?

There’s more, but I think I’m done for now. And it was somewhat useful to write this musing. Although there are many parts that really really really frustrate me, I do see some glimmers [20] of hope within. There are some really good concepts. Both Open and A Place of Mind are reasonable taglines. If I ignore the bad writing, the description of Grinnell near the start of Open is pretty good. Perhaps I should learn to see the forest for the trees.

Here’s the email that I received about the survey.

The partnership between Grinnell College and our marketing firm Ologie has made great progress in the last few months.

  • They started our relationship by reading everything they could find about Grinnell College; then we gave them more.
  • They spent time with research from Art & Science and studied the creative foundation laid by CRANE MetaMarketing.
  • They came to campus and interviewed students, faculty, and staff. Follow-up interviews were conducted virtually with trustees, alumni, guidance counselors, and parents.
  • In February of this year, we were all invited to participate in an institutional perception survey.

The strategy team at Ologie has been considering the survey results and thinking about everything they’ve read, heard, and seen about Grinnell College. Their discovery and reflection has culminated in two beautiful, authentic, and distinct creative concepts.

We know that your time is limited as finals approach and the semester ends, but we would very much like to incorporate the perspective of the faculty in our market testing. If you are able to take a few minutes between now and May 31 to review the concepts developed by Ologie, we would be very grateful.

Just click on the link below, or copy it to your favorite browser. You will be led through a series of questions and be given the opportunity to share your reactions.

Thank you.

Jim Powers

Director of Communications

[1] Don’t worry. Given that it’s finals week, there will come a day in which I have very little time, and I’ll write that short piece.

[2] Since more and legal responsibility has come up in other areas recently, I’ll reaffirm that I prioritize these issues for moral reasons and that I mention the legal issues because (a) administrators like to remind me of them and (b) it’s a way to make sure that others understand just how strong these responsibilities are.

[3] Including, it seems, the folks at Ologie and in Communications.

[4] I was irresponsible and did not cite the source. I’m pretty sure it’s just what came up on Google. Yeah, something close to that appears at

[5] There is a None of the above button. It brings you to a page that says We appreciate your participation, but your profile does not meet the qualifications for the survey. Thank you..

[6] Of course, they count Diversity as Diversity of experience, thought, and culture. If that’s what someone focuses on in a diversity statement for my department, I’d be disappointed that they did not think more about embodied diversity, financial diversity, and more.

[7] Yes, JW Player permits closed captioning. So it’s not the technology, but rather The Ologie folks [8,9], who are at fault.

[8] As opposed to Theology folks.

[9] Of course, they’d also be at fault for picking bad technology. I guess they just can’t win, except by doing the right thing.

[10] I even tried to go back a few pages at once using Firefox history. No luck. It wants to fast-forward you to wherever you ended up.

[11] That’s my ten-second summary of why one would want to teach at Grinnell. I’m pretty sure I have a longer one somewhere. I’d expect that a good marketing person could identify these issues and express them better than I.

[12] I’ll admit that I forgot the name of A Place of Mind, even though it’s the tagline I significantly prefer.

[14] Using their limited definition of diversity.

[15] There does not seem to be an explicit or implied set of guidelines on participation.

[16] That’s how I discovered that you can’t take the survey if you click None of the above.

[17] Yes, there’s a slim chance that youngest son may attend Grinnell. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

[18] Well, white is pretty representative of the faculty; male is less so; old is even less so.

[19] This list says we’re second.

[20] No relation to Glimmer labs.

Version 1.0 of 2017-05-14.