Elias Martinez — 5 Thoughts on Building an Authentic University Brand

May 15, 2024

Elias Martinez, AVP for University Marketing at Texas State University, recently sat down with me on How The F** Did You Get That Job*. Elias gave us the real story of his wild ride from the middle of nowhere in New Mexico to the big time in higher ed marketing.

Elias' insights couldn't have come at a better time for higher ed marketers. The game is getting tougher, and students are getting pickier about where they want to spend their college years (and money). In a world where everyone's craving authenticity and relatability, Elias' approach to storytelling and brand-building is a masterclass in how universities can stand out from the crowd and actually connect with young people.

He makes it crystal clear that marketing isn't just about selling a product – it's about promoting opportunities and making a real difference. Elias is challenging higher ed marketers to take a long, hard look at what they're doing and how they can do it better. He's pushing them to think outside the box and get creative with their strategies – not just to boost enrollment numbers, but to create brands that actually mean something to students and society as a whole.

So if you're in higher ed marketing and you're not paying attention to what Elias has to say, you're missing out on some serious wisdom. This is your sign to start keeping it real, telling better stories, and making a real impact with your work. Because at the end of the day, that's what it's all about – not just selling a degree, but changing lives and making the world a little bit better, one student at a time.

Go listen to the full episode with Elias Martinez here:

Now, here are 5 gems from Elias during our conversation:

1. If your marketing doesn't tell a damn good story, it's useless

Elias made it crystal clear that if you want people to care about your ideas, you better wrap them up in a compelling narrative. "It's about the story that surrounds that idea before you even kind of get into executing the idea," he said. So, if you want your campaigns to actually work, focus on crafting a story that'll make people care.

2. Public universities are the unsung heroes of the American Dream

Texas State is all about giving opportunities to students who are the first in their family to go to college. "When these students graduate, it will change the trajectory of generations of their family," Martinez emphasized. This is the kind of impact that makes him proud to do what he does. Martinez is all about that public university life because he knows they're the secret weapon for helping people get ahead in life. "America's public universities were created to be an engine for socioeconomic change. That's why they were created," he preached. This is the sh** that gets him fired up and motivates him to show up everyday. For marketers it is vital to actually care about the brand you’re building, without that it will fall flat and feel inauthentic.

3. Bureaucracy is a creativity killer, but you gotta roll with the punches

Elias kept it real about how dealing with red tape and office politics can really ruin up a good idea. "The thing I learned from there is just how much culture matters and how much friction can take on a really beautiful idea and cause it to be delayed or go astray," he admitted. But if you want to make it in this game, you gotta be resilient and adaptable as hell.

4. If you want your team to give a damn, you gotta empower them

Elias is the kind of boss who knows that if you want your team to do great work, you gotta give them some skin in the game. He brought Texas State's creative work in-house and gave his team the reins to the university's rebrand. "These are people that showed no ownership and autonomy over the design and the brand and their work. And we brought it in-house," he said. By trusting his team and investing in their growth, he's created a team that's passionate and proud of what they do.

5.  Forget stuffy academics - your university's marketing better connect with the youth

If you want to connect with today's students, you gotta talk to them in their language. "If you're doing it right, you're building a youth brand and you're building a lifestyle," he dropped. Texas State is all about breaking the rules and treating itself like a lifestyle brand, not just a boring-a** school. "If you look at our work, it's very nontraditional for higher education. We think of our institution as a lifestyle," Elias said.

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