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Perception Is Reality: DSU Seeks $125K for Marketing

The South Dakota Board of Regents meet this week in Vermillion. Among the fun on the Regents' agenda are informal budget hearings for FY 2016. Each campus will pitch its budget priorities for next year.

Dakota State University would like to get a quarter million to create a Retention Center, $130K for a new computer science doctoral prof, $100K for Title IX compliance, $40K for out-state distance ed authorizations... and $125,000 for marketing.

On page 48 of the FY2016 informal budget hearings agenda packet, DSU tells the Regents that a spring 2014 marketing study finds the following terms figuring prominently in public perception of my hometown's campus:

  • technology
  • innovative
  • computers
  • jobs focused
  • small school
  • nerds
  • affordable
  • niche
  • small town
  • personal
  • average athletics
  • lower tier than other state schools.

Dear readers, and especially students, alumni, faculty, and campus neighbors, I invite you to identify which of those terms does not fit the Dakota State University you know and love.

DSU wants to spend $125,000 to erase many of those terms from the collective consciousness and replace them with "desired perceptions":

We have crafted desired perceptions based on who we are and what we help students accomplish. These perceptions will differ from the perceptions people have of us now. They are:

  • technology infusion
  • small in a good way
  • affordable
  • personal
  • innovative
  • computers
  • strong athletics
  • diversity of programs
  • jobs focused
  • elite school

To accomplish this transformation in perception, and therefore, reality, we need to increase our marketing efforts [South Dakota Board of Regents, "FY16 Informal Budget Hearings," agenda item 24, June 11–12, 2014, downloaded 2014.06.07].

Don't just think technology; think technology infusion. Don't think our athletics are average; think they are strong. Don't think we are a niche school; think we have a diversity of programs.

And for Pete's sake, don't think about what DSU really is; think about what we want you to think it is, because that new thinking will replace reality.

You know, for as long as I've been publishing the Madville Times, I've thought about what sort of marketing I could use to improve public perceptions of this blog. When I receive criticism that my writing isn't that great or my documentation is weak or my comment section conversations aren't intelligent or inviting, I wonder what I could do to address that criticism. I could take out ads on Google and Facebook and in the local papers saying, "Madville Times: Great writing! Great documentation! Great conversation!"

Or I could just write better. I could research better. I could moderate comments better, step in more when commenters are being jerks, and more actively guide the conversation toward civil, constructive ends.

In other words, I can talk about value, or I can add value.

DSU wants to spend $125,000 of student money to talk about value. The Board of Regents will talk Wednesday and Thursday about the value of that talk.

p.s.: In a sure sign DSU doesn't grasp its mission and market, notice that the desired terms list erases nerds while trying to amp up public perception of its athletic prowess. Come on, DSU! Jam the culture! Reject the jockocracy! Embrace the nerds whom you will help in their righteous march toward world domination!


  1. Bill Fleming 2014.06.08

    Somebody should maybe tell them that changing existing perceptions is the most difficult marketing problem of all. They might have a snowball's chance in .... If they pared their list down to just one word, and heavily leveraged their budget using social and earned media, but they shouldn't count on it.

  2. MJL 2014.06.08

    1984 Doublespeak.

    I love rhetoric discussions!

  3. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.06.08

    It seems to me that "nerd" is much less a pejorative than it used to be. In fact, I think it's just about become a positive, at least around here.

  4. Rorschach 2014.06.08

    How about marketing DSU as the excess school fighting with BHSU for the title of most likely to be shuttered or sold off?

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.06.08

    Deb, when you rule the world, you don't care if anyone calls you a nerd. :-)

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.06.08

    Bill, would it be easier to change reality than to change the perception?

    R, expect to receive a flyer, or a Facebook ping, or something from DSU trying to change your mind. (I suspect it won't work.)

  7. Michael B 2014.06.09

    How much taxpayer and student money is spent on marketing by SDSU and USD? Before you start screaming about how much DSU spends, let's talk about how much the two big universities do.

    What does "marketing" actually include? Could it be salaries, printing, postage and school visits?

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