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Our View: Marketing at UND is exactly what's needed

Herald editorial board

During his annual Wake Up to UND breakfast speech Tuesday, UND President Mark Kennedy discussed a survey that ranked answers to this question: When you think of the University of North Dakota, what comes to mind?

The No. 1 response? Hockey.

That's good. And bad.

It's good because UND hockey is a keystone for the university and the entire region. As Kennedy says, athletics are the front porch for the university; for some, athletics provide the first glimpse of what UND is and what UND offers. The sports programs — and especially hockey — have built a following that provides the university with a wellspring of loyal followers.

The recognition hockey brings to UND has been worth millions of marketing dollars over the years, so kudos to the program. Meanwhile, the survey shows there is work to do as the university kicks off a large marketing campaign designed to strengthen UND's image and brand — and to show that UND has more than just a great hockey team.

Approximately 23 percent of respondents said hockey comes to mind when they think of UND.

The No. 2 answer was quality academics/institution, at about 21 percent. That's really good.

No. 3, at about 14 percent, was the controversial Sioux name change. Not so good.

That was followed by aviation at 10 percent (good) and snow-cold at 6 percent (not good).

A handful of other answers followed, and these are generally categories we would prefer rank higher, including beautiful campus, medical school/nursing, pride, non-hockey sports, opportunity, family/community, the color green, history/tradition, affordability, Grand Forks and engineering.

These less popular categories are where the marketing can help.

For Kennedy, marketing should be—and obviously is—a high priority. Of course, it didn't take a survey to show most people associate UND with hockey, but the vast difference between hockey and, say, aviation is surprising. And it's disappointing the name change and the weather rank among the Top 5.

Upwards of $3 million is being allocated for marketing, starting with a complete upgrade of the university website and then moving beyond that toward a comprehensive digital marketing campaign.

Kennedy's goals have been clear: Increase enrollment among specific academic programs and strengthen UND's brand equity in the state and region.

It's an intricate process that should have started years ago. UND's website, for instance, isn't fully compatible with mobile phones. That has been a lapse of attention, considering today's technology and UND's tech-savvy potential students. Yet thanks to this new initiative, it's being fixed.

Marketing at UND is vitally important. Not only will it eventually benefit the campus, but also the entire community.

Yet we won't be fully satisfied until answers like "aviation," "medical school," "engineering" and "university research" are among the top answers in future surveys about UND.