7 Marketing Your OER Program
Abbey K. Elder
Doing outreach is an important job for both program managers and general OER support staff, but it requires a set of skills that we aren’t often equipped to do. In this section, we’ll cover some basics for marketing OER and partners you can ask for support, both on and off campus. In the next chapter, we will expand this overview to look at more general tips around building and managing your program’s brand.
What is Marketing?
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as
“the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services, to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives” (Bennett, 1989).
For the purposes of this book, we’ll focus on the last section of that definition, “creating exchanges that satisfy objectives.” Marketing isn’t just about branding and logos. It is also about making connections with people based on your experiences and your ties to a common goal.
While traditional marketing is focused on selling a product to a wide base of consumers, marketing for institutional initiatives is more focused on broadening awareness of existing and future support. In other words, just because you’ve built something, that doesn’t mean that your program will see widespread usage. You will want to continue to promote your program throughout its growth to ensure that your community is aware of your work and its evolution over time. Proper use of marketing tactics can ensure that your community is aware of the programs you’ve built and can take advantage of the opportunities you’ve provided for them.
Building a Brand Identity
Before you can set out on promoting your initiative, it’s a good idea to put together a brand identity. A brand identity is a set of standards that make your program recognizable at a glance for your audience. Your brand identity might include a recognizable color scheme, logo, character, or motto. You may tie your brand identity into your institutional branding by utilizing your institution’s colors or mascot. Keep in mind that if you are using your institution’s branding you may need approval from an institutional marketing or communications team before finalizing your branding. Next, we’ll look at a few examples of how brand identities are crafted.
A good example of a clear brand identity is an OpenStax textbook (See Figure 7.1). The basic, bold text implies that their textbooks provide a clear and general overview of common general education topics, which reflects the background of OpenStax’s work.
So, how should you approach branding for your OER program? There are no hard and fast rules here, but there are a few tips and tricks that you can follow.
Creating a Logo
The branding for your OER program should be three things: simple, clear, and consistent. This work usually starts with your logo or an icon that represents your work in some way. For example, The Iowa Open Education Action Team (Iowa OER), a grassroots action team supporting the use of OER in the state of Iowa, developed their logo within an outline of their state to represent the scale of their group.
Another consideration you might bring to your logo’s design is how it will be perceived by your community. Since Iowa OER includes representatives from state universities, private colleges, and community colleges, they carefully avoided using a color scheme in their logo’s text that was representative of any single school among their ranks, and instead incorporated colors found in the branding for OER Commons, a popular OER referatory. By doing this, the group was able to present itself as an inclusive force for their community rather than one focused on a specific demographic.
For an even simpler graphic, we can look to Kansas State University. KSU’s Open/Alternative Textbook Initiative developed their OER icon, a book with an “O” on the cover, to be recognizable even at a small scale. This was done because it would be used as a marking denoting the use of open materials in their course schedule. This graphic is clear, easy to read, and emblematic of the initiative itself, by representing open textbooks with a book icon.
Aligning with Your Identity
Like KSU did with their OER icon, your branding should be reflective of your initiative’s work in some way. Think about your audience and what you want them to feel when they see your program’s marketing on campus. Does your program have a unique name or tagline that influences the way you present it (e.g., playful, bold, colorful, or innovative)?
A great example of a program whose name and messaging align clearly with their work is Central Virginia Community College (CVCC). CVCC uses the tagline “OpenEd CVCC: Innovation and Affordability” as their program’s name and their icon features this theme of innovation through graphics of light bulbs, gears, and representations of various disciplines.
CVCC’s logo is more complex than the ones we shared in our “simple” section. However, this isn’t a problem in their case. Keep in mind that the simplicity of any graphic will depend on where and how it’s used. CVCC’s logo might have more going on than KSU’s icon, but it is meant to be used at a larger scale, so it can accommodate this complexity. If your logo will be used in print materials or as a smaller icon, that’s when you’ll want to focus on simpler designs. For graphics that will be displayed more prominently, though, a larger graphic works fine.
Be Consistent with Colors and Phrases
Finally, your OER program’s brand should use the same color palette and phrases consistently. By using the same themes and colors, you can easily tie your programs, services, and promotion materials together in a way that resonates with your audience. You might do this by connecting your program’s branding to institutional branding by mirroring color choices or even naming conventions. For example, Open CI Channel Islands uses their institution’s color palette in their logo’s design, making their program feel like an extension of institutional networks rather than an external or “extra” program on campus.
Open CI’s logo makes for a great case study because it exemplifies each of the tips we’ve given thus far:
- The logo is simple and easy to read.
- It contains an effective icon representing their work, a book which is also an open padlock reminiscent of the open access logo.
- The color choice and use of “CI” in the logo makes it clear that the program is tied to the institution.
It can be tempting to jump right in with a website redesign, a new logo, and a full box of new marketing materials for your OER program. However, we would caution against jumping ahead with this work all at once. Instead, pilot your ideas first.
Get feedback from your team or committee before pushing out changes at the institutional level. For branding changes, like alterations to your OER program’s logo design, use your new logo and color scheme on a website or digital materials before ordering physical materials in bulk, just in case the changes you make are not well-received.
A good promotional strategy should include multiple facets, from physical materials to digital communications. Below, we’ve compiled a table of promotional materials you might use on campus, and examples of each type.
|Direct communications||Physical or digital||meetings, consultations, listening sessions, email lists|
|Indirect communications||Primarily digital||websites, videos, news articles, newsletters, social media posts,|
|Messaging||Physical or digital||brochures, posters, signs, booklets|
|Events||Physical or digital||presentations, webinars, seminars, panels, training sessions|
|Interactive||Physical or digital||OER “petting zoos,” games, exhibits, surveys|
|Goodies||Primarily physical||pens, notepads, bookmarks, stickers, buttons, etc|
Get in contact with partners at your institution to learn more about the processes and options available to you and how you can best leverage the support at your disposal. If you have a marketing team available to you that orders pens and other materials for campus events, get in contact with them about their vendors and how you can leverage their existing workflows for ordering materials to support your OER Program. This might be as simple as ordering buttons and posters through your University Printing Office, or it may require you to browse a third party’s marketing catalog or to create materials yourself, if you lack funding for your work.
Creating promotional materials and graphics can make your OER program recognizable on your college’s campus, but just because you’ve created materials doesn’t mean that people will find or learn from them. As a program manager, you will need to find ways to implement your messaging and events on campus. Leveraging annual events like Open Education Week in March and International Open Access Week in October can ground your work in a given time of year and focus your programming around a topic or theme (Open Education Global, n.d.; SPARC, n.d.). The Open Education Week website lists past events and provides downloadable promotional materials to help you kickstart your event planning and coordination. If these weeks regularly conflict with other events at your institution, that’s okay. You can celebrate Open Education Week the week before or after it falls. So long as you are consistent in the general time you hold these events, they will still gain recognition at your institution and faculty will come to expect them.
It can be daunting to host a week’s worth of events centered around Open Education each year. Here’s a tip for those of you just starting your OER program: don’t worry about it! If your institutional community has low awareness of OER and you don’t know many faculty who would be interested in learning more, planning a week of programming might be wasted effort. Instead, take the time to develop regular introductory OER workshops and set up meetings with departments across your institution to raise awareness of your work. Rather than building new events, leverage existing campus events to promote your OER initiative, such as orientations for new students or new faculty. It doesn’t matter when you do this work, only that you find a time and place that works for you.
To learn more about partnering with campus stakeholders, see Chapter 3, Building Your Team.
As you are pulling together events, materials, and features to highlight OER in your community, it can help to have a clear plan for how and when each of these will be implemented. In other words, you should familiarize yourself with communications plans. A communications plan helps you structure your outreach work by organizing your messaging strategies for specific audiences according to a timeline with measurable goals.
When developing your communications plan, list the promotional materials you will be sharing, the audience you want to address, and the channel(s) through which you’ll be sharing your message. Having these considerations in place early can help you better format the materials your team creates. For example, for social media graphics aimed at a student audience, you’ll want to prioritize big ideas, catchy graphics, and a simple message. In contrast, you can expand upon your message in newsletter articles and blog posts aimed at faculty and administrators by adding references to your services and the data you’ve collected assessing your program’s work.
In addition to planning what you will be creating, your communications plan should factor in the time it will take to draft, create, and implement each item. Think of it like a structured timeline for your semester’s OER work: what do you hope to create, and how will you ensure that you are reaching a wide audience with your message during the semester, and not just when you have time to create all that you’d like to share. Keep in mind timing to avoid finals week, midterms, and other busy times in the semester where your audience may not be amenable to contact or additional work.
To make assessing your communications plan feasible, start with measurable goals in mind. We recommend using SMART goals as you are developing your communications plan. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related (Doran, 1981). While the specific words ascribed to the acronym have changed over the years, we will use the original term, assignable, for “A” because it brings to mind something that is often overlooked in open education: someone has to do this work. If you can’t assign a project to someone on your team, you won’t be able to meet your goal. Below are a few examples of SMART goals for marketing open education programs:
- We will develop and provide two additional training sessions or workshops about open pedagogy during the fall semester.
- We will release five social media graphics highlighting Faculty OER Champions weekly during the month of March.
- We will present on the impact of our program at department meetings for three academic departments during the academic year.
There is one thing we’ve left off of this section that needs to be addressed: how do you make the graphics, logos, and other materials your program needs? If you’re lucky, you have someone in your office or department who creates graphics for you already and who is knowledgeable about the systems in place to help you create and order promotional materials. If not, you at least have experience creating digital graphics and access to software that can help you do your work well, like GIMP, Canva, or Inkscape. Most OER program managers have to navigate their marketing work slowly, either because they lack experience doing this work themselves or because they don’t know how to get support for their work.
You can get help marketing your OER program from on campus resources like marketing or communications professionals in your institution, members of your OER committee with interest in marketing support (students can be an excellent support system for this work, as our Case Study 6 author attests), or even through outside help. Reach out to other OER program managers whose work you admire and ask for advice. They might have a specific tool they used to create their own logo(s), or they may have promotional materials available in formats that you can edit and palette swap for your own use.
Asking for help through OER listservs can be a great way to not only build your own network of peers but also to gather files, graphics, and other examples of promotional materials that you can adapt for your own work. After all, many of us openly license our own materials to support the open community at large.
Developing an effective marketing strategy will signal to your institution that your OER program is growing, tied to institutional values, and enduring. Having a marketing and communication plan for your program can help ensure that your work is acknowledged, and that you can continue to grow your efforts over time, as more faculty and students learn about your program. Explore a variety of marketing tactics and materials based on the support and funding you have available to you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from peers and partners if you aren’t sure where to start. Marketing may seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be.
- OER Advocacy Template (Library as Open Education Leader 2017)
- Communication Planning (Watt 2014)
- Ensure that your branding is consistent, clear, and simple to understand at a glance.
- Connect with campus partners to learn about the services available for printing or ordering materials.
- Start small and build awareness at your institution to garner interest in your work.
- Leverage local or international events like Open Education Week to further legitimize your work.
Bennett, Peter. 1988. “Marketing.” In The Dictionary of Marketing Terms. Chicago: American Marketing Association.
Doran, George T. 1981. “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives”. Management Review 70 (11): 35–36.
Hare, Sarah, Jessica Kirschner, and Michelle Reed (Eds). 2020. Marking Open and Affordable Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies. Arlington, TX: Mavs Open Press. https://uta.pressbooks.pub/markingopenandaffordablecourses/
Library as Open Education Leader. 2017. “OER Advocacy Template.” Accessed January 22, 2022. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zI6tzI3FZNpnhCh_l870Aesi3zaA_1NB1TMolbLESRo/
Open Education Global. n.d. “What is Open Education Week?” Accessed September 22, 2021. https://www.openeducationweek.org/page/what-is-open-education-week
SPARC. n.d. “About Open Access Week.” International Open Access Week. Accessed January 20, 2022. http://www.openaccessweek.org/page/about
Watt, Adrienne. 2014. “Communicating Planning” in Project Management. Victoria, B.C.: BCcampus. https://opentextbc.ca/projectmanagement/