Juntae DeLane is a busy guy.
He’s the founder of the Digital Branding Institute and speaks frequently at digital marketing conferences around the world, helping organizations and audiences understand the nuances and strategies behind good digital branding. And on top of that, he’s the senior digital brand manager for the University of Southern California.
We chatted about the challenges of working in higher education, how to have the “strategy” conversation and the three main tenets of digital branding.
This transcription has been edited for readability and clarity.
Nels: Tell me about your job and the Digital Branding Institute.
Juntae: I’m a digital branding evangelist and, before founding the Digital Branding Institute, I noticed that most of the traditional digital marketing tactics were starting to plateau, whether that’s due to algorithm changes or just companies using outdated techniques for engaging online.
I noticed that most of the larger brands try to position themselves as human-like and small online and most small brands try to position themselves as big.
So I started to think about what an individual might need to establish his or her own brand and how that could apply to larger brands. It all boils down to three things:
- Digital identity
Those three tenets are why the Digital Branding Institute was founded, so I could educate people and organizations on the things they need to do to establish their brand in the digital space, make sure they’re consistent with their brand messages across platforms and help them understand how consumers interact with brands in the digital space.
So the Digital Branding Institute provides resources for individuals and organizations through blogs, webinars and masterclasses centered around those three digital branding concepts.
N: You spent a bit of your career managing big brands in the consumer and entertainment space before moving to the University of Southern California. What was that transition like?
J: The transition was easier than you might think. After I got my MBA, I spent a few years at NBC/Universal as an intern and then was hired on as a consultant. I had the luxury of working in a high-profile, “sexy” industry. But I wanted to do marketing that matters.
Entertainment is great in how it can shape culture (in positive and negative ways), but I wanted to be in a position where I knew my work every day was going to improve the lives of others, both directly and indirectly. I wanted to shift into something I thought was more substantial.
N: What are some of the challenges of working in higher ed?
J: The challenge is really to communicate the value of higher education. Because that’s obviously changed. Information is so easily accessible and people want to hear from practitioners before theorists.
There are other aspects of higher education that provide value outside the direct access to knowledge.
So as a marketer in higher ed, you have to communicate those value points knowing in the back of their mind they still might be questioning whether or not they even want to get their degree or build something of their own.
N: How do you approach storytelling? On so many college campuses, there’s so much going on. Does that make it easier or is that still a challenge?
J: USC is a great brand to work for, particularly in marketing and communications, because our alumni and fan base are rampant online and they often create their own stories and really amplify our brand voice. So we’re able to pick and choose the best-of-the-best user-generated content and showcase that.
When it comes to developing a strategy for content creation, we focus on what it’s like to live and learn on USC’s campus and the benefits of being a part of the Trojan family, which is a very real thing. I went to [the University of California] Berkeley for my undergrad and heard about the Trojan network. But when I started working here I truly felt what it was like to be a part of that family.
So I understand what it’s like to see it from the outside and from within and I try to fill that gap with content that portrays that.
N: When you’re putting together a new digital strategy, where do you like to start the conversation with your clients?
J: First, I try to figure out the kind of content they (the manager, the CEO or whoever) consume, because I know that will naturally show up in how they communicate with their target audience.
I also want to know how well-versed they are when it comes to digital, how well they understand it and currently use it as a tool.
I use that information to help me position the strategy. Because I might have a strategy in my head but the way I present the strategy will depend on how well they understand digital.
N: One thing we see people struggle with is taking a strategy and putting it into action. How do you approach that with your clients?
J: Getting them to implement the strategy has to do with the buy-in, getting the CMO or the senior manager or whoever in on the plan.
Getting the buy-in will make the implementation process easier and allows you the opportunity to upsell and add on. It makes that relationship stronger and allows me to position myself as the problem solver, that go-to guy when it comes to digital.
So my approach to implementation has everything to do with understanding what’s important to them and making sure I have an answer for a question before it’s even asked.
N: When you go through this process, what are the common misconceptions and challenges people face when it comes to digital?
J: A common challenge is that they maybe had a bad experience with a campaign. They checked the box and moved on without thinking about all the moving pieces that may have caused that failure.
So as an agency or a consultant, you have to kind of backtrack and understand what went wrong before and make sure they understand how we need to alter the approach in a new campaign.
N: You’re a super busy guy. So how do you prioritize your own content creation?
J: One of the most effective tactics is to batch. So I’ll basically take one weekend a month and create content for the upcoming month. That will obviously be more evergreen content.
If there’s something that inspires me to create outside of that, like an algorithm change or a social media trend, I’ll speak to that in some form, whether that’s a written post or a live stream or something like that.
For my own brand, I’m my own client. It’s difficult to have a work-life balance but because the information I get helps the organizations I work with, it helps my brand as well.
I try to do one thing that can potentially improve three others. So if I’m learning one thing for myself, I want to be able to apply that across three accounts, or if I’m meeting an influencer or another strategist, I want to ask a question that’s not only going to help my brand, but I want it to help the organizations I’m working with, too.
I’m repurposing as well. I create a cornerstone piece of content and make sure I optimize the micropieces of content that come from that.
I’m not the model case study. I try to do my best while being the last “account” to get attention.
N: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
J: The best piece of advice I’ve ever received was to play to win, not to lose. For me, that means I don’t have to be as guarded and worried about perfection. I just do whatever I can to make it happen, and that involves stripping away pride and ego to just get it done by any means necessary.
This blog is part of the ongoing content marketing interview series where we talk with marketing professionals about their career, unique perspectives on the industry and some key advice they’ve learned along the way.