Newcomer Franklin University could create marketing mix-up for Franklin College

June 8, 2009

It could get expensive.

Ohio-based Franklin University's decision to open a campus in Castleton sets up the potential for significant name confusion with Franklin College, the liberal arts school 30 minutes south of Indianapolis.

One marketing expert predicts both schools will be forced to pump up their advertising budgets to make sure their audiences understand the difference between the two.

"Usually, when companies have confused brands, the only way they overcome the competition is by outspending them," said Jim Walton, CEO of Brand Acceleration, an Indianapolis-based marketing and branding firm.

Linda Steele, vice president of marketing for Franklin University, didn't directly say whether the school will spend more on marketing than it would have in a different market--one without another school named Franklin.

Indianapolis is the first new U.S. market for Franklin University, which plans to expand in the Midwest and even in other countries.

"Our research shows that going into a new market requires a significant expenditure of marketing dollars, period," Steele wrote in an e-mail. "The Franklin College situation requires that we are even more direct in our message and differentiate ourselves from them."

Jay Moseley, president of Franklin College, said school officials aren't sure what impact the presence of Franklin University will have. Since Franklin University announced its Indianapolis campus in April, Franklin College has received a couple of calls asking if the school changed its name.

Franklin College officials plan to use their June e-mail update to alumni and students to ask if Franklin University's advertising confuses them, Moseley said. They will formulate a response after that.

"We're still trying to assess the situation," he said.

It's not clear how much each school spends on marketing. Steele declined to release the value of its Indianapolis campaign, which has featured radio spots so far and will branch into TV and the Internet this summer.

Steele said the spots have tried to emphasize words that set Franklin University apart from Franklin College, such as "university" and "flexible" and "convenient" and "adult education."

Franklin College buys ads on youth-oriented radio stations, Web sites and magazines.

Both schools said their key point of differentiation will be their academic programs.

Franklin College attracts high school graduates looking to earn the traditional four-year, liberal arts degree while living on or near campus. Nearly all its students are ages 18 to 22.

"I think 'college' really expresses what we are," Moseley said. "We own the brand Franklin College."

But Franklin University targets working adults who want additional education. Its average bachelor's-degree student is 32. Master's-degree students average 36.

"All we're trying to do is differentiate ourselves as a leader in adult education," Steele said in an interview, adding that, "It's going to be very clear that we're not a liberal arts college."

Franklin University will bring to Indianapolis its most popular programs, which include forensic accounting, business forensics, accounting and business administration. The school will operate out of 20,000 square feet it leased at the Allison Pointe office park off East 82nd Street.

It is in the process of recruiting a dean as well as faculty in 15 academic areas.

Walton said the differences are probably "crystal clear" in the minds of each school's officials, but he predicted that potential students will wind up confused and maybe even move on to different schools altogether.

For example, Franklin University could lose students to Ivy Tech Community College, which also enrolls lots of working adults, he said. Or if high school students come to think Franklin College provides adult education, they might pick another Indiana liberal arts school.

"That's part of the Internet society we live in today," Walton said. "If you don't see the answer you want within three to four seconds, it's so easy to move on to something else."

Walton said he thinks Franklin University should have selected a different name for operating in Indiana. But Steele said that was never an option. School officials did consider running ads that said Franklin University is not Franklin College, but opted against them.

"The Franklin College issue came up and we really did have to take a step back and ask the question whether that is a showstopper," Steele said. "Obviously, we think not, because we chose to go forward."

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