Effective university branding goes far beyond a logo, word mark or catchphrase. Your brand is the story you tell about your institution, the distillation of your most prominent values and characteristics, and your identity as a place of learning. Your brand is what prospects, enrolled students and graduates think of first when they hear your school name or encounter your content online.
Here are five steps your university should follow to develop a strong and individual brand that fully represents the institution.
1. Understand what inspires your target audience
If you want your university’s brand to evoke positive associations with a particular group of students, first you have to understand what that group is looking for in an educational institution. You also need to know what they’ll be deterred by.
Whether you’re redesigning an existing brand or starting from scratch, it’s key to research and develop your student personas. Insights into your prospects’ preferences, aspirations and concerns will help you narrow down which of your university’s own strengths to highlight most. Poll or interview students to reveal any prevalent misconceptions about your brand. These are perceptions you can strive to subvert and re-shape with future promotional campaigns.
Without this knowledge, you’re really just taking a shot in the dark. Don’t let your branding decisions be guided by speculation and generalisations. Guess work will result in a bland or unappealing identity, unable to stand up against competitors’ strategically composed brands.
2. Align your university’s strengths to your audience’s preferences
Your university’s brand identity should set it apart, reflect its strengths, values and mission as a place of learning. In order to avoid generic or misguided messaging, your marketing team (and other key stakeholders) must first clearly define the institution’s positive attributes and how they align with their target audiences’ aspirations, challenges and educational preferences.
You could start by making a list of your institution’s 5-10 top attributes and clarify how each one speaks to your audience’s goals and needs. These are the key messages you will use to guide every aspect of your marketing. They will help you produce consistently targeted campaigns that both reflect your university’s individual culture and the specific characteristics of your audience.
Over time and with consistent effort, the attributes you’re emphasising will become synonymous with your university’s name and communicate your true purpose as a learning institution.
3. Ensure consistency across all marketing channels
Universities face a challenge in making sure all marketing resources are consistent. Examples include logos (and how they are used), image and video quality, slogans and descriptions of the university. Ensuring consistent representations of your brand can help build a sense of familiarity, dependability, and trust for prospective students.
4. Incorporate community and history into your brand story
No place of learning exists in a vacuum. Your university is part of a broader community, and for many students, your surrounding environment plays a part in their enrolment decision.
Many of today’s students, an important factor in their decision of where to study will be the way a university contributes to its local community and engages in philanthropic causes. Other prospective students and parents associate credibility with a long and illustrious school history – they prioritise schools that have been around for the last 50-100 years (or more) because they consider longevity a hallmark of success.
5. Look critically at the brand identity of competing schools
You offer similar programmes to other universities and are competing for similar target audiences. It’s really useful to examine how your main competitors are presenting themselves in the market and which elements they’re emphasising to make emotional connections with current and potential students.
Is your main competitor highlighting student success to establish itself as the best university suited to support tentative mature students and newcomers to Canada?
Has a competing university woven community involvement into its brand identity, connecting with your audience’s desire to associate with altruistic institutions that give back and do good?
Is a competing school doing a particularly effective job of associating its brand with cutting-edge technology – which you know will resonate strongly with your particular audience and programme offerings?
Or, is a competing institution doing a great job of recruiting a specific audience you’ve had trouble adding to your school population, such as international students or young millennials? How have they adapted their brand strategy to appeal to this demographic?
Taking the time to look critically at your competitors’ messaging can offer you fresh insights into your own evolving brand identity – helping you distill the most memorable, unique and emotionally stirring impression of all.
How has your university developed its brand identity? Let us know by leaving a comment or tweeting us.