University Branding, Important, But Hard to Get Buy In

A recent round table was held by the Guardian to discuss the issue of university branding and what it takes to stand out in the sea of academic institutions. In attendance were 14 professionals from higher education institutions and publications, including Higher Education Online, University of London, and University of Leeds, among others.

One of the key points expressed at the roundtable was having a unified brand image. “Even though involving academics is like herding cats, it can be done,” said one participant. Without consensus in the university, a school can become a house of branding rather than a branded house.

But universities don’t like to think of students as customers, the roundtable heard. They may resist thinking of themselves as part of a commercial brand, “a university is not Coca-Cola.” As one participant explained, the learning process is interactive in the way that buying a commercial product is not.

Universities need to communicate the right message not only to students but to their parents as well. “Eighty percent of brand equity lies in meeting the promise you make to that customer,” conveyed one participant. This is an important step to remember for when universities are trying to create brand ambassadors. Highlighting student testimony in marketing efforts is important, as they are your greatest spokespeople.

For targeting students it is important convey the perception that the school is the center for great student life as it resonates to prospective, current and past students. Conveying the value of the education and the experience the student will be receiving is important when targeting parents. All of this must be cohesive with the other messages sent out by all academics, sports, interest clubs and other areas of the institution.