Brand Positioning in Higher Ed: Stake Your Institution’s Claim

With more than 4,700 degree-granting colleges and universities competing for prospective students, higher ed marketing is no longer about reputation management. Catchy slogans, well-loved mascots, professional video campaigns and interactive websites are just not enough to attract students who want to experience a brand from application to graduation and beyond.

Today, higher ed marketers must be brand architects, intimately knowledgeable about what makes their school unique among all others and capable of communicating that message across multiple channels.

Brand architecture shapes the university brand through every communication, consistently promoting a unique promise that resonates with each audience.

Unearth Your Brand Experiences

When branding is done well, your institution stands out to your intended audiences with the best possible results: more high-achieving students, engaged alumni and strong partnerships.

What’s the first step to take? Understand the core experience your brand delivers to audiences during each moment on their journey with your institution. This reveals how to connect with audiences on an emotional level.

Striking the right chords with an audience over time reinforces brand resonance, which in turn strengthens trust. And trust is what will allow your institution to attract prospects, retain students and develop loyal alumni over the long term.

Mark Your Brand Territory

For your institution to own its space in the higher ed marketplace, you must dig in to learn what differentiates your brand.

Here’s how to find what attracts and retains your institution’s audiences:

  • Find out faculty’s motivations for continuing to educate and perform research at your institution.
  • Ask second-year undergrads what motivated their decision to stick with your university.
  • Poll graduates to learn why they continued their education with your program.
  • Talk to loyal alumni to learn why they continue to engage with your institution.
  • Survey industry partners to learn their perspective on your brand.
  • Even get opinions from your peers, separate from the ranking votes.

Once you understand what differentiates your brand, investigate how that impression compares to your direct competitors. This will uncover insights on your brand’s unique selling proposition, and what your brand should focus on marketing.

From there, keep these three ABCs in mind as you craft your brand:

  • Alignment: Your institution must go further than defining what your internal staff believe in. A brand must align with its target audience’s preferences and needs. The goal is for your brand to have relevance to your target audience. Relevance is what enhances reputation and fuels growth.
  • Behavior: Once you understand what makes your institution distinctive, make sure your marketing behavior reflects that brand. What are you saying online, in print and in person? Don’t dilute your brand with mixed messages.
  • Consistency: Make sure the look, tone and feel of all your marketing efforts consistently express the experience your audience is looking for. The style of all your communications should be exclusive to your brand, and consistent across all communication channels, campuses and departments.

Building your brand is a purposeful and process-driven undertaking. It requires you to look inward to understand your history and also requires you to investigate what your audiences want and what they already believe about your institution. With a strong brand in place, you can achieve competitive advantage in recruiting, retaining and building loyalty with students and alumni.

Want to communicate better with prospects, students and alumni? We can share more about successful brand positioning for your college or university. Contact us today.