All of a sudden, higher education branding is getting serious. Gone are the days when an institution could rely on its reputation alone to retain current students and attract prospective ones. Using internal design students to churn out communications material doesn’t cut it either. Using social media is only part of the process and solely relying on an ‘open day’ to ‘sell’ the place is risky. And, it’s no longer about an institution just being a place of education – in a relentlessly competitive marketplace they are becoming more like competing businesses.
In the good old days, it seemed the student was trying to impress the university to gain a place, but the tables have turned – universities are now targeting the students they want to sign up. Higher education institutions have turned to strategy and branding to differentiate themselves. Marketing budgets, whilst constantly being squeezed, are a commodity that must deliver results.
So as university branding is becoming even more significant, how effective is yours? Is it doing its job properly? How can you find out if it’s working well?
The first thing to consider is do you fully understand it? How well does it represent the institution and are its core values shining brightly? Can you confidently summarise what the unique qualities and goals of the institution are? Is the brand understood by the relevant demographics (not just students but parents, high schools, alumni etc)?
How coherent is the brand? Does the messaging hit the high-notes in the correct tone-of-voice? What about the application of your brand – is it consistent and pragmatic in everything from pens, to on-line material, to building signage?
Every brand should be memorable, it’s one of the reasons why branding can be so effective. It helps if it’s unique, distinctive and compelling. Does yours stand out from the crowd? Does it hold its own against other competitors? Is the logo still relevant to the institution and its target audience? Could the brand still be recognised if the logo was missing?
Broadly speaking, a higher education brand should offer clarity, but also it must be appropriate. Is it truthful and relevant to the culture of your organisation? Does it look professional? Do all the sub-brands work in harmony? Does your current brand create an emotional bond with your target audience? Is there a thorough style guide to refer to? Are the relevant ‘touchpoints’ in place for contact with new students? And, are the Alumni still in the communications loop three, five, seven years down the line?
If the answers to these questions are positive, the current brand may me ticking along nicely. If many of these answers are negative then the current brand may need a closer examination to ascertain why. In either case, the brand should be constantly ‘checked’ to see how it’s performing in the marketplace – ever thought of testing your brand on students who attend a different institution or who live in an entirely different state? That would be a great opportunity to see how it’s really considered by a neutral observer. As an added consideration, brands should always be encouraged to evolve and not left to just revolve.
The above questions are not definitive by any means. Sometimes, if you are in the epicenter of a brand, it’s harder to see the bigger picture than if you were an outsider. Knowing there is something wrong with a brand is one thing – actually identifying what is it, and then fixing it, is a little more tricky and may warrant outside help.