Students form their perceptions of brand image, identity and meaning before enrolling at a university — and they continue to evolve during and after graduation.
The Importance of University Branding
About a decade ago, not many universities thought much about their brand. A simple logo, a cute mascot, or its established reputation seemed to be enough. Not anymore: The competition for funding and attracting students is more fierce than ever. Universities across the country, and in other parts of the world – are sitting up and taking stock of their brand design efforts. Branding is important to universities and colleges — it identifies and distinguishes one institution from the other.
Branding your university is a process of strategically communicating the nature of your organization. Your university’s brand is about its relevance to its users or customers — the sum of all its characteristics.
Brand identity can be described as how an institution portrays itself to student consumers (and their parents) by highlighting their attributes, values, and purpose. More and more institutions are embracing branding and have found it strategic as well as effective in their survival. Some have gone as far as carrying out comprehensive market-based research in a bid to fully understand the targeted niche market. This has helped them remain relevant and profitable in the highly competitive and ever-changing education industry. They have also enlisted the help of experts to provide branding expertise and resources.
The Nature and Flux of University Branding
Perceptions of a given university or college can vary – not just to outsiders, but to current students versus graduates. Consequently, the students’ experiences of the university will also be diverse.
However, branding should strive for consistency. They need to know which portion of the market they are courting. If you’re aiming at a cross-section of society, from all economic backgrounds – an old world heritage or elitist branding is probably not the way to go.
Branding and reputation are tightly interconnected. Reputation is what others think, feel and say about your institution. It hinges on your university’s legitimacy, credibility and respect: It’s an evaluation of brand from the constituents’ perspective. Your university will build its reputation by doing all the things it said it was going to do while building its brand design.
The University Brand Personality Scale (UBPS) has identified six different dimensions when rating a given school:
- Prestige: Accepted, leading, reputable, successful, considerable
- Sincerity: Humane, helpful, friendly, trustworthy, fair
- Appeal: Attractive, productive, special
- Liveliness: Athletic, dynamic, lively, creative
- Conscientiousness: Organized, competent, structured, effective
- Cosmopolitan: Networked, international, cosmopolitan
Branding in the Context of Higher Education
In order to create brand value for your university, you need to understand your university’s strengths, what it stands for, and how it is unique. How does your university want to be perceived? What is your institution’s mission – and how does your faculty’s research contribute to it?
Create a clear “brand mission” that explains the essence of your university. For example, “Our university wants to make a contribution to society – by involvement with our local community.” To make a difference, you need a statement that is authentic, understandable and believable.
In order to achieve excellence, your university needs both a solid reputation via a strong brand and consistent communication that is in alignment with the brand.
Creating Brand Value Now
Here are some of the benefits of strategic branding:
- Building Trust
By implementation of a great brand strategy, trust is built. Institutions can benefit greatly from this. If a university or a college has a foundation of consistent excellence in core areas such as performance and discipline, then more and more students and donors will want to be affiliated with this kind of institution. It will also become easy to make alumni loyal donors. University branding enhances the credibility of the institution. Potential donors and students will be drawn to an institution that appears to be the real deal.
- Branding Builds Value
A solid brand secures future business for the institution. It is perceived to portray stability. When an institution commits to building the brand value, higher financial returns are sure to follow.
- Visual Identity: The Logo
One of the major components in branding is the Logo. This is because this piece of the graphics will appear on all of the institution’s advertisements or correspondence. The logo has to be professional, simple yet memorable and create a lasting and desired impression befitting the institution. This will immensely improve the visual identity and recognition of the university or college.
- Projecting a Positive Image
How people perceive an institution is everything. The brand created for a university or college will create a long-standing impact on the target market. It should, therefore, be persuasive and believable. Brand awareness should be an ongoing project not just a one-time phenomenon.
- The Faculty: Your Brand Ambassadors
It helps to have a faculty that not only works because they are expected to, but also because they are proud to be part of their institution. By understanding the mission, vision and culture of the organization, the employees will work with a spirited focus on achieving the set goals.
- Branding is an Effective Way of Supporting Marketing & Outreach
Branding is also advertising. To build a strong brand, an institution needs to incorporate strategic advertisements that create a solid visual identity, and target the intended demographics on the platforms and channels they engage with most. It’s all about knowing your audience and meeting them where they are.
- How Can We Help With Your Brand Strategy?
Do you work for a university or college? Are you stakeholders, faculty, and staff looking for brand strategy, brand marketing and a team to provide project execution? We’re here for you! Contact StellaPop today to discuss your institution; its state, its ambitions and its future. It all starts with a team discovery session.
- Projecting a Positive Image