Colleges and universities have found brand religion. However, branding of higher education institutions is more challenging than creating consumer product brands. Why? Because higher education institutions serve an extraordinarily large number of stakeholders and make decisions by building consensus. Following these 10 steps to build a college brand may be harder than it sounds:
- Recognize both the value and limitations of quantitative research, which can confirm past or existing strengths and weaknesses, but can often to be overused or misused and effectively narrow your routes forward.
- Invest generously and enthusiastically in qualitative research — to generate the kind of insights and nuance that only come from smart questions and active listening. A recent survey of CMO’s by IBM confirms this trend.
- Gather the institutional will needed to find and claim your strong-to-impenetrable differentiation, including a president’s understanding and leadership.
- Know that brand firms and in-house marketing departments do not hold the essential ingredients of your brand — these can only be found through immersive experience and conversation with current and prospective students, faculty, alumni and key partners (donors, foundations).
- Create a singular brand voice instead of simply settling on one sight or one sound. Visual consistency is the beginning of the brand journey, not the destination.
- Create elastic brands that speak to all audiences (undergraduate, graduate, adult, online, etc.) and embody all core strengths.
- Demonstrate with examples the essence of the brand. The age of over-messaged prospects demands more show, less tell.
- Connect brand history with the present and the future. Organic continuity creates brand trust.
- Invest in bringing the tagline to life. Taglines, incarnated in multiple ways at various touch points, are simply more credible.
- Realize that growing a brand is akin to seeing little acorns turn into mighty oaks. Be patient.
Upon completion, compare your brand essence with the simplicity of the following true lines:
- Pepperdine Business School: Responsible Leadership
- Elon University: Experiential Learning
- St. John’s College: Great Books
- Lexington College: The Women’s Hospitality Management College
Branding, done right, will attract and delight the right fit students, faculty, staff and donors who are inspired to evangelize your brand.