Why should colleges and universities be concerned about their brand?
Every higher ed institution has a brand. The only question is: Do you want to know how the brand is understood and valued by the people whom you are trying to influence—and therefore be able to be more effective in your programming or communications—or are you going to just let the brand sit where those stakeholders have relegated it?
What are the primary drivers of branding programs?
For many higher education institutions, branding is primarily driven by student recruitment. Right now we are experiencing a long, slow decrease in the amount of high school graduates—though in some regions, the numbers are increasing. In the Northeast and Midwest, the decrease is particularly rapid, but what’s even more worrisome is that the student population that’s traditionally been most ready to succeed and most able to pay—the middle class—is shrinking faster than the whole. As the applicant pool shrinks and money gets tighter, colleges and universities must effectively differentiate themselves in order to get in the “consideration” set of those students who will be most likely to do well at their institutions. Brand—finding the right fit for each student—really does play a large role in decision making.
So, institutions with a healthy enrollment don’t have to worry about brand?
All institutions need to manage their brand. Even if your recruitment base is solid, a strong brand can resonate with alumni, donors, corporate partners, research agencies, and topflight faculty whom you’re trying to recruit. A strong brand lets people know what to expect from you—it establishes a promise that you’re committed to keep—and shapes your primary communications and outreach strategies.
If you’re a college or university administrator, how do you get the process started?
Before you can think about where you’re going, you have to understand where you are. A thorough review of how you are presenting yourself in publications, advertising, the website, earned media, social media platforms, speeches, and the like is a necessary first step. Often, this review highlights how disparate and discordant your outreach actually is. Then you ask some straightforward questions. Do these brand communications have a degree of message and stylistic consistency among themselves? Are they aligned with the strategic direction of the institution? Do they express the character and “offer” of the institution in terms that showcase the benefit you provide to the folks to whom you want to appeal? From there, you can follow with an analysis of your competitive context and incorporate market research finds to create a foundation for the work ahead.
Who should be involved?
Any marketing initiative without the support of internal audiences is likely to fail. And the involvement of key insiders makes sure that your brand is authentic—it promises what you’re able to deliver. Creating an integrated marketing or branding task force at your institution will serve you well. A task force, rather than just one or two individuals, helps ensure that an institution’s marketing and branding objectives include the input of various internal constituents—key to any successful brand project—and that the mission of the task force will live on, even as members come and go. The task force should be appointed by the president and include senior-level faculty and administrators.
How do you get them on your side?
Making the case for branding and its required investment is often difficult, especially when endowments are shrinking and state and federal funding is decreasing. Even Moody’s puts those institutions with weak brands in a less-than-desirable category when ranking their bond status. But, these challenges are all the more reason to make the power of your brand work for your institution. The first few chapters of The Real U spell out a strong and compelling case—particularly emphasizing the power of data to bring faculty on board. And, if all else fails, there’s chocolate.
About the Book
Every institution has a brand story. But not every institution is telling theirs in compelling—or even believable—ways. Written by Rob Moore and published by CASE, The Real U: Building Brands That Resonate with Students, Faculty, Staff, and Donors is the branding discipline every university needs—whether they have top-ranked programs, large endowments, or years of storied history fuelling their momentum.
The Real U will help make sure your story is strong, focused and valued. It will give you the guidance you need to project an accurate image to the right audience. And it offers key insights that make it easy to rally the troops and get all the important stakeholders on board with any brand initiative.
Loaded with case studies, sidebars, and decades of experience with higher ed branding, The Real U is the first of its kind for every one-of-a-kind university.
The Real U: Building Brands That Resonate with Students, Faculty, Staff, and Donors is available for purchase from CASE.
About the Author
Rob Moore, Managing Partner at Lipman Hearne, has more than 25 years’ experience providing marketing communications counsel and creative services for nonprofit organizations. He is a frequent speaker at national higher education conferences and a leading contributor to industry periodicals, including CURRENTS, Change, and Trusteeship.
Rob holds a B.A. from the University of California at Santa Cruz, an M.A. from the University of Idaho, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago.