Sense of Place
Making your space work for your brand
As marketers in higher education, we spend a lot of time thinking about websites, direct mail, social media engagement, and other ways prospective students can get a sense of our brands early in their decision-making process.
As they survey the college landscape and build their “consideration sets,” we want to be on that list. It’s the only way to even hope for a spot on the list of schools they will eventually visit. And we all know that the campus visit is an exceptionally powerful touchpoint in their final application and enrollment decisions.
So, with all of this time spent on how brands translate into print or digital communications, are there opportunities to think more strategically about the physical place – the building, buildings, or campus that your institution occupies – as a marketing touchpoint to be leveraged? After all, the physical space is the intersection of marketing and the lived student experience. And there are a number of ways to enhance that experience, without feeling like wall-to-wall advertising.
One place to start is to think about what you want your space to communicate.
- What is your brand personality? Is it all about establishing or maintaining institutional gravitas? Or is it quirky and unexpected? Warm and welcoming? This should set the tone for how you approach everything from signage to campus banners to campus art and landscaping.
- Next, consider your strategic brand messages. What is the promise you make to students and other stakeholders? What do they expect from you, in return for their affiliation? How can these messages be translated to your public spaces?
- Finally, take your lead from how your current students and other groups use your space. Where are the natural entrances, exits, and convergence points? Knowing where you can have the most impact with signage, art, and other improvements can help direct and prioritize your efforts.
As you identify opportunities to “up your game” in your physical space, be sure to engage your key audiences in the process. Are there opportunities to solicit student, faculty, and alumni contributions for art and design elements? Can you reframe your relationship with your surrounding community through use of the physical space and the boundaries of your campus? How can your neighbors be brought into this process?
Answering and addressing some of these strategic questions will guide the development of coherent, meaningful specific initiatives. For example, campus banners that reiterate messages and imagery that prospects may see in direct mail pieces can contribute to a seamless user experience. Or the use of “white spaces” on walls, windows, mirrors, and elsewhere to display art that conveys the spirit of the institution may inspire current students while piquing the interest of visitors.
Thoughtful investment in these initiatives will only strengthen that all-powerful campus visit and will make your campus work as hard as your marketing materials, admissions professionals, and student ambassadors in conveying the “sense of place” that will close the deal with prospects.
This article is based on a talk co-presented with Sarah Bergez, director of marketing at the University of New Orleans, at the American Marketing Association’s Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in November 2017.