How To Brand Your Institution

Pete Schauer

Marketing Director

The Importance of Branding in Higher Ed Marketing

When back to school season kicks into gear, the stress and pressure of selecting a college is over for students and their families. But for higher institutions, the task is never over. They need to continue attracting students to build out a qualified student body. In order to do this, colleges and universities need to successfully brand their institution by creating a unified brand message, experience and environment.  

More than ever before, colleges and universities are placing a lot of emphasis on branding and marketing. In fact, many have invested significant time and money to jumpstart their campaigns and have aligned themselves with marketing professionals who are familiar with the latest branding techniques. Colleges and universities understand that they need to do more than just list their programs or make appearances at local college fairs. They need to create a strong institutional brand.

Some of the most common types of branding strategies that higher institutions are implementing are:

  • Responsive web design: It’s imperative that prospective students are able to browse college websites on all devices. A responsive web design is the easiest and most reliable way to ensure that a website offers a consistent user experience.

  • Search engine optimization: SEO is not just for big businesses. Many prospects start their search for a college online, and good SEO will help them find specific programs such as nursing programs or business degrees.

  • Web analytics: Schools have an expanding catalog of information online. Web analytics software keeps these materials organized and makes sense of the data.

  • Social media: Just about every higher institution uses social media to some degree, but the most successful ones have established a consistent brand across all networks. They also do an excellent job of engaging students and alumni.

  • Mobile-friendly presence: With more prospects using mobile devices to start their college search, it’s more important than ever for schools to offer a mobile-friendly experience. This includes optimized content, large buttons and slide bars, easy fill forms and fast loading times.

  • CRM Software: Customer relationship management software is helping more schools to collect and organize data on their leads. The software is designed to track activity from prospective students and better understand their behavior.

Branding your institution is the single most effective way to separate your school from others and attract students that will excel in your program. So how exactly can you start branding your college or university to attract the students that you want? Let’s take a look at a few key principles.

Know Your Current Reputation

What you think of your school may not be the same as what others think of it. The only way to really know what other people are saying about you is by doing some research. A little bit of time goes a long way because people aren’t afraid to share their opinions online. Trust us.

So where do you start?

Check out traditional media sources such as college admissions guidebooks, the press and history books. Newer channels like social media and blogs will probably have even more to say about your school, and it will be more relevant than a textbook, for example. Also ask alumni and those in the community what their attitudes toward your school are. Listen for trends on social networks, or even take a quick poll to see where people’s heads are at.

Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses

The best way to determine your strengths and weaknesses is by comparing yourself to your competitors. Where do you shine? Where do you fall short? If you’re competing with other schools that you know you’ll lose to, focus on other aspects of your program that will differentiate you. Maybe your school offers accelerated programs that will get students graduated sooner. Perhaps you have higher-than-average job placement rates or discounted tuition for international students. Play to your strengths.

Define Tangible and Intangible Elements

The tangible elements of your institution are those that can be seen and felt such as your sports teams, degree programs and facilities. But your brand also has intangible elements that are just as important. These elements - the culture, personality and experience that your school has to offer - usually come to life during campus tours when prospects are able to see how they will fit into the environment. Don’t leave these intangible elements out of the marketing mix because they can make all the difference in whether a student chooses you or not.

Deliver Your Brand Consistently Across All Channels

Whether a prospect is interacting with your brand on Facebook, YouTube or a college fair, you want your institution’s brand to deliver a seamless experience. A brand is more than just a motto or logo. It should be delivered consistently across all touchpoints and represent your entire university. It should be linked to your university's overall mission and be present in everything from college classes to publications to on-campus facilities. Your staff and faculty should also be familiar with your strategy and work to deliver this experience to students.

Branding your college or university is something that takes time, but doing so helps separate your higher institution from others. With a consistent brand that is based on data-driven findings, you can reach out to qualified prospects, increase brand awareness and image perception, attract and engage future students and build loyalty among parents, staff, alumni and community members. When someone sees your school name, they’ll instantly feel positive toward it.

About the Author: Pete Schauer

Born and raised at the Jersey Shore, Pete Schauer is the Marketing Director at SEMGeeks. He holds a M.A. in Digital Communications from William Paterson University and has 8+ years in the digital space with companies such as Bleacher Report and Social Media Today in addition to SEMGeeks. His background includes creative and professional writing as well as strategic digital marketing communications and management.

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