Has your institutional branding gotten stale and predictable? Though some administrators argue that branding takes away from a higher institution’s educational focus, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

As a college or university that is continually looking to connect with prospective students, you must actively strengthen your messaging. If you can’t effectively communicate with students, how will you remain competitive? With tuition increases and a boom of online programs, institutions face more resistance than in years past.

Institutional Branding is Powerful

A good branding strategy is more than a memorable tagline or a colorful logo. When done right, institutional branding distinguishes a school and tells prospective students where it plans to take them over the next four years. Research shows that good branding leads to an increase in student interest and staff and faculty involvement. It also helps schools achieve more media coverage and successful fundraising events.

Bottom line: Don’t put your branding efforts aside. An effective branding strategy is powerful and can have a significant impact on your reputation and enrollment.

Branding Ideas to Kickstart Your Imagination

Let’s look at some unique branding ideas for higher ed that may benefit your institution. A new academic year is just around the corner!

Look for Emotional Connections

If you focus too much on shaping an academic reputation, you may miss the mark when it comes to emotionally connecting with students. For instance, Indiana State University had the tagline “More. From day one.” This motto was inspired from a student who said he inquired about a newspaper position on campus and was put on staff from day one. It’s these types of experiences that feel genuine to students. What makes students “fit in” at your school? Why does it feel like “home” from the first day?

Team Up with Other Local Institutions

For students who are looking for an authentic four-year college experience, what can you tell them about living in your local area? Team up with other local colleges and universities to create a simplified website, brochure, social media page, etc. for prospective students to use as a reference point. The content can include all the details of what it’s like to live, work and play in the area, including housing options and transportation. Take pride in your community and what you can offer that other schools can’t.

Focus on Your Niche Audience

It’s OK if your higher institution isn’t for everyone. If you have a niche-specific program, use this in your tagline. You may have a strong environmental focus or require that students perform community service alongside their coursework. By targeting a very specific audience, you distinguish your school and connect with the right audience.

Involve Students in Your Branding

Students can lead the way; they are some of your strongest advocates. Some of the easiest ways to involve students is by finding influencers on social media, inviting students to write guest posts or launching a webinar where prospective students and current students can connect. You can take things further by creating a scholarship program for motivated high school juniors and seniors as well.

Distinguish Your Groups

One of the challenges to higher institutional branding is the many audiences to reach out to. Between current students, prospects, parents, staff, faculty, alumni, etc., the list gets exhaustive. However, sending out general information to these groups is a wasted opportunity. You must make each group feel valued. Ensure that each one receives the right letters, valid invitations and an online space. You may even benefit from creating separate taglines for your different audiences.

Create a Virtual Tour

Not all prospective students are able to visit your campus in person. Rather than having them scratch you off their list, create a virtual tour that all students can use. Online campus tours show the unique offerings your institution has to offer and helps prospects envision what their life would be like on your campus. Be creative with your tour. If you can, tell a story from a unique perspective, such as William Woods University did with their “Got Duck?” tour.

Review Perception Study Data

A little data can never hurt when branding your institution. Review the data from past perception studies, and if you don’t have anything recent, gather feedback from students, parents and faculty. What do these groups think of your school? Is your message clearly defined and understood, or is it lacking? When you have the appropriate insight as to how others perceive your school, you will know what parts of your messaging need work.

Build a Web Portal

Building a web portal for alumni and students gives them the opportunity to connect with one another. Because the content is personalized and categorized, it’s more meaningful and useful for alumni and students. Web portals are also designed to create a certain look and feel of an organization, so this is a good opportunity to execute your brand’s message.

Update Your Offline Channels

Branding is meant to be complete and consistent, so don’t forget to give attention to your offline channels as well. It may be time for your athletic buses and vans to have a facelift. Create a sleek design that captures attention and gives your athletes a sense of pride. Get a cute mascot – if you don’t have one already. Involve students and staff in the decision of who/what your mascot should be. Update your promotional products and campus bookstore items, too. These visuals all work together to build a perception of your institution.


Never should you feel that putting time and money into your marketing campaigns is a wasted effort. A good branding strategy that connects with students allows your institution to flourish, which is important in a world where more educational opportunities are becoming available. Most importantly, think of your college as a “living, breathing entity” rather than a product. We can all agree that a college campus instills more than educational values. It’s a place where we learn to work in harmony with others, respect one another’s opinions and do our own laundry.