A Lesson in Brand Unity for Higher Education

If you don’t already know, your brand is everything in higher education. It determines how students view and feel about your institution. It’s what allows students to identify with your school amid a sea of public, private, and community colleges all saying the same thing—Go Here. Brand unity is what gives your institution a clear message, so you can sail across that sea with ease.

The many departments within your institution may water down your brand or inadvertently steer it down the wrong path. This is often because there is a lack of understanding around how your brand works or exactly how important it is to your organization as a whole. Luckily, achieving brand unity, though difficult at times, is not impossible. Especially when you consider that every department is ultimately working toward the same goal—proving to prospective students your institution is the best choice for them. You just have to give them the tools they need to support that goal as a unified brand.


Keep communication lines open. The key to elevating your institution is involving those who work in various departments across the organization and teaching them how to strengthen your brand because it gives you deeper insight into the key messages you want to be sharing.

These are the people who interact directly with students and interact with brand in ways you don’t. While they aren’t focused on marketing, you shouldn’t see this as a weak point. You should use their knowledge to your advantage. Identify contacts who are interested in marketing and are responsible for the department’s communication. This would be the directors or department chairs, but you should also talk with department associates and student interns.

No matter what part they play in the department, each individual has something unique to offer your brand.

No matter what part they play in the department, each individual has something unique to offer your brand. The more you know about what they offer, the more you can expand on how you’re messaging your institution.

When you meet with the key individuals from each department, always run down the current process of branding and give brand updates. This will save you time and keep the conversation moving forward. Meetings can take up as much time as you like and they can be as frequent as you like—monthly, per semester, or yearly. Though, more often is always better. At these meetings, ask:

  • How does your department enhance the student experience?
  • What makes your department unique and unlike similar departments within other intuitions?
  • What can students expect to learn from your department?
  • What real-world opportunities does your department provide to students?
  • How do students interact with department faculty?
  • Are your programs defined correctly on the website?
  • In what ways do you want to improve your marketing?

Brand Style Guides

Create an efficient, accessible, and easy way to house information about your brand in the form of visual identity, voice and tone, and copy style guides. The visual identity guide addresses icon sets, logo usage, color palette, photo styles, fonts, and more. The voice and tone guide addresses the language and personality of your brand. The copy style guide gets into the details of specific word choices, acronyms, punctuation conventions, etc. Each guide needs to be extensive in order to truly help departments understand your brand. They are your keys to brand unity.

Another great way to bring these departments into the circle of brand trust is to have brand style guide training. Those who are most actively involved in creating materials should be trained to be brand experts. Through training, these contacts will come to understand the ins and outs of your visual guide, voice guide, copy guide, and the process for brand review. It would also be useful to familiarize these individuals with any applications you use like Photoshop, InDesign, PowerPoint, or Prezi. In the end, your training will ensure key individuals within each department are able to:

  • Put brand voice into action
  • Use logos and colors resourcefully
  • Execute your brand within every medium

Your guides should be available for anyone and everyone to use. They are essential tools as different teams and individuals create materials for your brand, including freelance writers, designers, or videographers. So where should you host all of this information? Easy-access areas such as an intranet, shared drive, or password-protected area of your website. Each document should be accurately defined. Along with these guides, it’s also a good idea to keep downloadable tools like:

  • Official logos
  • Mascot logos
  • Messaging matrix
  • Fonts
  • Design templates
  • Presentation templates

Brand Review

If departments in your institution are having trouble adhering to brand guides or simply have little experience when it comes to marketing, the next step in creating brand unity is to set up institution-wide brand review process. With brand review, you’re checking to make sure materials are on-brand. This prevents documents with old logos, materials with off-brand colors, and content that doesn’t employ the correct voice from getting out the door. The items that should undergo a brand review before launching include:

  • Merchandise
  • Recruiting materials
  • Program brochures
  • Social media accounts
  • Outbound emails
  • Event materials

Before conducting a brand review, you should define the review procedure and communicate this procedure to all departments. Your process for brand review will likely begin by having the department schedule a meeting with the brand team. After your meeting, give the department a timeline for review. This timeline is dependent on the size and scope of each project. When you review, have a checklist that reminds you to evaluate whether or not:

  • The logo is used correctly
  • Institution colors are used appropriately
  • Voice characteristics are consistent
  • Message is strong, clear, and on brand
  • The medium is right for the intended audience
  • Brand fonts are used
  • The design supports the message

By including key departments throughout your school in your branding process and giving them the tools they need to extend the brand of your school, your message will not only become clearer, it will be enhanced. You’ll notice a more streamlined brand, but, more importantly, students will notice this too. From website revamps to new billboard designs, students see it all, and what they see says something about your brand and your school. Brand unity shows that you’re paying attention to one detail that matters most to students—where their story fits in with yours.

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Higher education institutions thrive when potential students yearn to attend. Through highly tailored marketing solutions, you can grow a brand that stands out, while building personal connections with potential students. Olive & Company can build these solutions through research and proven Modern Marketing tactics to help you reach your higher education marketing goals.

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