Intrinsic Branding for Higher Education

The University of Oxford was founded around the year 1096, the University of Cambridge followed in 1209, and Harvard was born in 1636. Prime ministers, presidents, and Nobel prize winners can be counted among their thousands of distinguished alumni. Their brands are their reputations, and their reputations were forged over generations. Most colleges and universities don’t have that long.

Before the year 1800, there were only about 100 modern universities in existence around the world. According to the World Higher Education Database, as of 2014 there were just over 11,000 degree-granting institutions in operation.

In the digital world, students have more options than ever to find, research, and choose where they’ll spend the next two to four (or more) years of their lives. You’re here to provide knowledge, experience, intellectual challenges, opportunities for creative expression, and the chance to engage with students and professors who have diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. But so are the other 10,999 institutions.

The challenge isn’t just to make a good first impression, but to prove that you’ve got the goods to back it up. That’s where a well-defined brand strategy carried out in even the smallest of ways throughout your school can help.

What Can a Carefully Curated Brand Do For Your Institution?

Attract students by reassuring them that your institution will fit their lifestyle, their interests, and their goals.

Retain students by demonstrating that you’re invested in their success. You’re not just here to hand them a diploma after four years, you’re here to help prepare them for every year after that.

Build your own legacy. Perception is a powerful thing. Was Stephen Hawking always a genius, or did he become one during his studies at Oxford and Cambridge? Was Barack Obama always destined to become president, or did he discover his calling at Harvard? It doesn’t really matter. All that matters, is the legacy of greatness on both sides are inextricably linked.

How Do You Build a Brand Throughout Your Institution?

Meet your students where they are. That doesn’t mean blanketing the country with generic ads that talk about how great your institution is. It means embracing the lifestyles of your students and showing them how your institution is invested in helping them turn hobbies and passions into successful careers.

Get over yourself. Without students, your institution is just a bunch of empty buildings. Keep your lecture halls filled and your classrooms busy by offering courses that students in 2016 are interested in, not the ones you think they should take.

Show. Don’t tell. Show off the work of your students. What are they learning, where are they learning it, and with whom are they learning it? Show off the work of your faculty. What are they building, discovering, and creating?

Find your voice. How do you want students to perceive your institution’s personality? The way in which you talk to them across your various marketing channels will impact their perception of you, and play a factor in their decision to enroll.

Drink your own Kool-Aid. A modern logo and updated color schemes are surface-level changes. Your institution needs to fulfill its promises, and in order to do that you need to walk the walk. Your campus needs to look and feel like your brand says it will, and your faculty will need to buy into the promises you’re making so that they can help students achieve what they want.

Mike Waterston

Mike Waterston

Mike's career as a writer started in third grade when he discovered a love of creating and telling stories that have an impact on readers. As a Minneapolis-based copywriter and content strategist, he shares that passion with brands, helping them tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences.