10 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Higher Ed Brand Plan

Bob Sevier

Bob Sevier

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You’ve been asked, or will ask someone, to write a brand marketing plan for you. Before you begin, however, I suggest that you take a short institutional self-test to see if you are ready:

1. Do we have top-level commitment for creating a brand marketing plan?

Has your senior leadership team publicly declared their support for brand marketing? Have they offered political support? And they must be willing to nudge the recalcitrant.

2. Have we identified a brand promise that is important, believable, distinctive, and emotionally engaging?

Does your brand promise flow from your vision? Is it compelling to both internal and external audiences? For a different take on the issue of compelling, take a look at the work by Michael Porter on competitive advantage.

3. Are we integrating across the five As?

In other words, does the brand plan integrate or dovetail with the individual plans developed by academics, admissions, advancement, alumni, and athletics?

4. Are we willing to spend the financial resources?

Actually, the term is “invest,” not “spend.” Chances are you will rely more on reallocated dollars than new dollars. But regardless of the source of your dollars, make sure the resource commitment is consistent with the task at hand. As you think about budget, remember that it must anticipate a number of variables, including:

  • The size of the challenge
  • The media mix you choose
  • Your current media market
  • How well your brand plan is integrated with your admissions, advancement, and internal communication plans
  • The ratio of paid and unpaid media

5. Are we willing to make a three-year commitment?

Anything less and things just won’t have enough time to gain traction.

6. Do we have a short, prioritized list of target audiences?

Have we identified the audiences that will have the greatest impact on our ability to reach our goals?

7. Have we conducted relevant research to determine how these audiences currently perceive and value you?

If you don’t know how you are currently perceived, how can you know where to start your brand-building efforts? In addition, solid audience research will establish an important initial baseline against which to measure progress.

8. Have we determined a target geography?

I know it is counterintuitive, but it is better to “own” a smaller geography than have a marginal presence in a larger one. Focus.

9. Have we developed a model for apportioning our brand dollars?

I recommend the 70-20-10 formula:

  • 70% of your brand budget is on channels that have historically worked well for your institution.
  • 20% of the budget is on emerging channels that have begun to establish a track record.
  • 10% is on channels that are new. These are your test dollars.

10. How, at a later date, will we evaluate whether or not the plan is a success?

The only way to evaluate the effectiveness of your brand strategy is to repeat the research that helped you identify initial baseline awareness. Other measures of brand equity include a reduction in the cost of recruiting a student or raising a dollar; greater ability to shape your class; and positive word-of mouth among your alumni, friends, and the media.

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