Top 9 Must-Do Tasks in Higher Ed Branding


Stamats 2020

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The average consumer gets 5,000 branded messages per day. Prospective students today are bombarded with emails, ads, phone calls, and brochures from dozens of schools – and the messaging is often generic and impersonal.

Now more than ever, marketers must strategically consider the public and internal perceptions of their institutional brand. What is the brand story? And are you telling it in a way that matters to your audience?

It will take time to identify areas of opportunity and implement strategies for success. It will also take a shift in mindset to think from your audience’s perspective. But it’s crucial to create a sustainable brand for students, staff, alumni, and stakeholders. 

Attend the Stamats 2020 conference to hear more about building a relevant and resilient brand.

9 Steps to Elevating Your Brand

1. Discover what people think of you now

Conduct some brand market research. What are students and alumni saying about you online? How do key stakeholders and the community perceive you?

You may encounter positive and negative reviews. It’s necessary to read any and all criticism students have so you can understand their needs and make changes accordingly.

2. Move from organization-centric to audience-centric thinking

Your brand is important, but not as important as how your audience views you. Instead of focusing on your products, services, courses, and degree offerings, think about why these options matter to your specific audiences.

Ask yourself: Why should a student earn a degree from you? What does your audience care about and want to see?

If you have trouble answering those questions, go out and ask students. Conduct focus groups and send out surveys to gain valuable insights.

3. Differentiate yourself

Prospective students have never had more options when it comes to their education. It’s time to stand out. Evaluate your current branding. If you replaced your school’s name with another, would your brand still sound authentic?

If so, it’s time to reposition your messaging with what makes your institution different. Why should students be excited to choose you? Start by thinking about why you are passionate about the brand. How you would describe that feeling to someone outside the organization? Then, infuse that emotion into your storytelling and marketing materials.

4. Engage alumni

You may be your institution’s number one fan, but an organization-centric approach leaves out everyone else who would be willing to promote you. Alumni can be great ambassadors with a unique perspective. But often, they aren’t properly segmented out and get lost in the shuffle of generic messaging.

Spend time connecting with your graduates. Who has gone on to achieve success in their field? Have they won awards or prizes, or served as mentors in their community? Would they be willing to connect with prospective students?

A strong alumni network can do wonders for building your reputation and sharing your brand.

5. Educate the public

Community matters. Whether you’re in a large college town or operate completely online, the public wants to know what your organization and staff contribute to society:

  • Do your students volunteer?
  • Are they available for internships?
  • Will you give back to the community in some way?
  • How does your institution advance specific disciplines, research, or areas of study?

Start reaching out, even if the public isn’t your direct target audience. Creating positive change outside campus can bring recognition to your brand you otherwise wouldn’t have.

6. Motivate donors

We all rely on donors to fund scholarships, state-of-the art lecture halls and facilities. Even day-to-day maintenance. However, to receive donations, you need to prove your value to potential donors.

You can do this through strategic brand storytelling. Show how donations are being used. Highlight your school’s growth and limitless potential. Convey why donors would be proud to contribute to your school.

7. Support research funding efforts

Tell stories which support research funding opportunities. Not only will you attract ambitious students and top-notch faculty, but you open the door to additional opportunities.

Your students will look to see how they can get involved in their field of study. Highlight the work your faculty is doing and support elements of the strategic research plan. Such as building new labs or hosting scholars-in-residence.

8. Showcase student career opportunities

Your students want to know their investment in your programs will be worthwhile. What are the outcomes? Can they get a job after graduating? What is the average starting salary for graduates in their program of choice?

Reach out to employers to build a robust internship program. Feature career services information on your marketing collateral. Gather alumni testimonials for your website. Therefore, the more successful your students are, the more successful you’ll be.

9. Highlight top students and staff

One way to increase student recruitment outcomes is to highlight your roster of successful faculty, but will students be excited to take classes with your faculty? Are they accessible (i.e. have office hours) to students?

Students want a school that will set them up for success. Look into your retention data and tackle any issues if numbers are declining. Create positive messaging to support retention. Highlight current student successes and share it with prospective students.

A few closing thoughts

Some of these may be easy fixes. Perhaps you’re known for being too expensive, while the real issue is students not understanding your financial aid and scholarship packages. Or maybe you don’t have a dedicated alumni relations coordinator and need to appoint a staff member to support ongoing relationship building with these key stakeholders.

Others may be changes you must make over time, such as creating online courses or increasing commuting options. Therefore, these steps can help you remain relevant and accessible to prospective students.

To learn more, attend my keynote, “Brand Leadership: Building, Relevance, and Resilience,” at the Stamats 2020 conference. Register online today.

Guest Contributor and Stamats 2020 Conference Speaker

Richie Hunter

Richie C. Hunter

Vice President, Strategic Communications & External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Richie Hunter is a well-recognized leader in strategic marketing, branding, integrated communications, external relations, and business strategy. She currently serves as Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Relations for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Prior to joining Rensselaer, Hunter was the Vice Chancellor and Vice President of Marketing, Communication and Media Relations for the University of Houston System and University of Houston. She served as the chief brand, marketing, communications, and public information officer.

Prior to her move into higher education, Hunter worked in healthcare for over 10 years. During that time she served as Vice President of Government Programs for Coventry Health Care (an Aetna company). Chief Marketing Officer for Health Net; and as Staff Vice President, Marketing for Anthem. She began her executive career at TIAA-CREF. She was the Head of Marketing Strategy for TIAA-CREF Direct and Second Vice President for Shared Services.

Hunter holds a Master of Business Administration from Lamar University. Also a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Southern California. Throughout her life, Hunter has been active in the community. She currently serves on the Boards of Directors for the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of the Greater Capital Region.

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