Spring is in the air and it’s the perfect time to review our successes, consider the opportunities that lie ahead, and begin to shape a plan for the year. It’s also the moment when many colleges and universities reflect on their institutional identities, explore ways to distinguish their brands in the marketplace, and leverage those brands to engage new audiences. With that in mind, let’s explore effective institutional branding. What follows is a list of what I call “The Fundamental Five,” or the five most important considerations that drive successful college and university-identity development:

  1. Authenticity: Effective brands aren’t imposed upon institutions; they’re infused by the very best those institutions have to offer—by their values, history, purpose, and promise. Colleges and universities with strong brands understand the importance of working from the inside out, uncovering and elevating the authentic stories that make them distinct. When properly executed, the result is something rare: a unique idea, grounded in truth and creatively articulated, that can be owned in the marketplace.
  2. Collective Understanding and Support: Successful brands are the result of engagement, collaboration, and enthusiastic support. When planning a branding or identity-development project, help ensure success by involving the campus community early and fostering a shared sense of excitement and ownership. That momentum creates a league of active ambassadors who will reinforce the power of your brand both on and off campus.
  3. Expression Through Experience: Great brands transcend billboards, sweatshirts, and websites. They are alive—endlessly enriched through countless interactions, experiences, messages, and events. Explore ways to strengthen your brand through action. What new programs, processes, policies, and opportunities would enhance your brand promise and support students, prospective students, and other constituents? What might be detracting from your brand right now? How can your brand promise influence broader institutional change?
  4. Careful Coordination: Institutional brands don’t exist in isolation. Rather, they’re part of larger college and university system identities, individual school and program sub-brands, and athletic brands. Successful brand development work must be holistic—striving to create a unified visual language from brands that have been created at different times, by different people, with different goals. When properly aligned, each brand should be an extension and reinforcement of the primary.
  5. Consistent Application: Colleges and universities are complex and multi-layered organizations. Applying a brand consistently across various departments, schools, microsites, publications, and social media channels takes intention and planning. A detailed style guide, brand manual, and centralized online repository for creative assets are critical tools that help control and protect how your brand is expressed across all touch points.

It’s important to remember that your institutional brand is an asset that requires ongoing stewardship and investment. When well-managed, the resulting dividends help shape the future of your school: better-qualified students, more engaged alumni and donors, world-class faculty and staff, vibrant community and business partnerships, and a level of growth that’s sustainable in a rapidly changing marketplace.

To explore how market research can inform branding and be a driver of institutional transformation, I invite you to join our upcoming webinar, “Pushing the Boundaries of Your Market Research to Create Institutional Change.” Held on April 11, 2017, at 2:30 p.m. EST, this free webinar will examine how Ramapo College of New Jersey has leveraged its brand promise to not only launch a winning marketing campaign, but create a revitalized institutional commitment to student success as well.

For more information on Stamats’ branding services or our upcoming webinar, please call me directly at 319-861-5146, or email me at beatrice.szalas@stamats.com.

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