So, you want to talk to this young go-getter, this incredible human with attitude and spirit? She is your next transfer student. She could she be the next “Microsoft” or “Google” founder, and, in fact, she very likely will be. But, how will your brand values and beliefs as an institution appeal to her? When she visits, will she feel it? Will she feel the connection to your brand? The good news is that in the world of higher education, the proliferation of branding has become a very positive thing. It makes the marketplace more competitive, and when done well, schools can put a finer point on how they present themselves to the world. And, more students are able to ”see themselves” being a vital part of the institution.
However, unless there is understanding, support and immersion for the entire organization, revising a brand look/feel or updating a logo will only go so far. What are some of the main roadblocks to brand success? No doubt there are many; however, these “seven sins” of brand management rise to the top in higher education.
- Lack of leadership.
Since “brand” often sits in the marketing department, the necessity of overall leadership to support marketing and the infrastructure to adopt the brand across the organization often don’t exist. Brand isn’t promotion, it is an integral part of who you are as an organization and what you stand for, your beliefs and values. It’s tied to everything an organization is or does. Brands take stewardship, and every person affiliated with your institution is a member of the branding department. Brands have power, and if leadership isn’t reinforcing and advocating for your brand, how can you expect prospective students to know you and align with you?
- Fear of focus.
Too often colleges and universities try to be everything to everyone, and quickly find themselves without a point of view. The mistake we make is that we think we are going to alienate audiences, but the trade-off is not connecting with them. If we don’t know who we are as an organization and what we stand for, how will our audiences know if they want to become part of our family? Brands that stand for something stand out in the marketplace. Creating an authentic, believable, and compelling brand story pulls people in; a brand that makes someone feel a sense of belonging and shared beliefs is a brand that people remember, seek, and make their own.
- Lack of commitment.
There seems to be a philosophy in higher education that one needs to change their brand every three to five years. This can be a combination of several deadly sins, but first and foremost it says that you haven’t committed to who you are as an organization and are likely confusing your audiences. Brands take responsible management, commitment, and time to build. Too much change doesn’t allow internal or external audiences to adopt or become loyal to the brand. Refreshing how you express your brand might be appropriate after time to stay culturally relevant, but even that takes special planning and care to stay true to your brand foundation.
- Lack of understanding of the power of brand.
Far too often the word “brand” has a negative connotation or stigma attached to it. A brand is your most powerful ally. Brands are currency; they are more than just a logo or a tagline, although those are elements of a visual brand expression. A brand has rich meaning that transcends a logo. Your brand lives in how your audiences perceive it. In these shifting economies and highly competitive markets, it’s crucial to build them on the shoulders of sound strategy, guard them fiercely, invest in them consistently, and leverage them to ensure more sustainable futures.
- Not translating the brand idea across all audiences.
In higher education, there seems to be this idea that brand expression begins in the Admissions Department in a viewbook or on your home page. Your brand idea defines what you stand for and is grounded in the essential truth of your organization. It isn’t just for prospective students; it is essential message and emotional meaning that directs communications on all levels to all audiences, internal employees and students and external prospects.
- Not implementing the brand across all mediums.
Just as actions, words, visual cues, essence and all communications need to be consistently communicated to all audiences, these also need to be implemented across all marketing platforms and mediums. The brand is expressed in everything we do and say, and this needs to be reinforced and channeled through all communication vehicles. Otherwise, this lack of consistency and clarity cultivates chaos and confusion.
- Lack of brand guidelines and identity tools.
Our brand identity isn’t just colors, fonts, and graphic elements. Our brand is expressed through words, photography, tone, voice, and character – and very real actions. From the marketing department, this is usually a toolkit with a comprehensive system of foundation elements, creative expression, and strategic messages that can be applied across all departments and all audiences. For the entire organization, it means immersion in what the brand stands for, how we interact with students and prospects, what kind of language do we use and how we act.
There are countless other issues, challenges and hindrances in higher education marketing, yet the biggest one remains being true to the organization and ensuring everyone gets it, including her. No amount of energy, time and investment can reach her with a message or story unless that story is managed from the inside out, tip to tail. And, since everyone in your organization is a member of your branding department, leadership must first support marketing in establishing clear, consistent messaging and expression, and, at the same time, put words into action and fully live the brand out loud so she can hear you.