The concept of branding is fairly straight forward, but the process is much less so in the world of higher education.
Entrepreneur defines brand as “a promise to your customer. It tells them what you can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors'. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”
Inside Higher Ed recently published an article discussing why so many universities have similar brands. There’s been a lot of chatter on the internet about it, but basically what it comes down to is that students need to trust an institution if they are going to pursue an education there. The brand matters when students apply, while they are in school and even as alumni.
Because brand matters so much, many marketing departments are simply too scared to take a big risk to differentiate themselves in case it doesn’t pay off. They are worried about losing trust. So, instead, they focus on the beauty of their campus or their most successful academic programs and don’t appear that different from another university of similar size and landscape.
So what is the solution?
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix in this matter. But adopting a couple of inbound marketing principles can be the first step in forging genuine relationships with prospective students and setting yourself apart from the competition.
- Know what makes you unique
Do you have a unique location, an array of internships, pioneering partnerships with people working in technology or sustainable development or professional mentors to offer your students? Whatever sets you apart, emphasize this on your website, in your blog and in any communications with prospective students.
- Know your students
What do your current students study? What have been the most successful programs? Where do your students work after college? Knowing what drives your current students and alumni is an easy way to anticipate what your prospective students are looking for in your university. In any inbound marketing plan, developing a profile of your prospective student or “buyer” is the most important first step.
- Personalize your message
It sounds like a lot of work, and it can be, but taking the time upfront to personalize your message whether it’s via social media, through email or even on the phone, will pay off in dividends in the end. According to Collegedata.com, tuition alone averaged $9410 at public universities for in-state residents and $32,404 for tuition at private institutions for the 2015/2016 school year. College is one of the largest purchases a person will make in their lifetime. Make sure you take it as seriously as your potential students and their parents are taking it.
- Position your institution as a thought leader
Create amazing content, and give it away for free. On social media, comment and share opinions of other respected institutions or individuals. Be a part of the conversation and your prospective students will take note.
- Social media, social media, social media
Branding can be extremely expensive. But anyone, even an average Joe can effectively brand themselves if they are savvy with social media. Building a profile and being strategic with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms will help you set yourself apart from the flock.
Branding is important, and worth putting some time, effort and strategy into. Remember, you are owning what your institution already stands for, not trying to emulate what you would like for people to think about you.
See if you're doing what it takes to reach enrollment goals with our free Inbound Marketing checklist.