Branducation: Branding and Higher Ed

Just as business leaders often obsess about their company’s brand reputation, leaders in the education sector are understandably concerned about their school’s perceived image and value. But they don’t manage their brand as a strategic asset, often relegating this powerful commodity to marketing. BIG MISTAKE! If the brand doesn’t start with the president and the institution’s leadership, it isn’t much more than pretty face.


Brand development in the education sector is just as important as it is for any business—especially in today’s economic climate. Higher education institutions are grappling with many issues, such as rising tuition costs and competition from non-traditional learning methods. Creating a clear and compelling reason why prospective students should choose one school over all others is essential to an institution’s future viability.


Whether an institution wants to drive enrollment or to create a sustainable revenue stream of alumni donations, it must start with a powerful brand strategy as the foundation for all communications—both internal and external.


Too often I hear the same things over and over from every institution…educational quality…top faculty and staff…a culture of excellence. And everyone’s marketing and advertising says virtually the same things. So, how does an institution lift itself out of the cluttered marketplace and be known as a place of learning that is truly special and unique? How does it attract those students who really want what the institution has to offer? And, how does it create a passionate culture of alumni advocates who are motivated to ensure the institution’s success?


Simple: Create an effective brand management strategy that carries a clear value proposition—a promise—and cultivate an internal culture that is committed to fulfilling that promise. Branding in higher education should be a means of unifying the institution around consistently communicating and delivering that promise.


So, here’s how you do it: First, you uncover what is truly unique about the institution. Then, you develop a strategy that communicates that distinction. This strategy must align with the business strategy and the people strategy. Finally, you “operationalize” your brand, first through faculty and staff, then students, and ultimately all segmented constituents.


Sound simple? It is—IF the institution is committed to the process. After all, like any change management process, it requires continuous effort and dedication with a clear line of sight  to where you are going. Our model—the Holland Helix®—aligns all three strategies and has the methodology behind it to create a success momentum.


Education branding depends on the ability to uniquely and authentically position a school in the marketplace, and it has to include the whole brand experience. The only schools that will succeed in the future will have leaders dedicated to operationalizing a clear and compelling brand.