Students As Consumers: Why Defining Your Brand Is Essential
How would you define your institution’s brand? Many individuals won’t have an answer…or perhaps vaguely defined, broad description at best. However, without having a strong understanding of exactly what you stand for as an institution, you can’t manage your brand…and if you’re not actively managing your brand, you’re passing up a huge opportunity.
More than ever before, students have a huge variety of choices when it comes to choosing a post-secondary institution. In the past, the choice may have been simple, based on which college or university was closest to home or where their parents studied. However, institutions are increasingly finding that defining their brand is becoming an essential part of attracting students. As this “consumer” mentality permeates the decisions we make about where to buy, where to work, and even where to study, standing out is harder than ever before.
You may have already heard that a brand is much more than your logo or the colours on your website. Rather, a brand is everything that’s associated with your institution’s name. Your academic reputation, your student orientation guide, and even the way your campus looks– contribute to your overall brand. It’s about consistent communication and speaking with one voice throughout all of your touch points. So how can you leverage your brand to draw in students and grow your organization?
Do Your Research
Surveys, focus groups, observations, website analytics, and the like are used to better understand and reflect on what your students are looking for from your institution. Take the time to assess all the information –this may not be much fun, but will save you countless hours down the road and ensure that your marketing efforts are effective.
Look at Your Institution as an Outsider
For each segment of your audience, there will be different aspects that either take away or add to their desire to attend your institution. Students coming from outside the province or state, for example, may see the location as a barrier to attending. Access to relevant scholarships or high-profile academic programs may be a positive. This is the time to be honest, and think about what you offer as objectively as possible. Don’t shy away from identifying your disadvantages, but simply be aware about what you’re “not”.
Figure out “Where You Stand”
What are your institutional strengths and weaknesses, keeping in mind the needs of your potential students? How can you “own” this niche and use it to your advantage? Most institutions claim to have a strong academic program (who wouldn’t?) but if your claim-to-fame is the amazing professor-to-student ratio or your city’s unparalleled culture, you should put more energy into communicating your strengths.
Show Why You’re Special
While remaining true to your institutional brand, craft your marketing messages in a way that differentiates your institution from competitors and is relevant to your target students. Describe how their unique needs will be met by your institution–your value proposition. Convey to them how your value proposition is different from competitors. Academic excellence, school spirit or a strong alumni network are common “claims” that colleges and universities will put forward. Go beyond the basics and challenge your team to find traits that really make your institution stand out from the crowd.
Your brand should be consistently portrayed in all of your communication. From your recruitment materials to the orientation process, each touch point should support the image you’ve worked hard to define. Do an audit of your communication systems and ensure that each piece of the process is contributing to–not detracting from–your institutional brand.
Need some help? We’d love to help your institution position itself effectively so you can attract students and continue to grow. Get in touch if you think we’d be the right fit!