Education is big business. While we often don’t think of it that way, and certainly many people in the industry have good intentions towards students, it’s true. Without clients (i.e. students seeking an education), a school will shut down (or, in the case of publicly-funded schools, see funding cut). So how does a school stand out from the crowd and get attention? At least part of the answer is education branding.
What is Education Branding?
Education branding is much like any other kind of branding. It is about forging an identity for an educational institution so as to reflect its values and appeal to its target demographic.
An educational institution’s brand has to be one that inspires confidence in potential students. They have to believe the institution offers a good education at a fair rate.
This is where higher education marketing (of which branding is a part) differs from traditional marketing somewhat. The service being sold is one of high value, and, by its nature, tends to assume those interested will be somewhat educated and academic (or at least interested in those things).
In turn, that means options can be more limited than when marketing a cheaper product or service with a broad appeal. Certainly, there is variety in how colleges and similar institutions brand, but there is less than in how beverages or hygiene products might brand themselves.
Speaking very broadly, a brand can be thought of in two interlinked parts. The first part is brand identity. Brand identity is composed of the distinct, front-facing elements that help people distinguish it from similar (and different) brands.
Some examples of what forges an educational brand identity include the way institutions are named, the logos used by the entity behind those institutions, any visuals used in ads and promotional material, and more.
While many people think of brand identity as made up of visual elements, that isn’t entirely true. Brand identity also includes things like the way advertisements are worded and how employees interact with clients.
The second element of one’s brand that needs to be considered is brand image. Brand image, in short, is how customers perceive a given brand.
This is more all-encompassing than something like brand identity. Brand image is impacted by not only an organization’s advertisements but anything that may impact a potential customer’s view of a brand.
Not all that makes up your brand identity is within your control. It isn’t unheard of for companies to take hits to their brand over false rumors or a bad review from an unreasonable client.
Generally speaking, a company wants its brand image and brand identity to be harmonious. This is actually a problem many colleges have; they may try to present themselves as an elite place of learning but, fair or not, gain a reputation as a place for parties and wild youths.
Forging a Successful Brand
Forging a strong educational brand is about standing out from many institutions offering similar services while keeping a broad enough appeal that enough students can still be attracted.
The key to doing this is through what is called “brand positioning.” You figure out where you want your brand to be in a client’s (and potential client’s) mind in relation to your competitors and then design a path to get there.
There are many elements to a brand you can adjust to fit the tastes of your target demographic and to match your values. When people think about your brand, consider how they view it:
- The benefits being offered
- The values you believe in
- The culture your institution fosters
- The staff and students you attract
One of the first steps in doing this is determining where your institution’s edge is. Why would someone choose your place of learning over another with similar programs?
Finding Your Edge
One of the first elements to think about when building a brand identity is why, logically, a person would choose your institution over another. What makes you worth the cost?
There are many ways to approach this depending on one’s model, but a successful business needs an edge over the competition. Some potential places of leverage include:
- Quality of learning
- Quality of staff
- Sports programs
- Arts programs
- Degree variety
- Employment outlook for graduates
That list isn’t all-inclusive either. Moreover, nothing is stopping a brand from building itself on multiple points at once. In fact, it is fantastic if your institution can find several ways in which it beats similar institutions, especially those nearby.
Establishing a Strong Presentation
As we touched on when discussing brand identity, a potential student isn’t only making a decision based on a place of learning’s offerings. A strong presentation is as, if not more, important.
Colleges have a few ways they can present themselves, all with benefits and drawbacks. For example, many build an image that feels elite and exclusive. However, this can put people off and puts massive pressure on the institution to deliver an experience that matches the tone.
Other colleges build an inclusive image, which in many ways has the reverse effect. It may attract many more applicants but also can give the sense the college is easy to get into and thus their degrees have less value.
What’s important, regardless of choice, is a presentation that feels competent. A website should be well-constructed, staff should be well-trained. A campus should be clean, although without feeling too sterile.
In many ways, good presentation can feel like theater. In many ways it is; the core of the services you offer are educational in nature, not exciting visuals or helping students feel “cool.” However, this is a core part of building a brand and attracting people to your doors.
We Are Not Beings of Pure Logic
When building a brand, it’s important to understand people do not make choices solely through logic. There are at least three ways to persuade people of something, as well as a fourth that’s more difficult to control.
Ethos is persuading one through credibility. In essence, it is about presenting an argument through a source the audience trusts as an authority on the subject.
For institutions of learning, this can take the form of positive reviews or through praise from relevant experts.
Reviews are interesting in that, because they are (ostensibly) from a real person who went to the institution, we tend to assume that person is an authority on what they’re speaking about.
In reality, some reviews are less reliable than others, but the more you have, the easier it is to show your institute is considered of real value to people who know what they’re talking about.
Logos is persuading through logic. It is often combined with ethos, such as proving someone is a reliable expert through logic and then having them present a relevant opinion.
It is often very easy for institutions to find relevant logos with which to convince their target audience. Objective facts like how your costs compare to other institutions or how much graduates make a year using their degrees can do a lot to convince people you’re a good option.
An argument of pure logic can come off as bland, but it certainly makes for a good addition. After all, you don’t want your brand building efforts to come off as sounding like empty propaganda.
Pathos is a communication technique in which one tries to persuade through emotion. It is about making someone feel a certain way through tone, imagery, and words without relying on pure objective reasoning.
This may sound dishonest, and it can be, but one can ethically use pathos in marketing and brand building. For instance, trying to get people excited about the opportunities higher education offers uses a great deal of pathos, but that doesn’t mean you won’t deliver on those promises.
Emotional appeal is one of the strongest ways to persuade someone of something. If you can help students and potential students form an emotional attachment to your brand, it can do wonders for engagement.
When many people learn about approaches to persuasion, kairos is often left out. That said, the man who categorized these techniques, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, did discuss kairos, and as such so will we.
Kairos is essentially persuasion through opportunity. One can’t always control when anopportunity will arise, but they can control whether they act on it once it comes.
For example, if a competitor has shut down its sports programs, that can be a perfect time to embrace your own programs and discuss their merits. Because a competitor has just shut their programs down, your own argument becomes more appealing even though you didn’t change anything.
Note that the opposite is also true. If there has been a string of hazing controversies in the news, discussing one’s fraternities and party-friendly campus culture will be less effective or even harmful to your image.
Shape Branding Efforts Around the Digital Age
Almost 80% of Americans regularly use the internet, more if your institution is focusing on the young adult demographic. Whether we like it or not, education branding needs to be built for the digital age we live in.
One issue many organizations have is that the online marketplace is crowded. Getting your institution ranking online so people can even see your branding efforts can be a challenge for newcomers.
If your company doesn’t know where to start, there are courses one can take to better understand marketing online on a variety of platforms.
What many organizations do is focus on one or two social media platforms, combined with a blog optimized for search engines. This can be enough to build moderate web traffic, although it won’t bring out an institution’s maximum potential.
A good first step would be to perform what is called an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) audit on your institution’s website. This will help you determine how popular your website is and ways it may be able to be improved.
While web visits aren’t everything when it comes to building a brand, you need attention on your marketing materials if they’re going to be effective. Building web traffic is one of the most cost-effective ways to get eyes on your content.
Software alone can’t build your brand but it can absolutely help. Take, for instance, our reputation management software, designed to offer users a robust set of tools to bolster their online reputation.
The value of software solutions is they often can save huge amounts of time compared to a traditional approach. They can automate a lot of the most tedious parts of marketing and make more involved parts easier.
Marketing is all about using the resources you have most effectively and one of the most valuable is time. If a solution exists that makes a task easier or otherwise more efficient, it often makes sense to go with it, even if there is an initial cost.
In the case of reputation management, it’s also worth noting reputation tends to have a snowball effect. A bad reputation can affect how people view your brand, which can, in turn, worsen your reputation and so on in a damaging cycle.
For Brand Help and More
Education branding is all about constructing an image of your institution that is inviting to your target audience. By following some basic brand guidelines, you can raise engagement with your brand and see real benefits in terms of enrollment.
If you’re looking to strengthen your brand image or otherwise market your organization, we can help. If you’re interested in adding a professional edge to your efforts, contact us.