A Lesson in Branding for Higher Education Institutions
With COVID lingering into the fall semester and beyond, universities and colleges are transforming themselves online and offline. But what about their brands?
One morning, while walking my dog through Tulane University, I strolled to what would normally be the crisp, grassy quad across from the student union, but now is lined with make-shift classrooms and temporary facilities. The site was quite impressive and demonstrated the great lengths and serious investment the college is taking to adapt to this “new normal” in the midst of a pandemic, allowing for necessary safety precautions of its students, faculty, and staff.
Not many universities and colleges, especially smaller institutions, can physically transform their campus or make the investment Tulane has to lure students back this school year. With schools transitioning to online learning in the spring and continuing with this temporary solution in the fall (or providing online classes as an option), there is a lot of competition in higher education. How do schools compete?
Institutions upped their digital marketing game to promote online offerings according to an article by University Business, with higher ed Facebook advertising increasing by 7% and campaigns performing better than they were pre-COVID, exceeding industry benchmarks. “But success depends on the right content and messaging,” says UB senior managing editor Melissa Ezarik.
Success also depends on digging deeper into your brand, understanding – especially in these questionable times – how the higher education landscape is evolving and how schools distinguish themselves. Campus life is often a distinguishable characteristic for colleges whether it is providing that unique SEC experience at LSU or the exciting urban campus life of BU in the historical-rich town of Boston (my alma mater). With online education, is a Zoom class, a Zoom class, a Zoom class? Who knows? But if the only student experience an institution can create is sitting in front of a computer screen engaging with professors and peers while troubleshooting a spotty wi-fi connection, then there needs to be a more strategic way to entice those prospective students to enroll.
According to one study, students are rethinking their options amidst COVID-19, looking to stay closer to home, taking a gap year, or exploring community colleges. Also, student populations are broadening, including the growth of students of color and non-traditional students. Forty-six percent of Gen Z are worried about accruing student loan debt. How can universities take a look inward at their brands and develop a plan to capture these new audiences?
Recently, we worked with a smaller college to do just that, helping the institution redefine its brand, evaluating and evolving the core of who they are with the goal of developing a marketing strategy and messaging around this central element to not only drive enrollment, but retain students.
If you are ready to rethink your brand or would like more information on how we can help higher education institutions, give us a shout!
Jennifer Bond is a Partner at Bond Moroch.
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