Oxford Dictionary defines brand equity as, ‘the commercial value that derives from consumer perception of the brand name of a particular product or service, rather than from the product or service itself.’ In simpler terms, it’s the intangible asset that encapsulates the reputation, recognition, and trust associated with a university’s name. Brand equity is not just a buzzword; it’s a strategic advantage that can transform university brands for success.
Defining Brand Equity
Brand equity is more than just a marketing metric; it’s a reflection of a university’s standing in the eyes of students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community. To understand brand equity, we must dissect it into its core components:
Brand Awareness: How well-known is the university among its target audience?
Perceived Quality: What is the perception of the quality of education and services offered?
Brand Loyalty: Do students and alumni feel a strong connection to the university, and are they likely to recommend it?
These elements combine to create a brand that is either an invaluable asset or a liability, depending on the strength of these perceptions.
The Difference between Brand Awareness and Brand Equity
Brand awareness is perhaps a term you’re more familiar with and you might be thinking ‘are brand awareness and brand equity not one of the same?’. However, while both brand equity and brand awareness play pivotal roles in shaping a brand’s identity and impact, they represent distinct facets of a brand’s journey.
Brand Awareness refers to the level of recognition and familiarity that a brand enjoys among its target audience. It measures how easily and readily customers can recall or identify a brand when presented with its name or logo. Brand awareness is essentially the extent to which a brand is known and recognised in the market.
Brand Equity, on the other hand, goes beyond mere recognition. It encompasses the overall value and perception associated with a brand. Brand equity considers not only how well-known a brand is but also how positively it is perceived by customers. It reflects the emotional connection, trust, and reputation a brand has built over time. Brand equity influences consumer preferences and their willingness to invest in services bearing that brand name.
Brand Equity in Higher Education
Why does brand equity matter so much in the context of universities and higher education institutions? The answer lies in the unique challenges these institutions face. They operate in an increasingly competitive environment, with countless options available to students and faculty. Here’s why brand equity is crucial:
Attracting Talent: Universities need to attract top-tier faculty and students to maintain their academic excellence. A strong brand helps in this endeavour by making the institution a preferred choice.
Enrolment Decisions: Prospective students often make decisions based on a university’s reputation. Brand equity influences their choices, impacting enrollment numbers and revenue.
Alumni Engagement: Engaged alumni contribute not only financially but also by promoting the institution. A well-regarded brand fosters stronger alumni relationships.
The Role of Brand Equity in Brand Development
Brand equity is not merely a reflection of the past but a driver of the future. It shapes a university’s reputation and influences its future success. While marketing managers may spend countless hours crafting strategies, consumers take just seconds to form an impression.
Professor Ravi Dhar of the Yale School of Management aptly stated, “Marketing managers spend 70 hours a week thinking about whatever product they are marketing, but the consumer is spending seven seconds.” These seven seconds are critical. They determine whether a potential student or faculty member sees the university as a reputable institution worth considering.
Building Brand Equity
So, how do universities go about building and enhancing brand equity? It starts with data-led research and insights, a process akin to peering into the institution’s soul. Understanding what students, faculty, and the community perceive about the university is essential. This insight becomes the cornerstone upon which strategies to improve brand awareness, perceived quality, and brand loyalty are built.
Data-Driven Decision Making: Universities must adopt a data-driven approach to branding. They gather and analyse data to discern the strengths and weaknesses of their brand perception. This data reveals valuable insights, such as which aspects of the university resonate most with its audience and where improvements are needed.
Crafting Compelling Messaging: Once armed with these insights, universities can craft messaging that strikes a chord with their target audience. Like a masterful storyteller, they articulate their unique ‘Why’ – the purpose that drives their existence. Simon Sinek’s concept of ‘Start with Why’ comes into play here. It’s about moving beyond the ‘How’ and diving into the true purpose of the organisation. For universities, this means conveying their mission, values, and commitment to education.
Testing and Iterating: Effective messaging isn’t guesswork; it’s a result of rigorous testing and iteration. Universities should continually test their positioning with consumers. How do they react? What resonates most with them? Are their pain points being addressed? This data-driven approach ensures that branding efforts remain aligned with the audience’s preferences and needs.
Driving Awareness: With compelling messaging in hand, the next step is to drive awareness. This isn’t just about promoting programs or courses; it’s about emphasising brand values over product attributes. Building an emotional connection with the audience takes time but pays off in the long run. Long-term brand campaigns may not yield immediate conversions, but they contribute to improved brand equity over time.
Maintaining Consistency: Once a university’s brand is established, consistency becomes paramount. It’s akin to maintaining a character’s personality in a story. The university should adhere to style guides and use consistent typefaces. Consistency builds trust and reinforces the brand’s identity.
Customer Experience: In today’s digital age, brands are defined not only by what they say but by the experiences they offer. Putting the customer at the centre of operations can elevate overall brand equity.
Durham University’s Brand Equity Journey
As an example of the transformative power of brand equity, let’s take a look at Durham University. Through a dedicated focus on building brand equity, Durham University has strengthened its position in the highly competitive higher education landscape. The institution has become synonymous with academic excellence, attracting top talent and enjoying strong alumni support. Read the full case study here.
In the ever-evolving world of higher education, brand equity isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. It defines how universities are perceived, influences enrollment decisions, and impacts long-term success. In a matter of seconds, prospective students and faculty form opinions that can shape the future of an institution. Brand equity is the tool that allows universities to control and leverage those critical seconds, transforming their brands for success.