A university brand reflects and shapes the ethos of the institution. It also – and this is important – allows it to be communicated. This is key in terms of a university’s public profile and prestige. It is key in attracting the right staff; academic and administrative alike. And it is essential when it comes to student recruitment.
Faced with a surfeit of information and choice, brands help prospects differentiate between thousands of institutions. It is what allows them to ascertain with which they would be a good fit. In an increasingly marketised sector, it helps them choose where they are going to spend their money.
Multiple channels are open to universities in order to communicate their brand. The most effective will depend on who is being targeted. For example, it was found that 91% of accepted international applicants to UK universities never contacted the university; 52% of these ‘stealth applicants’ conducted their research exclusively using the university website.
Websites must therefore reflect the brand. Other communication channels might be having academics serve as spokespeople on hot-button topics; collaboration with the entrepreneurial community; and through what everyone thinks of when you say branding: design and logos (which are of course deeply important).
Determining how best to communicate brand identity is essential, ensuring that the right people are getting the message. As with defining the brand itself, this should not be a matter of guesswork; institutions have recourse to substantive data. They must use it.
The above elements come together to form the constituent elements of a brand strategy. What can this do for an institution? To paraphrase Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, “Build it, and they will come.”
Don’t and, well…you can work out the rest.