Every university wants to achieve ‘brand authority’ — but how possible is it exactly, when competition from well-established institutions is high, and the market is continuously evolving?
How many times have you set out to ‘increase brand authority’ through your marketing and branding efforts, only to feel like you never really got there? Or maybe you can feel it slipping away the more your industry grows and evolves?
You’re not alone.
When it comes to universities, being an ‘authority’ is one of the most sought after titles. As an educational body, you might expect it to be automatically assigned to you; that your audience will trust what you say, when you say it, and look to you for guidance on any given topic, simply because of who you are. Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward.
To become an authority in any sector or space, you have to earn it and maintain it.
Why is brand authority important for universities?
Brand authority simply refers to the extent to which your audience views your organisation as a reliable and trustworthy source of information — it refers to what degree you are considered an expert in your field.
The value of high brand authority for universities is immeasurable. As educators, researchers, scholars, guardians, and guides, universities wear many hats — all of which play an important role in the lives of people all over the world. To be seen as a trusted expert is crucial for student recruitment, global reputation, and ranking.
The uneven playing field — what effect do university names have on perceived brand authority?
Although brand authority needs to be earned and maintained, there’s no escaping the effect of name. In the UK especially, there are a number of well-established universities that hold such an impressive legacy, that their name alone bumps them up the list of authority. Take the University of Oxford for example, an institution over 900 years old. Their name is steeped in history and knowledge, already opening the door to a sense of brand authority.
Beyond legacy, there’s geography. Take University College London, The University of Edinburgh, and Durham University — all well-respected in their own right for their own reasons, but bear an immediate sense of authority due to their geographical placement (in other words, major UK cities).
That’s not to say all the work is done for these universities — brand authority is always a work in progress and your name alone won’t keep you relevant and recognised in today’s world. However, with this clear leg-up, how can other universities build a sense of authority? How can smaller, newer, lesser-known universities be more thoughtful in how they build their brand? Here are some of the areas you need to be looking at.
Choose your niche and identify your differentiators
It’s important to determine what, specifically, you want to be known for. Being a generalist can often mean getting lost in the noise, so you need to find your niches. Although it’s possible to be great at everything, it’s difficult to be known for everything.
The first step we usually take here at The Brand Education is to conduct some perception research. We gauge your current brand perception amongst your many stakeholders and align it to what you want to be known for. In other words, what spaces you want to build brand authority in, the results you want to achieve and the experiences you want to provide people with.
We highly recommend starting here, because once you have a clear idea of what you want to lead in, you can build a solid strategy to make that happen.
At The Brand Education we’ve worked closely with universities like Durham University, the University of Aberdeen and University of Wollongong to discover their distinctiveness. If you’re interested in learning more about yours, give us a call.
Build a strategy and live your strategy
Brands with authority have a clear trajectory for growth – they know who they are and they’ve mapped out how to get there.
Be intentional with your strategy and develop an identity, promise, and set of goals that your audience will resonate with. What are your mission, vision and values? Do they align with the areas you want to grow in as a thought leader, and the expertise you have on board?
Audiences are well in-tune with brands by now; it’s clear to them which universities have taken a considered approach to their communications, and which feel muddled and confused.
It’s also clear who is authentically living their strategy — those who are walking the walk, not simply talking the talk. Once your strategy is in place, ensure you have the buy-in from your staff and stakeholders, securing a brand personality that can be consistently seen and felt across every touchpoint.
Know your audience
When was the last time you conducted some audience research?
Knowing your community is the key to getting them on board with your brand. By gathering data on your audience, you get to know their likes, dislikes, pain points and preferences, and incorporate this information into your communications.
When people can resonate with and feel supported by an institution, they begin to trust it more and more. Even subject experts won’t get anywhere without first identifying who they’re talking to and how they’re talking to them.
When you focus on building relationships, rather than simply putting information out into the ether, your brand authority will begin to grow.
Keep a consistent brand presence, voice, and visual
Consistency builds trust, and with trust, comes authority. Keeping your brand presence, voice, and visual synchronised across channels establishes a strong and cohesive sense of self that audiences feel safe around. Audiences are more likely to remember you, and come looking for your opinion on topics or guidance in a certain area.
Conversely, inconsistencies in brand, whether internally or externally, can be damaging to reputation and trust. You don’t have to be perfect, but it is important to share these expectations across university departments so that everyone understands the value of singing from the same hymn sheet, and has access to the latest brand assets and guidelines.
Use the right platforms, well
Today, there are an infinite number of ways to share content — but it’s impossible (and unhelpful and time-consuming) to use them all. The trick lies in knowing what platforms to use and using them well.
Once you’ve identified your niche and gathered your audience data, you have the opportunity to assess which platforms and channels will be your most valuable (online and offline).
However, don’t rush to use them. Even the right platforms won’t show you results if you use them haphazardly. To increase your brand authority, you need to use them strategically. Consider what type of content will work best on what channel, what social media platforms you should be on, and how to create a content strategy that works for your audience and the algorithm.
On the topic of social media, if you think you’d benefit from upskilling your team, or learning how to get the most out of your channels, call us for a free thirty minute chat — our social media workshops for HE will help take your brand to the next level.
Establishing strong brand authority is great for retaining your audience. Generating a new audience base, however, is slightly trickier. For universities, this might mean finding ways to establish brand authority with a new generation of students (locally and internationally), or a new realm of academia.
The key is to stay relevant.
Make sure you keep on top of the latest trends and topics within your industry, and place yourself in the centre of current conversations with confidence. Whilst evergreen content is valuable, being an authoritative voice within the industry means adapting with the times and continuing to stay ahead of the curve. This might mean using current affairs to inform part of your content, or trialling new ways of sharing content.
How about making a guest appearance on a related podcast? (Not that we have one, or anything…).
Think outside the box and blaze your own trail
Finally, despite a growing number of competitors, every university has its own unique edge. Don’t forget, your institution is full of experts and students with original experiences, stories and bodies of work. To achieve true brand authority, think creatively about how you can work together to blaze your own trail in the industry.
If you’re interested in developing your university’s brand, The Brand Education is here to support you. Contact us today.