In our recent blog discussing four things hurting your higher ed marketing, we mentioned that while much has changed over the past eight years in the world of higher ed marketing, there are a few things that have stayed the same. One thing that has remained unchanged over these years is the importance of having a consistent brand strategy. For colleges and universities, your brand is your narrative; it tells people who you are and what you’re about. But have you ever read a story with no consistency? It sucks. We know that sticking to a plan seems hard. Did you stick to that workout plan you made back on January 1st? Probably not. Unlike sticking to healthy habits, building a consistent brand strategy isn’t hard, and once you’ve succeeded in doing so, your school will reap the benefits.
First, let's talk about brand consistency and how it's measured. Your brand is how your audience views your university. Maybe your school is known for having an excellent fashion program. Or maybe your school is best known for having a superior athletics program. One of the best definitions of brand comes from Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO:
"Brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room."
Now, let's think about Bezos' quote in terms of consistency. A university with an inconsistent brand strategy has one person saying one thing about it while another person is saying something completely different. This collection of competing opinions doesn't bode well for that university's future. A university with a consistent brand strategy will generate similar responses from everyone and, hopefully, these responses will be positive. If you want your brand to tell a compelling story, your story needs to be cohesive. In an article, Mighty Citizen stated, "For a university or college, brand consistency means that every interaction your school has with its audiences — students, parents, staff and faculty, etc. — springs from the same, agreed-upon set of messages." When all of your university's communications coincide, your brand is consistent, and when your brand is consistent, your university thrives.
When I say your higher ed institution will thrive from building a consistent brand strategy, what exactly does that mean? It means three things:
- You'll build trust. Having consistency in your branding will create trust between your university and your audience. Consistency shows that you've put thought and effort into your organization, giving you credibility. People can expect something from your brand and know that you will deliver each time.
- You'll be understood. Along with building trust, consistency creates an understanding between your school and your audience. This cohesiveness reduces cognitive strain surrounding your messages and allows your audience to understand you better. They won't need to think about who you are, they'll already know.
- You'll communicate more efficiently. This one goes hand in hand with the second point. Communication that's consistent is more easily interpreted, and is ultimately more effective.
Now you're probably wondering, "How do I go about building a consistent brand?"
Determine your brand and stick to it. Already have a brand? Great! If you don't, then the first and most important step to building a consistent brand is to identify yours and actually stay with it.
Find your voice. Now that your university has a vision and a story, establish the messaging and tone to go along with it. Determine how you want your university to be distinguished from others. Do you want your tone to be playful and fun? Personal and friendly? Informative and professional? Decide on a tone and maintain it. Ultimately, you want your messaging, tone, and visuals to paint the same picture for your audience.
Spread the word. The hardest part of building a consistent brand is making sure that all areas of your institution are on the same page. Educate all parties on your brand, messaging, and goals so that everyone at your college can represent your brand perfectly.
Let's take a look at some of the colleges that are doing this whole "brand consistency" thing right.
- Dartmouth - After exploring Dartmouth's many social platforms, I decided to include them as an example for their dedication to aesthetic. Across their platforms, they keep a consistent friendly yet professional tone and their messaging coincides nicely. I was most impressed by the simplicity and beauty of their website and Instagram accounts, which both showcased gorgeous imagery to accompany their messaging.
- West Virginia University - If you take a look at WVU's social accounts, you'll quickly find that their brand is quite relatable and a lot less stiff than many college brands. Their use of memes and emojis shows their fun personality, and their content remains engaging yet informative.
Building a consistent higher education brand is not easy, but it is definitely worth it. Even with the perfect branding, a university's enrollment won't see positive results unless that brand is instilled in the minds of their audience. So take our advice - create a consistent brand strategy and watch your university flourish.
Now that you know all about building a successful and consistent brand, it's time to put your knowledge to the test. Download our free checklist below to find out how to start a successful Inbound Marketing campaign at your university.