Education is a hugely competitive market. Now more than ever, universities, colleges and training providers need to nurture their brands and build awareness to make sure they stay one step ahead of the competition and connect with students in a meaningful way.
Digital presents enormous opportunities and can be considerably more successful and cost-effective than traditional marketing routes. Adopting a digital-first mindset and leveraging the channels, techniques and technology available in a targeted way, can help improve brand knowledge and attract students that you would not have had access to before.
In this article, we explore 6 ways digital technologies can help build brand awareness and as a result, entice students towards your institution.
1) Go multi-channel
While it’s essential to have a well-designed and fully-optimized website, there’s a host of other channels that will help put your brand in front of students.
It may seem obvious to use many channels in a campaign, but many organizations aren’t doing it. Only 14% of marketers currently adopt a multi-channel approach in their marketing efforts despite 72% of consumers saying they would rather connect with brands and businesses through a variety of channels.
A word of warning before you begin using other channels is to make sure any content created is suitable for a range of platforms. This ensures you get the most out of the platforms themselves but are also resonating with the right audience on the right social network.
Bearing that in mind, develop content that will have an impact across a spectrum of networks such as Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat and Instagram along with blogs and industry publications. These will not only perform better but will expand your digital reach in a significant way.
To ensure your content packs a punch across all channels, it needs to be compatible. For instance, the content you create must lend itself to a visual platform like Pinterest as well as real-time interaction on Twitter.
2) Plan your positioning
When it comes to branding, it’s crucial to consider where you want to place yourself in the market.
So, think about how you want students to perceive you. Understanding student perception will require working backwards to find out how people view the image of your institution, starting with staff, current students and alumni. Once you've collated your data and gained a deeper understanding of perception, you can carve out a clear path of where you need to go and the changes required.
A great example of an educational institution with a strong brand identity is the University of San Francisco (USF). A Jesuit Catholic university, USF sports a mission statement that speaks of morality, inclusion, and the continual pursuit of diversified education, sticking to their core values with every piece of digital content, advertisement or campaign it produces.
It uses the power of social media to tell its story by adopting an active, humorous narrative, the USF taps into the interests of its target students and showcase its commitment to its mission statement. One of the USF's most successful channels is Instagram with a total of 12.8 thousand followers and an average of around 450 engagements per post.
3) Consider collaborations
For many students, the value a certification or qualification has on their future career is of great importance. As a result, building bonds with influential companies in an industry that may bring gravitas will demonstrate a focus beyond a course and onto a new job or flourishing career. In the modern age, the ability to offer value far beyond the norm holds the keys to success.
In the UK, the cost of an undergraduate degree is around to £9,250 a year - and to continue to attract bright young students, universities must prove their worth to by forging strong relationships with graduate employers.
With a desire to gain the loyalty of quality applicants for its graduate scheme, UK retail colossus Marks & Spencer teamed up with universities across the UK to get the right kind of candidates through its doors. One of its most valuable partnerships is with the University of Leeds. Initiated 5 years ago, the partnership has generated more than 100 paid work opportunities for students and made more than £1m in research funding.
4) Get buy-in from senior staff
It's important to understand that the brand image you choose to portray is the impression you are giving out to the wider world, which means it must have buy-in from senior staff - otherwise, you won't be able to see it through to completion.
As the realms of higher education can be very traditional, steps may need to be put in place to make sure each member of staff understands the reasons behind a brand campaign or the use of new channels for promotion.
To get the buy-in you need to push things forward; you will first need to collaborate with your colleagues to form a viable plan, before holding a meeting or presenting a proposal to the institution's senior staff. When you do so, consider:
- What your core intentions are.
- How the campaign will benefit the students involved in your organization.
- The ways in which the project will fit with existing policies.
- The amount of time that you expect various staff members will need to spend on the project.
- The additional resources you will need to implement your plans
- Start and end dates or a timeline of the changes and campaign or campaigns.
- How these new initiatives will give you a competitive edge on the competition, using stats, numbers and working examples.
5) Use clever messaging
A fresh tagline can do wonders for an old brand. By brainstorming and thinking outside the box, it's possible to launch a campaign that makes potential students stop in their tracks, take notice and view your institution in a whole new light to drive engagement.
Understanding the necessity of a brand revamp, Michigan State University launched a new tagline that is not only sharp, short and catchy but embodies the institution's core values in the process.
This particular tagline gives room for the evolution and growth of all the university by expressing the future potential of its students as well as promoting a sense of community togetherness. Another reason this particular tagline works so well as its concise nature lends itself to social hashtagging, which in turn, has helped expand the institution's social reach significantly.
To date, Michigan State University has 210,000 followers on its main Twitter page alone, and it's growing fast.
6) Take a stance
To make sure your brand is representative of what your institution stands for connects with potential students on a deeper level, it’s key to decide how you want to be seen in the eyes of the public - your USP if you will.
Are you a university or college that can link graduates to fruitful career opportunities? Are you a training provider with an industry aligned certification that is both flexible and accessible? In short, know your strengths as an organization and capitalize on them.
An excellent example of an educator taking a particular stance regarding the value they strive to offer their students is Chicago's DePaul University. By using its various social media channels to connect with its potential and existing student body to help give them viable solutions to their real-life problems, the institution enhanced its engagement and created itself a strong, sustainable brand image.
The university quickly realized that finding jobs, especially straight out of college, was one of its students' most common concerns. Armed with this information, DePaul used Twitter and LinkedIn to offer information about job application processes, resume building workshops, campus job openings and real-time answers to a range of questions.
By adopting this approach, DePaul has grown its online presence and crafted out a valuable image as a problem solver for students.
In conclusion, education is of vital importance to the younger generation. Skills are key in today’s ever-changing work environment and to attract the right candidates to your institution, building brand awareness is vital. If executed well, it can help you tap into new markets and establish your institution as an education leader.