A Lesson for the Future

A Lesson for the Future

Building education brands to win the school fight

The future is now. Skype is the new language class, universities compete internationally and enrollment in Executive MBA programs is growing steadily.

In the past years higher education institutions, private ones in particular, have moved into a competitive market that is typical of the business industry. Unfortunately, when it comes to branding many educational institutions still have a tactical marketing mindset. The lengthy, organic brand-building process that has worked in the past is obsolete. Change happens too quickly. To succeed, educational institutions must be able to act on their opportunities promptly and precisely. How can branding help universities win the school fight?  

Finding a binding topic

Changing the logo of an institution will achieve as much as repainting a broken car with flashy colors. A convincing higher education brand must be built on a clear and consistent idea. In 2008, Babson College in Boston saw an opportunity to anchor its brand around the idea of entrepreneurship. The institution reshaped its curriculum, recruited leading entrepreneurs as faculty, hosted an annual conference on entrepreneurship and increased its offering of co-curricular activities. By „infusing the spirit of innovation into its academic programs“ Babson ranked first in entrepreneurship in the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2011.

Engaging with the entire classroom

The barriers to change are numerous. Deontological, political and cultural obstacles are likely to arise as the branding journey unfolds. To succeed, the branding journey must take everyone into account. Internal change can only occur if the institution’s dynamic and culture are considered. Start by addressing stakeholders (academics, professors, current and prospective students, alumni, parents, athletic teams, recruiters, etc.). Engage them early in the process with workshops, surveys and interviews. Evaluate and understand their interests and experiences. Most importantly, make sure that their insights are carefully considered. The goal is to craft an authentic brand position that will resonate across the board. 

Reaching beyond the school’s walls

Websites, brochures and business cards are the most visual part of the branding strategy. But they are only the tip of the iceberg. The experience that the institution offers is what truly shapes the way it is perceived. When working on the implementation of the brand, consider all relevant touch points (lectures, graduation ceremony, application process, alumni network, campus visits etc.). The Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, for example, tapped into the marketing power of its alumni and built a powerful network of 25’000 former students across 120 countries. The network is very active, and operates regionally. Each section coordinates social activities to keep the spirit of the school alive beyond the school’s walls.

The opportunities are endless but there is one golden rule: branding an educational institution should never be done at the expense of the quality of education that it offers. It is time to act today and define the binding idea that can move your entire organization to the next level. Exam times are coming and there will surely not be a passing grade for everybody.

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