Effective branding or making HE too ‘corporate’?
By Dan Beynon
I promise that the start of this blog will be the only time I complain about spending last week in the incredibly beautiful but swelteringly hot city of Seville. It was at least 15 degrees hotter than my operating temperature and 42 degrees at 7pm. There. That’s it.
I was attending the EAIE conference along with over 6000 other HE types and once again the event was really busy, interesting and thought provoking. It’s a hive of activity with institutions busy signing trans-national partnership deals and you get a real impression of the truly international nature of Higher Education. That global quality must not be defeated by the recent referendum and trend to look inwards.
This year at both the CASE and EAIE conferences there was a lot of discussion around branding and brand development as well as the other constant – data and how to use it most effectively. It seems that institutions worldwide are paying a great deal more attention to the branding challenge in an effort to be distinct and differentiate themselves.
Setting a good example
Tere Daly (PVC – External Relations at Southampton Solent) and I delivered a presentation at EAIE on the brand work that we have recently completed together for Solent. We stressed the need for distinction and to move away from HE’s traditional imagery (sunshine, students, trees, laptops.) One observation that came from the floor was ‘does all this research and brand definition and development mean we forget the true role of Universities?’ The intimation was that this type of work makes Unis more corporate and cohorts more customers than students.
A distinctly different approach
My feeling here is that institutions must develop a more engaging and distinctive way of telling their own story. This is a very high priority for anyone in a marketing role in HE. That distinction is what will lead students to engage more with an institution. And one way of achieving stand out is to develop a brand essence and a look and feel that is personal to your University. This may well feel very different to some of the more traditional messages and imagery being used in the marketplace now.
On reflection I don’t think the issue is that Universities are becoming more corporate in their approach to branding and data as whenever we talk to students (and we do that a lot at SMRS) they mention the importance of the personal nature of the experience and the support they have at University.
Make it better
I think the reality is that when a University breaks free from the traditional visual guidelines and develops truly individual communications, then it’s simply doing better branding. When it uses data to facilitate more effective and appropriate personal communications then it’s doing better marketing.
It’s an improvement that some try and explain away as being ‘too corporate’ but that isn’t the real issue. The new brand at Solent is hugely distinctive, it stands alone without the name and the logo and is enjoyed by all stakeholders including students. It feels personal and makes traditional publications instantly recognisable. Importantly it’s a huge source of pride for everyone at the institution. You can have a look at the EAIE presentation here.