5 fundamental truths about reputation and branding

5 fundamental truths about reputation and branding Helsinki 2019

Reputation and branding are the pillars of attracting the right students, competing for resources and strengthening your institution. But what is the difference between reputation and branding, and what do you need to do to create and sustain a good reputation and a strong brand? Start with these five fundamental truths, and dive deeper at the workshop at EAIE 2019 in Helsinki.

Over my last 30 years studying and working in higher education marketing, I have witnessed that perhaps the most misunderstood concept is that of branding the institution and building its reputation. Most believe it is just an extension of advertising and ‘getting the word out.’ Others think it is a logo or slogan that will grab people’s attention.

But branding and reputation are much more than that. For the uninitiated or those working to get back to basics, let these five fundamental truths guide you in marketing your institution.

1) Brand and reputation are not the same thing

Your reputation is a building block for your brand. Reputation may be linked to your rankings, your placement rates of students in careers, or the expertise of your faculty, to name a few.

Your brand is the result of consistency of message and action over time. It is the promise you make to your constituents, and when executed well, is part of your reputation.

2) Branding is not something you do to a cow

A brand is not a logo, a slogan or something that is changed with every new ad campaign. It is authentic to your institution, relevant to your audience and distinctive in the marketplace. It is what you promise the market, what you are known for, and it should be enduring. You may be the fourth in ranking in Europe but the first in the minds of students attracted to a university known for applied technology, for instance.

Communicating a brand position that is not authentic to the institution can destroy your brand and reputation. In a world of social media and interconnectedness of markets, it does not take long for the world to get the message that the student experience or academic profile is not what you may claim it is. People will always believe their friends and relatives over you.

3) It is not about you – and yet it is

A strong brand is authentic to the institution, part of its DNA. However, it is also based on research of your audience. What you choose to build your brand around should be what is important to your audience and distinctive in the marketplace.

What you think is important to your brand may not be important to a student. Having Nobel laureates on the faculty, for example, certainly can help your reputation and attract graduate students, but likely has little impact on attracting an undergraduate population.

4) If you are not managing your brand, someone else will

Building your brand and reputation should be a result of a deliberate and research-based process. They both take time to establish. They are both a result of strategic decisions on how the university wishes to be positioned in the marketplace which remain consistent over time.

If your institution is not managing this process, your position in the market will be left up to third parties, which include your competition and/or the next generation of students. Do you really want your perception in the market to be left up to a seventeen-year-old on Snapchat?

5) It is often more difficult to live the brand than to create it

As mentioned earlier, a brand is the result of consistency of message and action over time. This means that not only do you continue to reinforce who you are as an institution, but every member of the faculty, staff and administration must reflect that brand in every interaction with students, parents or other constituents every minute of every day.

Your reputation may attract the student, but everything else closes the deal. This truth should be your basis for hiring, training and rewarding employees.

Reputation and brand building is difficult but not impossible. Like everything else in life, it takes time and effort but the results are worth it.

Tom Hayes
Williams College of Business, Xavier University, USATom Hayes is Dean at Williams College of Business, Xavier University, USA.