Importance of Brand on Recruitment Performance

© This article was reprinted from Recruitment and Retention Newsletter with permission by The National Center for Student Life, A Division of Magna Publications, Inc.
Written by Seth Odell

Brand messaging isn’t about why someone should go to your institution. It’s about why you should even be considered.

For instance, there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. More than 450 of them offer online MBA programs. Why should a student choose you over the others? In the minds of many students, higher education is a commodity. While you might offer a different value proposition that might not always be clear in the eyes of students. You need to tell them exactly why your brand and the experience you deliver are different.

A great brand requires big ideas, truly cross-channel integration, and a whole lot of hard work. It’s about delivering the right message to the right student at the right time, every time. It’s about how you look, feel, and sound whenever someone engages with your institution across the entire recruitment funnel. It’s about leveraging a unique mix of art and science to engage.

As reported by Inside Higher Ed, only in the past decade have higher education administrators generally recognized the importance of developing a brand strategy. Today, most higher education professionals understand that brand matters. Yet not many know how to effectively manage it. You can’t just be louder. You need to be different.

Your brand is more than your logo and colors.

It needs to tell students why you are special. It needs to establish a presence, and it needs to be repetitive to the point that it is recognizable. Creative concepts (art) that speak to your audience, coupled with data insights (science) that help you target and adjust your message, can be the catalyst that shapes your brand, and ultimately, drives your enrollment.

Your brand is not who you think you are. It’s who others think you are.

Blending in is boring, not to mention unproductive. Yet standing out can be challenging, especially for education marketers trying to distinguish a product that has attributes similar to many others out there. Differentiating your brand in meaningful and relevant ways is imperative, and a unique merger of art and science can help you succeed.

Your art—messaging and creative— needs to not only get someone’s attention, but also resonate as the foundation for initiating and building a relationship with your prospects. It needs to set the tone for the entire recruitment process.

A recent Gallup briefing concluded that many higher education brands are all too similar to each other. It found that “the mission, purpose, or vision statements of more than 50 higher education institutions share striking similarities,” making it difficult for students to differentiate the contenders. And, as new education models and a focus on results surface, it is no longer enough to try to differentiate your brand by “location, tradition, or student/faculty ratio.”

Rather, you need to offer up tangible outcomes as part of your brand identity. When assessing your brand’s reputation ask your team:

  • How targeted are our marketing communications?
  • Are we more commodity-driven in terms of the visuals and language we use?
  • Could someone misinterpret our mission for another college’s mission?
  • Do we articulate the real value we provide?
  • Can students easily compare and contrast our institution with others?
  • Do we talk about how we meet a student’s educational needs in a way that no other institution does?
  • What benchmarks set us apart?
  • Are we transparent about what students can expect?
  • Do we clearly define our competencies and how they align with our students’ goals?

As far as the science is concerned, qualitative and quantitative research can help you better understand how your target market perceives your brand and the impact your messaging is having on those who are listening. A formal data-driven research program that tests creative concepts and key differentiators empowers you. It allows you to adapt your marketing communications so you are reaching the right students with the right messages, and always at the right time.

Your brand isn’t cohesive because your brand isn’t truly integrated.

Far too many times we see  enrollment marketing campaigns that are not necessarily interconnected. Different promotions and messages produced by multiple vendors sprawl across different channels with very little uniformity. It can have a negative impact on your brand. It can cause confusion, not to mention it’s nearly impossible to measure your results.

An integrated agency of record can help you leverage art and science to impress, inspire, and improve. It can provide the creative acumen that gets students’ attention with the data you need to reconcile your campaign results.

Staying true to your brand is what creates the recognition and appeal that motivates a prospective student to take the next step with you. When your brand is integrated, it’s consistent, making it easier for prospective students to connect with you.

An integrated brand approach also creates deeper visibility, so instead of only seeing results from one channel or campaign at a time, you can understand them in terms of how they are working with, or in some cases against, your other channels and campaigns to promote your brand. This data also gives you an opportunity to better understand your ROI, costs, message effectiveness, traffic, and media mix on a deeper level so you can fine-tune along the way, making sure you are spending the right amount in the right places to build a truly cohesive brand.

When you eliminate the silo data approach in exchange for an integrated model that aggregates and connects all of your data through strategic attribution, you’ll be in the know. You’ll be able not only to target the best-performing channels, but you’ll see what your most engaging messages are (e.g., faith-based vs. convenience vs. program-specific vs. brand).

Your brand can differentiate you.

American jazz musician Eddie Harris once said, “No one remembers you for standing in the crowd. They remember you for standing out of it.”

An intelligent, integrated branding strategy that distinguishes your institution marries compelling creative with powerful data attribution. It combines campaigns that resonate with students and the necessary insight to help you understand the impact those campaigns are having on students.

This unique mix of art and science gives you the power to build and reinforce a brand that represents who you are—and one that students will believe in throughout their experience. It allows you to show your personality, and it helps you tell students why you are special. An integrated approach creates a brand that breaks through the noise so you can stand out and recruit the students you want amid the sea of 4,000 competitors.

Seth Odell is vice president of creative and marketing strategy for Helix Education. In a previous position at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), Seth was responsible for concepting, writing, and art directing SNHU’s national advertising efforts, including its heralded 2013 cross-country bus tour campaign.

© This article was reprinted from Recruitment and Retention Newsletter with permission by The National Center for Student Life, A Division of Magna Publications, Inc.
Posted on November 18, 2015

Kara Snyder

As the Director of Corporate Marketing, Kara brings nearly a decade of education marketing insights and experience to Helix Education. Before joining Helix, she worked in enrollment and affiliate marketing, undergraduate and graduate admissions, and student affairs. Kara earned her bachelor’s degree from Temple University.