Building a brand is integral to any university marketing strategy.
But what should the architecture of your brand look like?
Should you have one big branded university or several smaller colleges and departments with their own unique brands?
It’s not that simple, of course. There’s a wide spectrum of possibilities in between a strict branded house and a free-range house of brands.
First, let’s look at what the terms “branded house” and “house of brands” mean. Then, we’ll dive into why either approach might not be ideal, and talk about a new approach for building a university brand architecture.
Branded House Vs. House of Brands
The terms were introduced by David Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler along with the Brand Relationship Spectrum for businesses.
At one end, there are corporations like Apple and BMW who use a branded house approach. When you buy an iPod or a BMW 1 Series, you’re actually buying an Apple product or a BMW model.
The parent brand has more mindshare than the individual brand.
At the other end, there are corporations like Proctor and Gamble. When you buy Tide detergent or a Gillette razor, you don’t really think about the fact that those brands are owned by P&G.
The individual brand has more mindshare than the parent company.
Of course, it’s called a spectrum for a reason. For most brands, it’s not an either/or proposition. They tend to fall somewhere towards each end without being completely in either camp.
For higher education, a branded house approach is generally preferred, because it’s more efficient to invest in one centralized brand rather than devoting time and resources to multiple brands.
Why a Branded House Can Be So Challenging
It can be pretty tricky to achieve a truly branded house approach for a university, though.
Universities tend to be highly decentralized. Each program, school, or department has its own budgeting needs and recruitment concerns.
Building a brand strategy for a university is complex because the college or university itself is complex. They tend to be multi-pronged and wide-ranging in their goals and needs.
That’s why many universities tend to lean towards the house of brands end of the spectrum. Without a central strategy in place, the individual programs tend to organically gravitate to developing their own brands.
For many, it’s a default option rather than a conscious choice.
It’s not necessarily bad or wrong, but it can be inefficient.
So, a branded house approach is difficult and a house of brands approach is inefficient.
Is there another option?
A New Approach to Higher Ed Brand Architecture: Treating Colleges More Like Cities Than Corporations
The Brand Relationship Spectrum was developed to talk about the marketing strategies of businesses. Likewise, the idea of a branded house or house of brands mostly applies to corporate marketing strategies.
Although universities and colleges share some characteristics with businesses, they aren’t corporations.
They’re more like cities.
Like a city, or municipality, universities are multifunctional. They deal with public safety, sanitation, and recreation. They serve the public.
Cities have diverse neighborhoods, but if you ask someone to describe the city as a whole, they probably won’t have much trouble doing that. The neighborhoods have their own flavors, but the city as a whole has a cohesive brand.
A brand is based on the DNA of the company, institution, or city. It represents who they really are, which in turn determines how they operate without requiring a strict centralized structure.
Rather than focusing on policing if the marketing approach is for a branded house or a house of brands, it might be better to focus on the vision of the university as a whole and how those individual departments and programs tie into that overarching vision.
That way, you can work on truly bringing the brand to life.
Building a brand architecture is essential to any university marketing strategy. Traditionally, that means aiming for a branded house or a house of brands approach.
It’s a useful starting point, but that traditional method puts universities in the category of corporations when they’re really more like cities. So, let’s think of them that way and use that as a starting point for building a new brand architecture.
This article is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Rob Zinkan, Associate Vice President for Marketing at Indiana University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.