3 keys to successful campus branding

Why creating visual identity resources supported by technology infrastructure is key to 21st century college and university branding.

In order to survive and thrive in today’s oft-cutthroat student admissions competition, creating a visual identity for your academic institution should beabout more than simply adopting a few generic best practices for campus outreach and communications. At its core, any initiative should also represent a campaign for university-wide cohesive branding, one that allows administrators and educators to proactively manage a school’s representation while empowering its constituents.

Thus, while the practical end goal for your campaign might be to create a unified “look or feel,” in the broader picture, the true aim of adopting an integrated visual identity should be to create a loyal community of stakeholders—including students, professors, and staff—and to differentiate your institution from its competition by leveraging technology infrastructure.

Here are three considerations to follow:

1. Get Campus Buy-In

Alina Wheeler, branding expert and author of Designing Brand Identity, notes that “a strong brand stands out in a densely crowded marketplace. People fall in love with brands, trust them, and believe in their superiority.” This is just as important to educators and administrators as it is to private sector marketers. Student and staff buy-in is vital to an educational community’s success, and can be measured both at the level of classroom engagement and through annual enrollment numbers.

Recognizing the essential role cohesive branding plays both online and offline in our current educational landscape, many institutions have begun adopting more overt visual identity initiatives. However, for most schools, these campaigns amount to little more than a list of dictums, which departments and programs often adopt haphazardly, leading to scattershot representation—including materials that may, on occasion, even violate campus copyright agreements.

(Next page: Open access and technology infrastructure are critical)

2. Open Access to Materials

It is an unfortunate reality that most leading universities do not provide easy access to institutionally approved branding materials if they provide any access at all. When they do, often what is offered amounts to little more than a small cache of logos and advisements on fonts or color palettes. While these may be helpful to programs assembling letterhead or event flyers, there is a much larger opportunity for unified branding that institutions are missing.

In our multi-mediated, digital media era, marketing and outreach materials are completely saturated with visual imagery, including photographs and videos. Without a centralized, institution-wide repository of stock resources, many departments and programs are left to fend for themselves.

The standard educational media request workflow (i.e. sending emails for locating content and obtaining permission to access) hardly matches the creative realities of the academic environment—thus encouraging users to circumvent visual identity policies. This represents not only sunk time and effort for the individuals creating materials from scratch but also a fatal weak link in a campus’s branding initiative. Without the opportunity for review and quality control, the effect of a school’s so-called “unified” identity is greatly diminished.

3. Incorporate Technology Infrastructure

The solution, of course, is a renewed investment in campus-wide technological infrastructure. While many institutions invest heavily in their media resources, hiring expensive photographers and videographers or licensing high-end design services, they are sorely lacking in the technologies and platforms that will give them the greatest return on their investments.

Providing an easily and universally available, centralized, one-stop searchable repository of digital media, at the top of the creative funnel, strengthens an institution’s branding initiative while also saving its administrators and staff precious time and energy.

More to the point, the quality-controlled visual consistency provided by such infrastructure will ultimately be what separates the wheat from the chaff as branding, whether initiated by current students or driven by Admissions offices, becomes even more vital to institutional success in the Digital Age. With a rise in for-profit and online degree programs, as well as an increasingly aggressive market for traditional higher educational institutions, a coherent and unified brand story is the key to cutting through the noise of the competition.

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