College enrollments have dropped for the seventh consecutive year1 and competition for students across all programs is fierce. So how is your university going to stand out and attract new students? The institutions that have best weathered the storm are those with a passionate belief in their core mission, a university-wide desire to fulfill a promise to its students and graduates, an easily identifiable brand and a comprehensive marketing strategy that pulls it all together. Here are a few ways to use your university brand to attract students:
Determine Your University Brand
Your brand is much more than your logo or colors, any fancy design elements, or even its mascot. It’s not a catchy tagline or a single campaign slogan. Rather it is the core of what you do and why you do it—and for whom. For some schools that mission is about its students going forth and positively impacting the world. For others, it’s about giving students the tools they need to build a worthwhile career.
Before you can attract students to your brand, you need to define it. Start with your mission statement, but don’t end there. Because so many institutions have similar goals, if you rely exclusively on that well-vetted statement, you could wind up sounding like every other school out there. Consider what makes your school truly unique and use a variety of tools to unearth the answers. Include interviews, focus groups and surveys. Conduct institutional and industry research. Gather all the data you can and then find a common thread. What is the promise your school makes and keeps? That’s your brand. From there you can create student personas and use them as a guide for all your marketing efforts.
Create University Brand Guidelines
Once you know your brand, make certain everyone else does too. Build brand guidelines. The more detailed the better. From the institutional voice to the font style, document your guidelines. And have a policy not only on how the institution should behave on social media, but also on how its employees can. Make certain everyone adheres to the rules you set. If they can’t, they can’t work at your school. It’s that simple.
Craft Messaging around Shared Values
The common thread you discovered when you determined your brand is now the centerpiece of your community—both virtually and in reality. Whether you send out an email, build a digital advertising campaign or simply post community culture images to Instagram, your messaging should consistently support your brand, highlighting the values you share with your stakeholders. You don’t want everyone to come to your school; only the right ones. When institutions try to be all things to all people, they stray from their core and wind up alienating the very people they want to attract.
Build Community Around Your University Brand
Social media platforms are powerful tools of aspirational branding and engagement. Communities on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn give your students and alumni a sense of belonging. They can also help you reach your future students and highlight what makes your school such a great place. Especially for online programs, it’s critical for you to connect with your students. The more they feel they belong, the more likely they’ll enroll, stay and succeed.
Email is another way to build community. Email remains one of the most effective tools for higher education recruitment and its opt-in component ensures that the people you reach actually want to hear from you. Keep your stakeholders in the know by communicating with them through regular greetings, campus updates and news blasts.
Engage with Your Audience
Social media also allow for two-way conversations. Don’t miss out. Engage with students, alumni and prospects. Like their posts. Retweet positive messages. Thank them for being part of the community. Share their user-generated content. The atmosphere you create online should be vibrate, active and engaging; one that will attract students to join in and learn more about your school, its students and your programs.
At ESM Digital, we start with “why” and build all our marketing campaigns from your authentic brand. Want to work with a digital marketing agency that believes in your mission as passionately as you do? Contact us today.