Higher education is notorious for having a hard time developing effective marketing strategies. College branding tends to mean institutions using a tagline but the taglines all sound the same. Hence, it has the opposite effect. Some of these include “It starts here”, “Your journey starts here”, “Your future starts here”, or again “Innovation starts here”. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education found 88 generic college taglines and arranged them into a poem. Colleges and universities tend to use stock photos in their marketing collateral that all look alike (e.g. students on a quad or working in groups at the library).
The University of Missouri even created a page titled “College Brochure Clichés 101” on its website to highlight how higher education institutions all marketed themselves the exact same way while trying to stand out.
Institutions that want to truly stand out and market themselves effectively to prospective students should insist on both identity and image in their marketing strategies. They should also steer away from the obvious and marketing clichés.
The University of Vermont TV Commercial Example
Here is an example of a powerful 30 second video advertisement for the University of Vermont. It insists on both identity and image to show how the university is different from other institutions.
College Branding Through Identity
College identity refers to the history of the institution. These include major accomplishments, mission, vision, values, etc. Higher education institutions define themselves through their teaching, research, and service activities.
It is important for colleges and universities to make sure their identity transpires in their marketing strategy.
The University of Vermont is proud to be the 5th oldest university in New England and to be considered one of the original Public Ivys. It is also very proud to be the first American higher education institution to admit women and African Americans into Phi Beta Kappa honor society. From its early beginning, the university has shown exemplary commitment to diversity and social justice. The university was able to convey its identity of openness by dividing the screen. Multiple students from various backgrounds to form one face. This conveys a common and united message.
The video also does not talk about the university’s year of foundation. But it closes on the top of the entrance to the Billings Memorial Library, which was built in 1883. This alludes to the long history and tradition of academic excellence that make the University of Vermont what it is today.
What the students talk about highlights the multidisciplinary work that can take place at one of the best small research universities in the country. It also gives an idea of how important research is, what teaching might look like, and how it is supporting service of students “by standing up”.
College Branding Through Image
Targeted populations perceive institutions through college image. Most of the time, universities try to appeal to prospective students (although they have other target audiences such as alumni and donors). The image of a higher education institution is much more intangible. Research shows that prospective students are, above all, interested in academics (learning), amenities, location, and perceived social life.
In the video advertisement, students insist on how students can reinvent a complicated world and their different successes. This is connected to the academics (learning) piece. It makes it clear that the university is a strong choice in finding a place to learn and grow.
In addition, the video highlights that the university is located in the Green Mountains of Vermont. It shows a picture that reads “this is the place”. This is connected to the amenities and location of the university. It helps the prospective students get a sense of the setting at the University of Vermont. Various shots also show the library, classrooms, sports facilities, laboratory, and outdoor locations on campus.
Because the video is 30 seconds, it is difficult to touch on every aspect. However, at the end, it shows a group of students on the University Green that are having a group discussion. This shows a social aspects of the University of Vermont experience. They have a variety of other videos available and some of them insist more on perceived social life.