Conversations about brand can feel abstract or theoretical — after all, brand is what you stand for in people’s hearts and minds. But defining your institution’s brand isn’t just a thought exercise — brands are ultimately about action.

Brand is about coordinating your actions.

Everyone at your institution must embrace your brand identity and live your brand promise. When you tally all the web content editors, newsletter authors, and communication professionals working in departments and units, you might find dozens (or even hundreds!) of different individuals communicating on behalf of your school, college, or university.

Coordinating the movements of everyone engaging with your target audiences is essential. Governance is not a word that immediately springs to mind when most of us think about brand, but outlining a plan for brand governance is a key aspect of managing brands in decentralized environments.

We at mStoner often compare brand governance to the sport of rowing — to move forward, every team member must trust and cooperate with one another. Rowers face the rear of their boat, so they must rely on the coxswain (that is, the navigator) to gain an understanding of both their current position and their destination. And no individual rower can consciously monitor all the activities occurring at once; instead each person must execute his or her own responsibilities concurrently with the team.

One other similarity between rowing and brand governance: Uncoordinated actions result in tremendous wasted effort. Even if your institution articulates a brilliant, convincing brand position, everyone must work in the same direction to propel your brand forward. A brand governance document outlines a strategy for coordinating the activities and actions of everyone at your institution who influences perceptions about your brand.

Brand is about persuading your target audience to take action.

An effective brand drives individuals to engage with you in meaningful ways: Whether it’s to visit, apply, attend, endorse, or support.

Strong brands motivate these actions by creating emotional connections between members of your target audience and your institution. Connecting on an emotional level builds trust and loyalty and encourages affiliation, which ultimately results in more inquiries, applications, and conversions.

Let’s turn to the topic of search engines for an example: Do you use your preferred search engine dozens of times every day, because you’ve recently conducted a detailed analysis and decided it’s the best search tool on the market? Or do you use that search engine because you trust and like it? “Trust” and “like” are feelings you have about the search engine. You may have started using it because of a useful feature, but over time, you’ve forged an emotional bond with that brand. Now you’re a loyal customer because of the positive feelings you have for the company and its services.

Likewise, successful education brands elevate an institution’s distinctive qualities, so they’re more than just attributes, features, or benefits. Storytelling is one of the most effective vehicles for changing minds and building emotional ties. In “The Storyteller’s Secret,” the neuroscientist Paul Zak writes, “A compelling story with an emotional trigger alters our brain chemistry, making us more trusting, understanding, and open to ideas.” Efficacious brands tell stories and use these “emotional triggers” to build the relationships and trust that are the foundation for future interactions.

Brand is about measuring action.

We’re accustomed to digital communication channels providing instant analytics about websites, social media campaigns, and email open rates. But your brand resides inside of people’s hearts and minds, and measuring your success is more complex than evaluating a click-through rate or measuring social reach.

Because no direct measure for brand perception exists, you must determine which combination of metrics will serve as a proxy for your institution’s brand effectiveness. Depending upon your goals, these metrics might include:

  • Attitudes and preferences assessed by audience research
  • Analysis of inquiries from prospective students
  • Event attendance
  • Website conversions
  • Applications
  • Yield numbers
  • Giving patterns

You will want to establish a consistent cycle for assessing progress toward your goals, so you can refine and redirect your actions.

Your brand is not an abstraction, and it’s not something you can manage passively. Putting your brand into action requires coordinating efforts, persuading target audiences to engage with you, and measuring the results.

Looking for more brand strategy guidelines?

Download my webinar, Realize Your Higher Ed Brand Strategy, to learn the elements of a solid brand framework, how market research informs your messages to key audiences, and how to implement your brand strategy with content, editorial, and marketing plans.

mStoner Staff

AUTHOR - mStoner Staff

mStoner, Inc. helps clients to tell their authentic stories by clarifying their unique brand value proposition, creating a content strategy to communicate the brand effectively, and implementing compelling and dynamic communications across the web, mobile, social media, print, and other channels. We focus on research, data, and results.

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