We higher ed marketers spend most of our time focusing on brand messaging — the things we communicate on websites and in viewbooks. And brand messaging is important. But for good or bad, your higher ed brand positioning is the result of the thousands of interactions that people have with your institution, not just what you say in your marketing materials. It’s a result of the educational experience in the classroom, the experiences of students in the residence halls, and even the t‑shirts that your local alumni wear in the community.
For prospective families, your most important brand communication is the campus visit. This is where prospective students and their families decide if the experience you’re actually delivering matches the brand promise you’re making in your marketing materials. I’m not talking about customer service. (But, that’s really important too!) I’m talking about the experiences that do — and don’t — reinforce your brand.
As a marketer, it’s important that you understand the experiences of people who are visiting your campus for the first time. What do people see and hear that reinforces your brand messages? What do they see and hear that is inconsistent? Spend some time looking around the welcome center. Go on a few tours. Attend a few information sessions for prospective parents. Look around the residence halls that are included in the tours. And ask yourself the following questions:
1. What are the top three takeaways from our official presentation? Are they the top three brand messages you want to communicate?
2. Is the tour guide’s communication on-brand? What messages is the tour guide sending that are consistent with your brand messaging? Inconsistent?
3. What is being communicated in the common areas of the admission office? Does your signage reflect your key brand messages? If there are photos of your campus, what do they communicate about the experience of being there?
4. What messages do families get when they visit the residence hall? What do the informal signs on the message boards say about your campus?
If the messages conveyed in the campus visit are inconsistent with your brand strategy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change the campus visit message.
But you may need to ask which one’s right.
Want to learn more? We recently published a white paper that explores the specific challenges of higher education branding and gives you strategies for clearing the most common hurdles.