We’ve joined the Carnegie team! Find out more.
Alert Close close
What’s The Goal? Brand Strategy in a world of competing objectives


What’s The Goal? Brand Strategy in a world of competing objectives

Jul 15, 2014By mStoner Staff

Talk about the culture of higher ed for a few minutes, and someone is guaranteed to use the word “silo”. It’s usually assumed that silos exist because people from different divisions and colleges on the same campus do not understand each other or each others goals. If people across campus would just talk to each other more, the silos would go away.

But it’s not a dislike of teamwork that causes the silos. Or a lack of interest in what other people are doing.

In my opinion, silos exist because different groups are trying to accomplish different objectives.

[Tweet “#highered silos exist because different groups are trying to accomplish different objectives — @debmaue”]

Experience tells me that few people in higher ed are working toward clear and measurable objectives. This isn’t a criticism — much of the work that higher ed folks do is very difficult to quantify.

But even those who have clear objectives are not necessarily working toward the same objectives as the person in the office next to them. Here are five sample objectives from various divisions on your campus:

  • Increase enrollment (Enrollment Management)
  • Increase alumni affinity (Alumni Relations)
  • Increase donations (Development)
  • Maximize current student satisfaction and well-being (Student Affairs)
  • Increase graduation rates (Academic Affairs)

In my experience, it’s next to impossible to get agreement from a group of people when they’re all trying to meet different objectives. An initiative that works toward one objective may not work toward another. For instance, if I’m interested in increasing donations to the institution, an alumni giving campaign would be a great way to achieve my goal. But if my goal is alumni affinity, asking alumni for money may not help my cause.

And because most people would prefer to avoid difficult conversations, the discussion of objectives is often glossed over. It’s treated as a detail. And the result is a difficult (and sometimes impossible) decision-making process.

So what does this have to do with higher ed brand strategy? A lot. With so many people working against different objectives, it can be difficult to get agreement on an articulation of the institution’s brand. Without a clear articulation of objectives, brand strategy teams often try to make everyone happy, in the desire to get to agreement on a brand articulation. And they often end up with a brand that doesn’t really mean anything because it’s trying to be all things to all people.

How do you make it easier to gain agreement to a brand strategy? Start with a discussion of the objectives. Yes, an institutional brand has to work for many audiences. But who are your most important ones? (Hint: the ones who pay the bills, namely prospective students and donors are usually high on the list.)  Don’t move forward until you’ve got a prioritized list of your audiences that you can refer back to when the brand strategy discussion get difficult.

Is it an easy conversation to have? Not always. But it will make the process of defining and articulating your brand much easier and more effective in the long run.


Higher education branding doesn’t have to be difficult. By understanding the unique dynamics — and the potential pitfalls that can arise – you can create a process that ensures that you get buy-in for a compelling brand positioning that will capture the unique story of your institution.

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.