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Are ‘Marketing and Branding’ still Dirty Words in Higher Education, or Essential Survival Skills?

It wasn’t long ago that for many people in the Higher Education sector ‘brand development and marketing’ were seen as dirty words, something more associated with the corporate businessman, suited and booted, briefcase in hand, and a copy of the Financial Times tucked under his arm. This is such a stark contrast to the creative, nurturing, ‘anything goes’ environment which modern universities wish to promote that it causes many of the people in charge of recruitment, advertising, and outreach to baulk at the mere mention of the word. Surely something so commercial sounding just couldn’t and shouldn’t be applicable to a place of learning? Well, like it or not, to survive in the modern global education market, a strong brand and strategy is not only necessary, but crucial. Nailing a university’s brand could be the difference between its success and its failure. Besides, when you really think about it, brands and universities have a lot in common; powerful brands engage, inspire, and encourage, just like a successful educational institution!

The tide is gradually changing here in the UK. Successful universities need to think much more like businesses if they want to attract students and keep up with their competitors. The HE sector in the US are years ahead of the UK, they realised very early on that by treating their universities like corporations the road to running a successful institution with a much better rate of growth opened up and became much clearer. The Australian market is currently growing at a rapid rate for the same reasons, but here in the UK we’re playing catch up. With Uni fee’s now a pivotal factor in the competition for student places, a clever marketing strategy is key to staying on top. A profitable student loan market has emerged, tuition fees have been increasing and are set to increase even further. In a nutshell, this means that a lot more money is changing hands and expectations are much higher than ever before. Students are customers - with more than 130 universities in the UK all competing for their business. Not counting the competition from international institutions, the challenge is to present the best service and the most enticing brand to put bums on seats.

How can this be achieved? Well firstly, as with any business, targeting customers and finding out exactly what appeals to them is paramount. Purpose determines direction and researching what applicants want provides an obvious advantage. What aspects of the institution should be highlighted? What are the strengths? Can they provide great networking opportunities? A beautiful campus environment? High levels of graduate employability? Staff who are top academics and researchers in their field? The list goes on… A great campaign will capture the imaginations of hungry, ambitious minds and if they can encourage a prospective young academic to fall head over heels in love with a university, it will be incredibly difficult for anyone else to win them over. What must be remembered is that not only a lot of money, but a lot of time is at stake when students are faced with choosing a university. Most undergraduates, for example, will be investing the next three or four years of their lives into the university they choose, and will often be required to move to a new location away from their family and friends to attend it. This is a daunting decision for students and possibly the biggest choice they’ve ever had to make in their lives, certainly not the time to pick a university that looks ‘kind of alright’…

We know the importance of quality strategic marketing and having the right brand in HE makes. So with that established, the question now is how to pull it off… Universities need solutions that many different organisations can provide, from data, segmentation tools, software solutions, market research, digital marketing initiatives, social media, marketing automation and more. Embracing change and searching for cutting edge solutions is the only way that universities can ensure that they aren’t left behind. The sad reality is that institutions who don’t embrace these new developments in the market will simply disappear.

Here at Outbound Solutions we provide the bridge between Higher Education institutions and the expert specialist HE service agencies who can give them exactly what they need for ultimate success and growth. We’ve work with many companies who provide incredible services to the Higher Education sector and deliver solutions that give institutions the edge against their competitors. We help universities to find great services, and we help the companies providing them to secure fantastic business opportunities. The rewards gained by these symbiotic relationships that we establish are immeasurable and we take great pride in the part we play in the exciting and growing sector.

By Elisha Aylmore - Outbound Solutions

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