Oct 21, 2019
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How Can California Colleges Raise Brand Awareness?

I’m currently working on a major project for my marketing class, and I’ve decided to focus on branding for local California colleges and universities. What are some ways that colleges and universities can raise brand awareness? 

Colleges and universities are like any other business: they must market and promote their institution in order to increase the number of enrollees and applicants. They also face the challenge of standing out in the crowd of other universities competing for the “business” of local students.

Raising brand awareness can be challenging for colleges simply because of the nature of their business. There are no products to show off, you can’t give out “free samples” of a college education, and the high cost of tuition requires students to put a significant amount of time into the decision-making process.

Implementing creative decorative signage throughout the campus is a simple but effective way to get the college’s name in front of more faces. It will also play a key role in student acquisition. It’s important to remember that today’s students pay close attention to branding, and they want their college to have an identity that they can relate to.

When touring the campus, the signage will be the first impression potential students will get, so it’s a critical component of the institution’s brand strategy.

Signage does more than just create visual appeal – it also plays a role in establishing the college’s level of professionalism. 

For example, if wayfinding signage is poor, students may think that the campus is disorganized and unprofessional. Outdated signage may also give the impression that the college’s curriculum is also outdated. 

Without any signage at all, the college may be viewed as unwelcoming.

It’s important to map out the school’s signage ahead of time. All signs should work together to create a cohesive brand experience. This means using the same colors and styles for wayfinding signage as well as signs for events and college promotion.

Although signage plays a major role in building brand awareness and improving enrollee levels, there are other ways colleges can achieve these goals.

One important thing is to develop an online presence, and to ensure that the college’s identity transcends the physical campus. More students are choosing to take courses online. If a college bases its identity on its mild climate and modern campus, it will fail to appeal to students who are taking online courses from thousands of miles away. 

Building an identity with no physical limitations ensures that the college can remain competitive in an increasingly crowded sector. 

It all starts with the college’s website. The website should make use of the college’s logo as well as its colors. The design, theme, language and overall flow of the site should be cohesive with the brand’s identity. 

Students should be able to instantly recognize that they are on the college’s website. Creating a seamless experience across the website, social channels and on campus is crucial.

Part of establishing an online presence is finding ways to reach potential students where they spend the most time online. This means being focused on social media marketing as well as content marketing. 

Students spend a large chunk of their time on social media platforms, and they expect brands – including colleges – to be on social media as well. A well-developed social media marketing strategy will help colleges build brand awareness while growing their following and engaging with their audience.

Additionally, colleges should be creating original content in the form of blogs, articles and videos. Video content is especially appealing to younger audiences.

Today’s students crave authenticity, so all of the content colleges create – and this includes their signage – should be authentic. One way to do this is to get students involved in the content creation process. Whether it’s blog posts, video interviews or artwork, student-created content can go a long way in improving a college’s authenticity while building their brand identity. 

Modern students also expect brands to be interactive. They expect to be heard, and they expect brands to learn from their feedback. Establishing a genuine connection with students via social media and on campus is important.

Oxford University, for example, is highly active on their Twitter account, and they interact with both students and prospective students. They’ve even developed their own hashtags (#OxOpenDays and #PuntingOnTheCam) that encourages students to post updates and images. The development of unique hashtags can help build brand awareness, and they can be promoted across all marketing materials and campus signage as well.

Another way to build brand awareness as well as student acquisition is for the college to showcase its success. With so many colleges competing for the attention of potential students, it can be difficult to stand out in the crowd. 

One way to stand out is to show potential students and their parents that the college is worth attending and will make a difference in the student’s future life. By promoting the school’s high graduation rates, it speaks well for the professors, advisors and the courses. And this is a strategy that can be repeated every year with new and updated statistics. 

Colleges can also showcase successful students as part of their brand-building process. It’s important to show potential students what the school’s alumni are doing now that they are out in the workforce. 

Another way to get students through the door and promote brand awareness is to encourage students to sit in classes before enrolling. Offering such promotions is another reason why it’s so important for campuses to ensure their signage is on point. In addition to student tours, the campus must also accommodate students sitting in on classes through proper wayfinding signage. 

Many colleges offer the opportunity to sit in classes, but only a few promote it extensively. However, it’s a worthwhile venture to promote this offering, as it gives high school students the chance to see what their future classes and campus life will be like. 

Virtually every college promotes tours, but promoting class sit-ins can also entice students and make them feel more comfortable enrolling.

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