White Papers
August 24, 2020

Branding for Higher Education

Branding for Higher Education 

1 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

INTRODUCTION As the higher education landscape continues to change rapidly, competition for student enrollment is at an all-time high. Now, more than ever, colleges and universities need to define their brands and differentiate themselves from the competition. One way to do this is through branding. Effective strategic planning and brand management require more than just traditional advertising, marketing or identity development; they require creativity, teamwork and dedicated resources. Institutions that craft, strategize around, and present a unified brand message achieve a competitive advantage in recruiting, retaining and building loyalty among their stakeholders because they consistently work to ensure that the environment they create, and each experience people have, fits squarely within that message. 

Today, one of the most effective forms of communicating your brand message is through social media. Unfortunately, for many colleges and universities, social media presents a challenge. For those who are able to capitalize on and master this extremely effective marketing tool, it presents a great opportunity. While some higher education institutions are social media and branding mavens, most lag behind and may only just be starting to address the need for a comprehensive branding strategy that utilizes social media. 

Colleges and universities must be innovative, intentional and tactical in their approach to building a powerful, visible brand. Their strategies must: (1) be data-driven; (2) acknowledge trends in higher education; (3) be informed by opinions of key stakeholders; and (4) harness the power of the internet and social media. These strategies must also incorporate the many factors that contribute to shaping an institution’s brand, which include its academic reputation, its athletics and extracurricular offerings, its location, and its list of distinguished alumni. Tapping into the power of the institution’s brand, and infusing it into all aspects of collegiate life, will create a unique and identifiable experience for stakeholders. A thoughtfully crafted and strategically implemented branding strategy will help an institution increase enrollment, alumni giving, and brand recognition – which will ultimately enable the institution to both attract and retain the world’s best and brightest minds. 

In 2017, branding isn’t just for brands, companies and celebrities; it’s for anyone and everyone who cares about what people think of them and who strives to grow in their respective industry and increase their sphere of influence. The time is now, and it is imperative that colleges and universities spend more time, energy and resources investing in their brand, increasing their branding efforts and communicating with prospective students and their decision influencers, or they will suffer the consequences of being left behind in the digital revolution. 

2 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

KEY QUESTIONS TO ANSWER: 

1. WHAT IS BRANDING? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT IN HIGHER EDUCATION? 

2. WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA? WHY IS SOCIAL MEDIA IMPORTANT IN BRANDING? 

3. KEY TRENDS IN HIGHER EDUCATION 

4. THE ENROLLMENT DECISION-MAKING PROCESS 

5. SOLUTIONS 

3 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

5 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

1. WHAT IS BRANDING? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT IN HIGHER EDUCATION? 

Branding: The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products. Entrepreneur’s Small Business Encyclopedia1 

You are your brand and your brand reflects what you stand for; it serves as your promise to the customer. In the world of higher education, the customer is the student; a fact that is often overlooked. However, what shouldn’t be overlooked is that today’s tuition payer can also be tomorrow’s donor, booster or brand ambassador for your college/university. Therefore, it is imperative that you identify students as customers and constantly deliver exceptional customer service, while simultaneously offering an education and an educational experience. 

Your brand also informs the customer of what to expect from you and articulates what sets you apart from your competitors. Your brand is aspirational in that it signifies who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. As such, it must strategically align with your college or university’s values and purpose. Whether your institution is faith-based like Texas Christian University, deep- rooted in historical tradition like Bethune-Cookman University, single-sex like Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles or Morehouse College, or world-renowned in a field of study like M.I.T. or Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, you must use your competitive advantage and infuse it into your band messaging. Each one of these institutions has taken what may be seen as a limitation by some, turned it into a positive, and used it to strengthen their brand. 

It is critical to have both a strong brand and an effective brand strategy. Your website, your promotional materials, your product, your logo and even your social media commentary communicate your brand to the outside world; which is why you must always be mindful of how you portray your brand. To help guide you in building and promoting your brand, Laughing Samurai recommends developing three essential brand statements to arrive at your brand: 

Vision Statement: Defines your long-term aspirations and explains why you’re doing what you’re doing and the ultimate good you want to achieve through your success. Think of your vision as the picture of where you ultimately want your work to lead you. 

Mission Statement: Defines the purpose of your company and the effect you intend to have on the world around you. It states what you do for others and the approach you follow to achieve the aspirations you’ve set for yourself, your organization, or your business. Think of your mission as the route you’ll follow to achieve your vision. 

Brand Promise: Summarizes the positive difference you deliver to all who deal with your organization. Internally, your business promise guides the development of all elements of your brand. Externally, it is translated into and presented as a motto or tag-line. 

Once you’ve identified your brand, you must then figure out how to deliver your brand message to the world, so you stand out among your peer institutions. Colleges and universities are egalitarian by nature. At most institutions, faculty and departments tend to receive equal recognition and 

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mention for their accomplishments and successes. Consequently, there is no real incentive for individuals or departments to go above and beyond the call of duty, and reaching agreement and gaining buy-in on the few things that set an institution apart from its competitors can be a huge challenge. Nonetheless, it is extraordinarily important and valuable for all parties to work together to determine the distinctive qualities of your institution. Once you define these qualities, you will be one step closer to finalizing your branding and marketing strategy. 

To inform your strategy, you should begin by answering the question, “Why do students choose to enroll in college?” Once you answer that question, ask the more specific question, “Why do students choose to enroll in MY college/university?” It may be because of your cost, location, program offerings or a host of other reasons, so asking these questions of various college/university stakeholders will lead to a variety of responses that will all be helpful as you define your brand. 

Per a recent survey by G/O Digital, career enhancement is the #1 driver for enrolling in school.2 To the average person, all colleges/universities are fundamentally the same: apply, attend, graduate, and then get a job – something any student can do at any higher education institution. So why should they choose to attend YOUR institution? 

Every school has at least one thing that sets it apart from its peers. These distinctive qualities may be location, history, athletics, subject matter expertise in a field of study, faculty experts on matters of social import, successful alumni or many other factors. The key is to identify what makes you different. When a college or university can identify its exemplary differentiating characteristics and clearly and consistently communicate them to their internal and external constituencies, exceptional results can occur. Not only will interest in your institution increase, but also, if faculty, staff and students believe that your institution’s distinctive qualities are authentic, they will buy-in and begin to share that message because it will resonate with them. Over time, the school’s ability to fundraise grows, more students become interested in attending, the number of positive media stories increases, business and community relationships prosper and the institution thrives, all because it has successfully established its brand. 

Traditionally, campuses were organized so that professors taught, students learned, alumni gave back and the administration, including the Board of Trustees, ran the day-to-day operations of the institution. However, with the increasing focus on “shared governance”, the traditional model doesn’t quite work anymore. In the shared governance model, faculty and staff share in the responsibility of influencing the business operations of the institution. As stated in an article by Gary A. Olson: 

“Shared governance is not a simple matter of committee consensus, or the faculty's engaging administrators to take on the dirty work, or any number of other common misconceptions. Shared governance is much more complex; it is a delicate balance between faculty and staff participation in planning and decision-making processes, on the one hand, and administrative accountability on the other.”3 

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Under the shared governance model, it logically follows that if stakeholders share in the responsibility of operating and governing the university, they should also share in the responsibility of branding the university so that it remains attractive, visible and viable. Yet, many faculty members are unaware of the power of social media, the importance of sharing key research findings and reports in a digestible manner and probably don’t know anything about Snapchat. All of this begs the question of how, then, can faculty and staff help to brand the institution, when they don’t even know where to start? Higher education administrators and faculty must learn how to aid in the branding process; they must be taught how to create content for websites and blogs and be educated on how to utilize social media platforms; they must also be encouraged to share information. For some, this may mean sharing links to their research findings on the university’s social media platforms or creating account profiles for themselves; for others, it may mean updating their section of the university’s web portal and engaging with prospective students and parents more frequently. These activities are critical to the institution’s success, so it’s important for institutions to invest time and resources into these instructional activities. 

Every college/university can be equated to a symphony or a band, with the goal of making beautiful music. Branding in higher education serves to place a microphone to the band that is comprised of the university’s faculty, staff and students so the people in the back can hear it clearly – and not, as some fear, change the sound. To borrow a line from the film “Drumline”, colleges and universities must live by the motto, “One band, one sound”, and that sound must be crisp, vibrant and loud enough for everyone to hear. To achieve this feat, branding must be infused into the college/university culture. Institutional stakeholders may be playing different instruments and making different sounds, but they must always be playing the same song at the same time. 

8 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

2. WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA? WHY IS SOCIAL MEDIA IMPORTANT IN BRANDING? 

Social media is a term used to collectively describe a set of tools that foster interaction, discussion and community, allowing people to build relationships and share information. In other words, it’s the process of using Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Vine and YouTube to show the world who we are, find out what’s going on and discover more about the world outside of our window, through our computers, laptops, tablets and mobile devices. 

Social media is important to branding because it allows brands, companies and individuals to interact and connect with customers, fans, partners, collaborators and potential customers in an instant. Thus, social networks have become an integral part of branding in higher education. Schools have Facebook pages; university presidents tweet; departments upload YouTube videos; and students Snapchat about everything from sporting events to the student government election. As the use of mobile devices becomes more pervasive, mastering, or at least having a working command of, these platforms is vital to branding success. 

According to the 2014 E-Expectations Report, which measures the online preferences of college- bound high school seniors and their parents, 9 out of 10 seniors and 8 out of 10 parents surveyed have access to a mobile device.4 Additionally, seventy-one percent (71%) of seniors and forty-five percent (45%) of parents noted that they have viewed college websites on their mobile devices.5 Further, 4 out of every 10 seniors indicated that they use Twitter, and nearly forty percent (40%) of those users follow a college or university on social media.6 G/O Digital commissioned a similar study that surveyed over 1,500 U.S. adults enrolled in either full or part-time classes. When asked about their interactions with schools on social media, thirty-two percent (32%) indicated that they followed colleges and career schools, including those they were interested in attending, on social media during their decision-making process. 7 

Although a significant number of people follow colleges and universities via social media, institutions using social media must be mindful of the fact that not all social media posts are created equally, especially when it comes to attracting prospective students. In a study conducted by the Digital Search for Education, fifty-two percent (52%) of students surveyed stated that the most important aspect of a college or career school’s social media presence is any post containing relevant information about educational programs the student is interested in pursuing.8 This means that while it’s great to post memes, a highlight from the big game, and other unique content, colleges and universities must always remember to post about their MOST important feature: academics. 

In the quest to differentiate, distinguish and demarcate the fine line between your institution and the more than 4,100 other colleges and universities, many schools mistakenly overlook, or gloss over, academics. Consequently, they bury the lead and, per the data, discourage prospective students from applying and attending. That is why it’s important for institutions to understand that utilizing social media doesn’t mean you must change who you are, it merely allows more people to see and hear who you are. 

9 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

A key benefit of using social media is that it enables your institution to rapidly and broadly disseminate information, which ultimately results in better outcomes in research and innovation. At any time, users can view results from a faculty member’s research project, access large amounts of data on an important topic and contact individuals in their areas of interest. Not only does social media allow people around the world to find and connect with others who share similar interests and engage in discussions about a myriad of topics, it also allows an institution to tell its own story, in its own voice, in real time. 

While it is easy to highlight the benefits of social media, colleges/universities must be strategic in their messaging and strike a delicate balance between not sharing enough and oversharing. To do so, there are some key questions higher education institutions should answer before using social media: 

• Should it be used during the admissions process? If so, how should it be used? 

• Should you respond to questions or address concerns from current or prospective parents/students via social media, or funnel them through the “appropriate” [traditional] communication channels? 

• If you do respond, how do you best craft a response to an individual question on a platform utilized by millions, or billions (Facebook), of people? 

• Further, if student/parent questions or concerns are voiced via platforms with pronounced limitations, such as the 140-character limit on Twitter or the 10-second time constraint of Snapchat, does this change what you say and how you say it? 

For colleges/universities, there are a number of considerations that go into using these networks; so, it’s easy to see why some higher education professionals find it to be a daunting task. However, in 2017, avoiding social media is no longer an option. 

Social media is both the present and the future, and all institutions must realize the inherent benefits of using these platforms. However, social media is not a cure-all for your institution’s failings or shortcomings in branding; it’s merely a helpful tool you should use to elevate and promote your brand. Social media success is [almost] equal parts science and [roughly] equal parts art. To be successful, you take the research, such as the suggested character length for an optimal post on Twitter, the best times to post on Facebook and the frequency of posts across all platforms, add your institution’s “voice” and make the content your own. As you use social media, remember that there are some real limitations and logistical concerns that accompany the use of social media as part of a carefully formulated and robust branding strategy. However, a carefully crafted plan accounts for likely scenarios, is prepared to troubleshoot issues and successfully promotes the greatness of your institution. Create the plan, monitor the data and leave room for adjustments, as needed, and you have the makings of a winning strategy. 

10 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

2014 E-Expectations Report: The Online Preferences of College-Bound High School Seniors and Their Parents 

How many have clicked on a paid ad in search results or social media? Seniors 31% 2013 Seniors 28% Parents 19% 

How many have visited a college’s Facebook page? Seniors 51% 2013 Seniors 41% Parents 36% 

How many who use Twitter follow a college? Seniors 37% 2013 Seniors 25% Parents 26% 

Use Facebook Students-73% Parents 56% 

Use Twitter Students-40% Parents 15% 

Use YouTube Students-73% Parents-32% 

11 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

3. KEY TRENDS IN HIGHER EDUCATION 

Colleges and universities can no longer afford to ignore the writing on the wall. Presidents, Chancellors, Trustees and high-level administrators must pay attention to the changing landscape in higher education. Key trends must drive the evolution of both the industry and the institution. Market influences such as technology, rising costs of tuition and the $1.3 trillion student debt crisis are rapidly changing the industry in ways that were unforeseen to many just a few short years ago. As a result, now more than ever, prospective students (and their parents) are focusing on the return they will receive from their investment in a college education; they are constantly asking, “What will my return on investment (ROI) be if I attend this school?” Additionally, while it may seem cliché, the phrase “Kids these days just aren’t the same,” is another harbinger of the evolution of higher education. One example of the differences between today’s students and those of the past can be seen simply by looking at student study habits. 

In a 2015 study conducted by Mc-Graw Hill Education, 81% of surveyed students reported they used mobile devices to study, up from 40% in 2013.9 According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in Fall 2013, there were 5,522,194 students enrolled in any distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.10 It’s estimated that by 2019 half of all college classes will be online.11 

These statistics clearly highlight that today’s students are accessing and gathering information in a manner that starkly contrasts with previous generations. Generations X and Y grew up during a time when desktop computers were their primary means of online access. However, Millennials, and future generations, have 24/7 access in the palm of their hands. This technological revolution, and the evolution from intermittent to constant access to information, require institutions to reimagine how they connect and communicate with, not only students but all university stakeholders. While traditional forms of communication will not become obsolete overnight, colleges and universities must quickly begin to incorporate digital platforms into their branding, marketing and communication strategies and employ a multi-dimensional approach if they want to be successful. 

Another key trend schools must be aware of in this changing climate is the decline in college enrollment. Research shows that in 2010, U.S. college enrollment peaked at just over 21 million students, but it has fallen every year to date.12 According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, in spring 2015, overall college enrollment fell to just under 18.6 million students in all sectors, a 1.9% decrease from spring 2014, a decline largely driven by students over the age of 24, who accounted for 74% of the decline.* While enrollment has dropped across all sectors since 2010, the largest drops have been at two-year public institutions and four-year for-profit institutions. 

*Note: The National Student Clearinghouse typically undercounts because both name and social security number must match before a student can be counted. Colleges and universities are required to submit accurate information on all students for them to be counted; thus, institutions with high numbers of immigrants and undocumented students may be significantly impacted by this process of undercounting. 

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In 2015, two-year public colleges saw a decrease of 3.9% in student enrollment from the previous year and a decrease of 5.3% in student enrollment between semesters.13 Moreover, recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center denotes another loss of 2.8% in enrollment in Spring 2016 for these institutions.14 Similarly, the drop at for-profit institutions has been significant. More specifically, overall enrollment at four-year for-profit institutions dropped 9.3% and 7.4% between the fall and spring semesters—the largest declines across all sectors. 

Naturally, spring semester enrollment is typically lower at all institutions because the numbers account for attrition (students who do not return during and after the fall semester), matriculation (students who graduate after completing the fall semester), as well as new and returning students; however, these statistics are still troubling. 

Although overall enrollment continues to fall, numbers increased slightly among four-year public institutions (+0.6%) and four-year private nonprofit institutions (+0.7%) during the 2015-2016 academic year.15 While these institutions may take some solace in their slight increase, overall enrollment is still down. Per the data, overall enrollment across all sectors is estimated at 18,343,655 students, which is a decrease of 1.3% from the previous spring.16 

The decline at for-profit institutions is different and a bit more complex. During the past few years, for-profit schools have been widely and heavily criticized for offering “worthless degrees” and leaving students with huge sums of debt.17 According to the College Board, the tuition and fees at for-profit colleges averaged over $15,000 for the 2013-2014 school year, versus about the roughly $8,900 for in-state tuition at a four-year public college. Moreover, a study combining data from the U.S. Education Department’s numbers on enrollment of students receiving federal aid and the Internal Revenue Service’s numbers on income levels revealed that students who enroll in certificate, associate and bachelor's programs at for-profit colleges and universities generally see a decline in earnings (and typically greater debt) five or six years after attendance, compared to their earnings before enrollment.18 All of these factors have likely contributed to the decline in enrollment at for-profit institutions. 

As the cost of attendance continues to rise, and states continue to cut funding to education (between the 2007-2008 and 2014-2015 school years, 47 states cut per student spending in higher education), it’s not hard to envision a shrinking pool of possible students on the horizon.19 According to a 2015 Inside Higher Ed and Gallup survey of admissions directors, 51% of respondents reported that they were “very concerned” about meeting the year’s enrollment goals, while almost another third stated that they were “moderately concerned”.20 Fifty-eight percent (58%) of the administrators indicated that they had not filled their fall classes by the traditional May 1st deadline.21 

It’s clear that the landscape of higher education is evolving, and consequently, institutions must find new and creative ways to do what they were designed to do: innovate, educate and prepare tomorrow’s leaders. While doing so, they must also differentiate themselves from their competitors, whether they be in-state or regional rivals, trade schools or online for-profit 

13 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

institutions. The competition for the best and brightest young minds is growing and for institutions to remain viable, they must become and remain visible. 

14 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

4. THE ENROLLMENT DECISION-MAKING PROCESS 

A very important element colleges/universities must consider when crafting a branding or enrollment management strategy is the decision timeline which, according to numerous reports, can be extremely long or short. In a recent study of 1,520 students, conducted by G/O Digital, the highest margin of students (21%) took more than 12 months to decide, while the lowest margin of students (14%) took less than one month.22 The remaining 65% of students made their decisions somewhere between two and eleven months, which would indicate that there is no clear timeframe for the period when students begin researching schools to when they decide what school to attend. 

This finding is important because longer timeframes can be problematic, primarily because the admissions cycle for most schools runs from October through May and schools want enrollment decisions within this window. Getting a firm grasp on students’ decision timeframes is further complicated by the advent of early admission, an effort undertaken by many colleges and universities to shorten timelines and bring more certainty to the process. According to College Board, approximately 450 colleges have early decision (binding) or early action (non-binding) options, and some have both. Per a 2010 study, that’s a more than 350% increase from the number of institutions that offered these options in the 1990s.23 

While it is imperative that institutions have enrollment commitments as soon as possible, early action and early decision practices has put undue pressure on first-generation and low income students who are unable to commit to a college or university before financial aid packages are awarded. The growing trend of universities using early admissions has a disproportionately negative effect on poor students and students who simply choose not to be beholden to a university before they’ve had time to review all their options. 

These factors muddle the already opaque waters of the enrollment decision-making process for parents and students. Since it is unlikely that all students will work within the admissions cycle calendar, to offset the uncertainty, institutions should implement consistent marketing as a key aspect of their branding strategy. 

Historically, many colleges and universities have relied primarily on name recognition, intercollegiate athletics programs and exclusivity as selling points for their institutions, which had proven to be a successful strategy. However, studies suggest that the importance of name recognition fades from freshman to senior year of high school. According to a recent Cappex College Considerations Report, name recognition drives the list of the most popular schools, particularly among high school freshmen in the early stages of their college selection process.24 All the Ivy League schools, except Dartmouth, are listed among the top 20 most popular colleges nationwide for high school freshmen. However, once high school students reach their senior year, they seem to prefer schools that are closer to home.25 Even when viewed by region (Far West, Great Lakes, Mid-East, New England, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest), top college picks for high school seniors are overwhelmingly local. 

15 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

In every region in the Cappex Report, 17 or 18 of the top colleges were located within its respective region. The main exception was the Plains region, where only 13 of the top 20 schools were in that region. The colleges that were located outside of the region tended to be institutions with a national reputation, such as Harvard University, Stanford University and New York University. While relying on name recognition may work for Ivy League schools and collegiate sports powerhouses, it is not practical for the other 4,000-plus smaller or lesser-known schools in the United States. 

Branding in higher education works similarly to branding in other sectors, in that the best way to market your brand or company is to assess what the customer wants and needs. In this case, the customers are prospective students and parents, so one of the first questions you must ask is, “How do students decide which college/university to attend?” According to The Digital Search for Education report, the three (3) motivating factors high school students consider when making their college selection are: Academics, Cost and Location.26 Thirty-seven percent (37%) of those surveyed said career enhancement is their top motivating factor and the program offerings of an institution is the most important deciding factor in their selection process. Additionally, seventeen percent (17%) of students surveyed said cost of the program is the most important factor, while fourteen percent (14%) said location was most important in selecting which school to attend. Therefore, schools must be sure to highlight these areas to attract more students. 

Another key consideration schools need to consider is their digital reputation in the eyes of prospective students. Fifty-eight percent (58%) of students said online reviews were highly important in their school selection process. It is also critical that institutions have a good website because it is the most popular medium utilized by prospective parents and students in the decision-making process. In fact, in The Digital Search for Education study, one-third of the surveyed prospective students reported that improper website navigation single-handedly stopped them from being interested in a prospective institution.27 In addition to having a website that is easily navigable, your website should also contain information about your programs and academic offerings. Fifty-six percent (56%) of students surveyed said they used a school’s website primarily to look for information about the programs in which they were interested.28 Based upon these studies, institutions should ensure that the information students care about the most is present, easy to find, and easy to digest. 

While website presentation is an important component of digital perception, use of social media is integral to a successful digital strategy. A recent study reported that thirty-two percent (32%) of respondents followed colleges/universities and career schools, including those they were interested in attending, on social media during their decision-making process.29 Facebook was, by far, the most popular social network, with sixty-two percent (62%) of students most likely to follow schools on Facebook over any other channel. The second most popular social network was LinkedIn, capturing thirteen percent (13%) of surveyed students. Additionally, of the prospective students interviewed, fifty-two percent (52%) said that posts containing relevant information about their desired program areas were the most important posts a school could make, across all social networks.30 

16 The information contained herein is confidential, privileged and only for the intended recipient. It should not be disclosed to any other person. It may not be reproduced in whole, or in part, nor may any of the information contained therein be disclosed without the prior consent of the directors of Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC (“Company”). Any form of reproduction, dissemination, copying, disclosure, modification, distribution and/or publication of this material is strictly prohibited. 

Although an institution’s website and social media channels will provide instant access to information, many prospective students prefer to connect with schools on a more personal level. Face-to-face recruitment remains a critical component of the college selection process. For many prospective students, on-campus experiences during campus visits continues to be the deciding factor in choosing a school, with thirty-one percent (31%) of students citing this as their primary deciding factor. Similarly, many students still like to directly connect with faculty, staff or students at schools they are interested in attending. A study revealed that forty-one percent (41%) of surveyed students directly connected with schools via email.31 In fact, email is overwhelmingly the preferred method of contact for prospective students, with seventy-five percent (75%) of respondents noting that they preferred schools to contact them via e-mail instead of through social media, phone calls or text messages.32 

Considering the prospective student’s desire to interact with schools in a variety of ways, colleges/universities must strike a balance between digital and in-person communications. An optimal way to achieve this balance is by creating in-person and digital touch points, i.e., Homecoming, Campus Visit Day, Webcasts, video blogs, etc. These touch points are important to convert admitted applicants into enrolled students. Once students arrive on campus or participate in a virtual event, you have an opportunity to deliver a branded experience whereby your institution’s brand, goals, mission and values are brought to life not only through signs, placards and t-shirts, but also through tour guides/orientation leaders, campus sites and everything else your campus offers. 

In light of students’ near limitless, round-the-clock access to technology and information, it’s easy to lose sight of key members of the decision-making process: parents. According to the E- Expectations Report, more than three-quarters of students listed their parents as the greatest influence in their enrollment decision.33 While students may be the enrollees, it is very likely that parents are extremely influential in the student’s ultimate decision regarding which institution to attend. Colleges/universities must also be mindful of the needs, wants and priorities of prospective parents and understand that, oftentimes, a parent’s decision-making matrix differs from that of the student. 

For the clear majority of parents, their top priorities when visiting a college website are: (1) Cost; (2) Academic Programs; and (3) Financial Aid and Scholarships.34 The same study found that nearly 75% of parents say they will be very or somewhat restrictive about where their children matriculate based on cost. Compare this to students’ priorities when visiting a college or university’s website: (1) Academic Programs; (2) Cost; (3) Financial Aid and Scholarships.35 Although the priorities are similar in context, they differ in rank of importance, so it is important to craft and deliver messaging that highlights the priorities that matter most to the two demographics. 

There are many factors that institutions should consider as they craft or update their enrollment management strategy. However, the overarching point is that messaging should be tailored to the target audience; whether an institution is messaging to parents or to students determines what 

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information should be delivered, where it should be delivered, and how it should be delivered to have maximum impact. 

What are their content priorities when visiting a college website? Parents: 

1. Cost 2. Academic Program Listings 3. Financial Aid/Scholarships 

Students 

1. Academic Program Listings 2. Cost 3. Financial Aid/Scholarships 

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5. SOLUTIONS 

For a college/university to build a powerful, visible and sustainable brand, it must develop and maintain a branding and marketing strategy that incorporates data; is influenced by key trends in Higher Education; addresses the needs and wants of key stakeholders; and capitalizes on the power of digital communications and social media. The strategy must also showcase the institution’s value proposition, which includes its academic offerings, location, athletic programs, extracurricular activities and unique features. As you work to craft your successful college/university brand strategy, here are a few key helpful hints to guide you through this process: 

Identify Your Unique Essence No matter how similar each school may appear, every institution of higher education is different. In a market where tuition continues to rise and wages remain stagnant, students and their influencers are growing increasingly concerned about the return on their financial investment in a college education. More specifically, prospective students want to know that the substantial amounts of money they will pay to attend your school will be worth it upon graduation. While no school, Ivy League or otherwise, can offer any guarantees on career placement, graduate school acceptance or other post-graduation endeavors, institutions cannot simply ignore a student’s desire to know that he will have a solid future by attending your school. Colleges and universities must acknowledge these market factors, craft their messaging with these facts in mind and use this information to differentiate themselves from the competition. To that end, schools must start by identifying their four-part DNA: 

❖ Who you are? ❖ What you are? ❖ What campus experiences do you provide? ❖ What values the university stands for and represents? 

Once you’re able to decipher your own genetic code, you can then effectively market and brand to internal and external stakeholders, attract prospective students, and build strategic partnerships with community and corporate partners. 

Incorporate Social Media Social media is more than just a place for unwanted Candy Crush game requests, memes and fake news stories. It is a place to share useful information, instantly connect with people across the world, and reach your target audience. For these key reasons and many more, social media should be a key component of your school’s marketing and branding strategy. However, to make social media work for you, you must operate under the premise that your customers, prospective students and their parents/guardians, either don’t want to talk to you until they are ready, or until you provide them with interesting content they want to share with their friends. In terms of content creation, here are a few things to keep in mind: 

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Content is key. People share content because it provides value to them and their social networks. While most your content should revolve around your institution’s culture, history, academic programming and on-campus events, it still needs to be relevant to your target audience. ❖ Start with brand stakeholders. Current students and alumni already have a connection to 

your institution, so connecting with them over social media is a lot easier than forging new connections with prospective students. Their affinity for their alma matter makes them prime candidates to become influencers and will help you spread your brand message. Use what you’ve got, to get what you need. ❖ Make posts easy to share. Social media sharing is one of the fastest ways to broadcast information about your institution to a wide variety of people, so always include social media sharing tabs throughout your website and make your content sharable on all platforms and channels for a wider reach. ❖ Engage your audience. It’s not enough to simply upload cool content; you need to engage 

with users so that you talk with them, not at them. Your goals are to get prospective students to follow or like your page and then get them to share your content. If, and when, they comment on your posts, feel free to respond because nothing shows engagement more than real-time dialogue. 

Ensure Easy Website Navigation Research shows that the most popular online channel when it comes to influencing a student’s decision regarding which school to attend is a school’s website. One-third of prospective students said improper website navigation alone completely turned them off from being interested in an institution.36 As the percentage of students and parents checking email on mobile devices continues to increase, institutions should strive to utilize adaptive display technology to ensure that carefully crafted online content looks presentable on any mobile-device screen, including smart phones and tablets, so students can easily access your web content and complete all items that require a call to action. 

Reach Out to Parents Research results reinforce the notion that parents are often very influential in the college/university selection process for prospective students. Therefore, institutions should provide parents with targeted messages that address, among other things, academic offerings and the value of a degree from your school. Providing parents with quality information about these factors will ultimately help you turn them into advocates for your institution. However, when communicating with parents (and students), take it easy on the higher education jargon. It’s better to make it plain, simple and easy to understand so that parents feel like they’re reading a friendly, yet informative, brochure rather than a doctoral thesis about your school. 

Create Touch Points Unless you’re an Ivy League school, an athletics powerhouse, or an academic/regional juggernaut, you’ll likely need to establish not only who you are, but where you are and why prospective students should attend your school. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and targeting are helpful in getting your message out, but once you have a prospective student’s attention, you then need to 

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take it a step further to close the deal. Personal touch points enable you to do so by allowing prospective students and their parents to see your institution, have up close and personal experiences with your faculty, staff and current students and get a “feel” of the campus/university before making the final decision. 

For international students, or those who are unable to visit your campus prior to making an enrollment decision, digital touchpoints work too. Digital touchpoints, such as webcasts, livestreams, and interactive tours and discussions, allow students to experience your college/university from the comfort of their own home, classroom, park, library or neighborhood coffee shop, so long as they have access to Wi-Fi. 

Further, if neither of these options work, or both do and you just like doing things in threes, you can also bring your on-campus experience directly to prospective students. For example, if you are a college/university with strong alumni organizations across the country, you can have a few cities host prospective student events. In fact, the Florida State University Alumni Chapter in Washington, D.C. (DC Noles) often hosts a meet and greet with prospective students and parents, which allows prospective students to meet FSU alums, learn more about the institution and gain a better understanding of why people love being a part of Seminole Nation. The great thing about these engagement events is that they can be as big or small as you desire; your event could even go so far as to include the band, current or former student-athletes, faculty and administrators to help demonstrate what makes your institution special. Alumni participation at these events can help “get students and parents to yes”, provide excellent opportunities for schools to demonstrate their ROI, showcase the [enter college/university name here] experience and underscore all the reasons prospective students will miss out if they decide not to attend your institution. 

Hire the Experts In today’s higher education climate, creating a successful branding and marketing strategy that: (1) highlights your strengths, (2) clearly articulates the return prospective students will receive if they invest in an education at your institution, (3) incorporates social media, (4) engages both parents and students and (5) ultimately leads students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and corporate partners to buy-in, believe in and support your institution is both daunting and difficult. It is also extremely time-consuming and can put great strain on your institution’s fiscal and human capital resources. However, building a comprehensive branding and marketing strategy is paramount to your success, so ask the experts for help. Diplomatic Enterprises, LLC specializes in branding higher education institutions. We know the data, are aware of the trends, live and breathe analytics, invest in market research, and do the heavy lifting for you. With a team of experts that has served in various capacities at higher education institutions for over ten (10) years, worked on major college/university re-branding campaigns and continues to work with schools who are focused on improving their brand messaging and marketing efforts, we can help take your institution to the next level. 

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CONCLUSION 

For colleges and universities, it’s imperative to understand the importance of branding in attracting prospective students, communicating with current students and connecting with alumni and private industry partners. A strong digital presence is just one facet of a dynamic branding and communication strategy that will invite others to learn more about your institution and to explore the possibilities. The world is rapidly changing and if institutions of higher education don’t keep up, they will be left behind. 

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1 Entrepreneur Small Business Encyclopedia, https://www.entrepreneur.com/encyclopedia/branding 2 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 3 The Chronicle on Higher Education, http://chronicle.com/article/Exactly-What-Is-Shared/47065/ 4 Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. (2015). 2015 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. 5 Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. (2015). 2015 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. 6 Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. (2015). 2015 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. 7 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 8 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 9 McGraw-Hill Education, Hanover Research. (2015). The Impact of Technology on College Student Study Habits. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Education. 10 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Digest of Education Statistics, 2014 (NCES 2016-006), Table 311.15. 11 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 12 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Digest of Education Statistics, 2014 (NCES 2016-006), Chapter 3. 13 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Digest of Education Statistics, 2014 (NCES 2016-006), Table 311.15. 14 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Digest of Education Statistics, 2014 (NCES 2016-006), Table 311.15. 15 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Digest of Education Statistics, 2014 (NCES 2016-006), Table 311.15. 16 National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. (2016). Current Term Enrollment Estimates: Spring 2016. 17 My college degree is worthless, CNN Money December 2, 2015 http://money.cnn.com/2014/11/02/pf/college/for- profit-college-degree/?iid=EL 18 Gainfully Employed? Assessing the Employment and Earnings of For-Profit College Students Using Administrative Data, http://www.nber.org/papers/w22287?utm_campaign=ntw&utm_medium=email&utm_source=ntw 19 Higher Ed Funding Cuts, State by State, Jan 28, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michaelmitchell/higher-ed- funding-cuts-st_b_9100556.html 20 Scott Jaschik, Doug Lederman. (2015). The 2015 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College & University Admissions. Washington, D.C.: Gallup & Inside Higher Ed. 21 Scott Jaschik, Doug Lederman. (2015). The 2015 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College & University Admissions. Washington, D.C.: Gallup & Inside Higher Ed. 22 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 23 Early Admissions at Selective Colleges, Christopher Avery, Jonathan Levin, http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/cavery/files/avery_2010_earlyadmissions.pdf 24 Cappex. (2016). Cappex College Considerations Report: 2016 Review by Class Year. Chicago, IL: Cappex. 25 Cappex. (2016). Cappex College Considerations Report: 2016 Review by Class Year. Chicago, IL: Cappex. 26 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 27 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 28 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 29 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 30 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 31 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 32 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 33 Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. (2014). 2014 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. 34 Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. (2014). 2014 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. 

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35 Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. (2014). 2014 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. 36 G/O Digital Marketing. (2016). The Digital Search for Education. Phoenix, AZ: G/O Digital Marketing. 

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