Why Universities Need To Focus On Branding
Universities are the spiritual home of critical thinking and sciences, where methodology and evidence rule. It therefore makes sense that university cultures tend to be dominated by a left-brain, fact-based view of the world.
When it comes to marketing however, there is a downside to this kind of culture. Academics and administrators can be inclined to overrate the importance of intellect and rational facts in decision-making, and project this view onto the wider world. Shrewd marketers know nothing could be further from the truth. We humans heavily rely on our gut feelings for all kinds of decision-making.
Paradoxically, when asked by researchers to explain our choices, we are inclined to provide post-rationalisations that make us feel good about our decisions. Who wants to believe they bought the Mercedes Benz simply to project status and impress their friends, neighbours and peers? No, we’re inclined to tell ourselves, and the researchers, that we were attracted to its superior comfort, safety and resale value – or something sensible like that.
Mercedes is a classic example of brand power. Ultimately, branding is not about physical attributes, it is about perceptions and feelings. And for high-involvement products or services, where the consumer cannot necessarily compare or experience the differences between two choices, branding becomes paramount.
How does a young person compare two universities with very similar courses and outcomes? Sure, there might be some small differences in ATAR requirements, rankings or career outcomes. But these things are hardly the be all and end all when choosing a place where you’ll spend three years of your life. The emotional truth for young under graduate candidate is that they are on the cusp of a life-changing, major investment of their time, money, effort and emotions. Risk is involved, which means excitement and anxiety. Emotions will play a central role in the decision – even where there are considerable tangible product differences to choose from.
So what is the point of all of this for universities?
At the end of the day, most prospects will, based on the evidence and experience they are presented, choose the place that feels right for them. The marketers role in education is to understand the emotional as well as rational needs of the prospects they want to attract, and to carefully align and project the purpose and personality of their brand accordingly.