A series on the value of brand in the university sector

By Avarina Wilson-Dyer-Gough

University is an appealing proposition for many young people in the face of high financial costs and a future job uncertainty. Student life promises 3 years of freedom, socialising with friends and a first taste of adulthood. Even after the raising of tuition costs in 2012, young people haven’t been deterred from attending university. Application rates for 2014 show an almost two percentage point raise in applications compared to 2010. However, with an increase in tuition fees, living costs and often residual debt, students and parents place more importance on choosing a university which will provide the highest return on investment. Whether in the form of future job security, educational advancement or personal achievement it has become even more important to select the best university for themselves and their ambitions. But how can anyone decide which is the best university for them when there are more than 300 higher-education institutions in the UK? This is where the value of successful branding comes in.

The university marketplace is competitive. Universities are fighting for over 500,000 students every year and the valuable funding they bring with them. Even with the fierce competition, there remains a low level of true brand positioning between universities. League tables are believed to represent successful brands. Individuals and institutions use them to guide their decisions and indicate market share.

We believe that differentiation needs to move beyond just league tables because a successful university brand isn’t based on its high numerical ranking. A strong brand comes from telling relevant and engaging brand stories that meet the needs of the external market, not just the same stories as the university one position above them.

Over the next few months, we will be discussing the value of branding for university brands. Collecting our research, experiences and conversations from our work with a range of universities and individuals over the past 5 years, we will be publishing a series of thought-provoking articles around the topic of ‘how can you build a successful university brand?’ Our articles will explore a range of topics, ranging from key observations on branding, first-hand research with 6th form students to the value of department branding and successful visual branding.