Building Brand Affinity Through Storytelling

Melissa Vangsness Jan 29, 2024 Melissa Vangsness VP, Brand Research + Strategy Persona The Independent and Resilient Contender

As the number of traditional-aged college-bound students decreases, colleges and universities face a dual challenge: competing not only with each other but also with the distractions and constant noise of our ever-evolving digital age. This challenge underscores the critical role of storytelling in enrollment, communications, and marketing strategies. It’s not just about presenting facts and figures; it’s about creating a unique narrative that resonates with your audience, providing a deeper understanding of your brand’s authentic personality.

Navigating the Attention Economy

“Attention must be earned in an instant.” That’s according to analyst Paul Verna, eMarketer Principal Analyst and head of the Digital Advertising and Media desk at Insider Intelligence. For a generation adrift in an overwhelming sea of content, today’s students respond not to what demands their attention, but to what captivates them. In this attention economy, universities find themselves navigating a complex, non-linear path in the prospective student journey where the students have the power to choose how, when, and where to engage.

The following four tips will help you craft relevant, meaningful messages, ensuring your institution’s story not only reaches but also genuinely connects with your audiences in a way that resonates and breaks through the noise.

1. Avoid Overreliance on Buzzwords

In 2023, higher education buzzwords like “Successful,” “World-class,” “Transformative,” “Innovative,” and “Supportive” dominated the discourse. The issue with buzzwords is when a word is overused, it starts to lose its depth of meaning. The challenge lies in standing out amid the noise and ensuring your institution’s unique story is heard and remembered. Using words with meaning that resonates with the core values of your institution is key.

Define your terms, such as “transformative,” and back them with concrete examples from daily student life. Then, personalize your messaging with real-life stories to foster a connection with future students.

2. Connect with Empathy and Authenticity

What sets successful institutions apart in this competitive environment is their ability to establish genuine human connections. In higher education, where the goal is to connect with both students and parents, evoking human emotion is paramount. The power of human connection cannot only be communicated in a tagline; instead, it must be an integral part of every strategy aimed at forging meaningful connections that ultimately result in conversion and a strong affinity for the institution.

Effective communication occurs at the intersection of empathy and authenticity. Great communication design goes beyond aesthetics; it fosters understanding, builds brand equity, and creates lasting emotional connections.

3. Leverage Psychographics

Answering the crucial question, “Who are we?” helps define your relationship with prospective students. Many institutions are turning to psychographics, using archetypes to help focus the storytelling aspects of their communication and marketing initiatives. Psychographics are invaluable because they tell you what people want, what people feel, and what people are genuinely motivated by, enabling you to move away from relying on buzzwords to create messages that resonate on a deeper level.

Using archetypes that represent distinct personality types provides a measurable and data-driven approach for consistently defining and communicating your institution’s identity.

4. Tell Real Stories About Real People

Stories create connections that transcend facts and figures. They evoke emotional responses, draw audiences in, and cut through the filters. In a world inundated with information, meaningful personalization hinges on storytelling that strips away the noise, providing relevant information and supporting the journey from one meaningful interaction to the next.

Focus on narratives that place people at their core. By embedding this element into your communication, you create a space for audiences to see themselves as part of your narrative.

In conclusion, as higher education institutions navigate the challenges of the attention economy, mastering the art of storytelling becomes a key strategy for building a distinctive brand that resonates with students, parents, and the broader community. It’s not just about being heard; it’s about being remembered and forging connections that endure.


Want to learn more about how we can help you forge meaningful connections through our Message Assessment service and the use of psychographics? Start a conversation today.

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