So often when we meet with enrollment and admission offices, we hear, “We need to market for enrollment, not brand.” I understand where they’re coming from. But…
In a world where students use online resources to do the heavy lifting in their college research, brand awareness and perception of your school can make all the difference. I’ve been an advocate of this all along and, just recently, experienced how critical branding can be when I made a large purchase. No, I didn’t go back for my MBA—I bought a car. I know, they are very different things. But think about it: both are very large purchases, and both come with a fear of making the wrong choice. We spend hours researching them, and, as I learned from my own behavior, we start with preconceived brand knowledge and impressions.
I quickly eliminated entire car brands—never even stepped foot in the showroom. Why? Because my perception of the brand was that it wasn’t “me.” Maybe I was right, maybe I wasn’t, but it doesn’t matter. Perception becomes reality. We might see brands as too “pretentious,” too “vanilla,” “too earthy,” and on and on. We start to realize that what we choose says something about us. We are practical. We are fun. We are adventurous. We are classy. Really? It’s just a car! But is it?
How often do we hear a student say, “I’ve never heard of that school, so how good can they be?” or “That school isn’t ‘me.’” If a student hasn’t heard of you, will they open an e-mail or an envelope? Raising awareness of your brand means that students will be more likely to give you a look or search for you online to learn more. Perception studies can help you understand what your challenges are in the market so you can tailor your messages to capitalize on strengths or overcome inaccuracies. Remember when Buick ran the ads that actually addressed their biggest challenge in the market when they revitalized their brand? The “That’s a Buick?” ads have worked well for them. They learned what people thought and capitalized on it, tackling the misperception.
Laying the foundation of brand awareness by creating a smart plan for year-round presence will help prevent a reactionary marketing strategy. It will also improve the performance of your student search, social media, and online marketing campaigns that engage with prospects at very specific times of the year.
Don’t believe brand influences conversion? Pay close attention to your shopping this holiday season. Which brands do you consider; which do you ignore? Then, if you are up for some introspection, ask yourself why. Chances are it’s a combination of factors. But one thing is certain: brand marketing (or lack of it) will have influenced you in some way.