Rebranding in Higher Education: A Guide on How to Increase Admissions From the Perspective of a College Student
By Hayley St. Germain
As an intern at NeigerDesign, I am in a unique position. I am learning how the marketing and branding industry works firsthand, while also learning invaluable lessons from my wonderful business professors in school. I am also not far removed from the college admissions process and I remember far too well the stress and indecision that went into choosing a school. I happily ended up making the decision to attend DePaul University and I learned a lot of lessons from the whole process. I am going to put all of my knowledge and know-how into one guide to help you rebrand your school to attract people like me, Millennials and Generation Z-ers, and increase your admission rate.
You may be asking, why rebrand? It is a daunting task to think about, but it is worth it in the end. The higher ed industry is growing more and more competitive as schools compete to attract the newest pool of prospective students and it’s getting harder to stand out. Also, with tuition ever-increasing, students and their families are thinking harder about which school to attend and they need to be sure it’s worth their time and money to choose your school. There is no better time than the present to start rebranding your school and start getting noticed.
First off, you need to have a clearly defined brand.
• Nowadays, in order to compete in the highly competitive and saturated higher ed market, you need to differentiate yourself through your branding. When teens are looking for colleges, they often get overwhelmed by the amount of choices and by the uniformity of the schools they are seeing.Today it is expected that your school has attributes like great faculty, tons of extracurriculars, research opportunities and a world class campus, to the point where they can come across as cliché. What makes your school remarkable? What’s your story? What’s your brand? Having a clearly defined brand will make you stand out and attract the right candidates. When choosing a college, DePaul’s brand is what stood out to me. I loved the school’s connection to Chicago and its commitment to charity and real world experience. DePaul created a story that really drew me in, and it has lived up to its word.
Simplify, beautify and personalize your printed materials.
• People still like receiving print materials from schools, but with the Internet at the fingertips of almost every Millennial and Gen Z-er, we can find the answer to any question in a matter of seconds. When it comes to printed informational guides and other printed materials, you no longer need to include every fact and stat out there. Instead, get your big picture message across and use beautiful design to create visual interest that adds to your image and gets you noticed. Use things like infographics to show information in an interesting way, and testimonials from past and present students and blurbs telling people where they can look online to find out more detailed information about a subject. Be sure to always keep the aesthetic consistent with your brand. For example, if your school is all about tradition and history, you don’t need to use modern graphics. Just make well-curated and beautiful designs and you will succeed. Another thing to keep in mind with print marketing is personalization. When you personalize, you are working smarter and getting the attention of more of the right people. Think about where the student is in the buyer’s journey and look at which activities and subjects the student has searched online. You can then send them tailored information that they will truly value.
Websites that are mobile friendly are a must-have.
• For my generation, having a mobile friendly website is not an option, it’s a necessity. A lot of the time, it is the first and maybe only place one will see your site. Not having good mobile capabilities will make your school look like it’s not up to date or technologically advanced enough and will often make our low attention-spanned minds get frustrated and move on to the next school. Make sure your site is optimized for all different types of mobile screens and consider making a well-designed app to go along with the site.
Be socially conscious.
• Younger generations are increasingly socially conscious and expect their brands to keep up. We expect things like diversity, inclusion and sustainability to be the standard for schools and we’ll call you out if you are not living up to this standard. With the advent of social media, it has become much easier to admonish institutions for not acting ethically and Millennials and Gen Z-ers utilize this power more than anyone. You should ingrain this modern way of thinking into your brand identity and always make conscious efforts to be ethical and responsible in all situations.
Curate quality content.
• In your marketing strategy, you should always put an emphasis on curating high caliber, cutting edge content. If you want to stand out and attract potential students, you have to be creative and with your content. Make stunning visuals a priority, such as high definition videos and photos that tell your school’s story. Show examples of real students succeeding at your school. Make sure your content is always beautiful, high quality and useful or else you might risk having your school look outdated and lame. Using sourced content from current students is a great way to incorporate appealing content that connects with your target audience. It is also a cheaper and easier way to flesh out your content, and the Millennials and Gen Z-ers will appreciate and trust the things they are seeing because they are coming from their peers.
Utilize all kinds of social media.
• Teenagers spend a lot of time online, and they will often look at social media when deciding which college to chose, so it is important to fully utilize all of your accounts to reinforce your brand and attract attention. You should have a strong presence on all platforms and know how to leverage them properly. Keep up to date with which platforms are popular and which are not, because you can be sure that the students will be doing the same. Have a consistent voice and image throughout your social media presence but know what is appropriate to post on each platform. Get creative—you could do things like making a custom geotag on Snapchat for different events or campus locations, or launch a fun Instagram campaign. DePaul ran a campaign where they would let a different student run their Instagram account for a week at a time to feature the everyday life and diversity of DePaul students. It was a really fun campaign that got the students involved while also showcasing campus life and culture to people who were potentially interested in the school. One thing to keep in mind when marketing to Millennials and Gen Z-ers with social media is that they can smell inauthenticity and irrelevancy from a mile away. You have the tricky job of finding a balance between being authentic but cool, and being relevant but not trying too hard.
Demonstrate your school’s culture.
• We already know your school has those great sports teams, spacious dorms and a state of the art cafeteria, but what is it actually like to go to school there? As generations are getting more individualistic and expressive of their personality, they want to know what the culture is really like at the school. They want to know if there are like-minded people there, they won’t settle for just being a part of a big crowd. Create a brand and narrative that really shows off the culture of the school and the students. Is it a school that is centered around Greek life or athletics? Is it a liberal atmosphere? Conservative? Whatever it may be, display it in your marketing strategies. Don’t try to display a culture that will attract the most amount of people, just be truthful in your representations and you will attract the right people. These will be the people who will actually fit into your culture and love being a student there.
Highlight career opportunities.
• Potential students are well aware of the state of the economy and the importance of getting a job. That’s why in your rebranding you should always highlight job opportunities, internships, career centers, job success rates and any other information that relates to getting a job after college. Students today are making a huge investment in their education and they want to know that it will be worth it in the end. Another big reason I chose to go to DePaul was because they highlighted the amount of job and internship opportunities around Chicago as well as their high success rate in students getting employed after they graduate.
Want to learn more about rebranding and the many benefits it can have? Download our white paper below on one of the most important elements of a rebrand—the logo design.