How to Boost Higher Ed Marketing with Focused Graphic Design
By Josh Rains
As colleges and university find themselves having to appeal to an ever-broadening and diverse student and alumni base, the implementation of successful marketing and branding campaigns has become more important than ever. Today, higher education institutions must go to greater lengths to differentiate themselves from the growing number of competitors.
This is where the use of a qualified marketing and design firm comes into play. Effective strategic planning and brand management requires a unified brand message. Higher education institutions have begun to hire marketing and design professionals from the corporate world, investing large amounts of time (and money) to both create and manage their brands in attempts to stand out to potential students and their parents as well as to past students.
This new approach of using outside firms well-versed in both the strategic and visual realm of marketing has grown from not only the need to tap into knowledge and resources outside of the university, but also in finding ways to make it easier for people to engage with the university’s marketing material.
Higher education institutions are starting to become more interested in the use of graphic design firms as they realize that design is more than just eye-appeal. It’s about visual elements combining to produce a picture of personal appeal to the target audience. Graphic designers have a unique understanding of both and are able to use this knowledge to achieve the two primary goals of higher-education marketing:
- Does it appeal to the target audience?
- Does it adequately represent the institution?
These institutions are starting to see the value in investing in graphic design firms to use their skills as visual storytellers to not only appeal to the right students and donors, but also to evoke the desired response from the targeted audience.
In addition, graphic design firms are becoming more indispensable as top trends in marketing and branding approaches are centered around the use of technology such as:
- Responsive website design
- Search engine optimization
- Use of web analytics
- Strategic social media
- Mobile development (including not only mobile versions of websites and other content, but also making a greater amount of course content mobile friendly)
- CMS and CRM systems (especially important for admissions professionals who are engaged in outreach to prospective students)
While most higher education institutions have embraced technology in their pursuit of higher recruitment numbers, most have experienced significant growing pains in their attempts to manage the multiple social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, podcasts, and LinkedIn, respectively) available to market their institution. A 2011 social media surveysocial media survey of more than 950 institutions showed that a full 96 percent of respondents were actively using social media, but that many are struggling to manage their social media initiatives. As one of the researchers noted, “There’s a lot of chaos [...] If the evolution of social media is like raising a child, we’re at the end of the toddler years.” Since that survey, there are even more channels to consider and greater expectations for content quality and immediacy.
Outside of technology, branding and marketing trends have shown more and more reliance on creative approaches and well-thought-out and original design and advertising campaigns, all in an attempt to appeal personally to students interested in higher education, their parents, or alumni. And if the point of higher education marketing is to attract an individual through the merging of all these elements in a way that is both understandable and appealing, using a graphic design firm might just make all the difference in the world.