Building a brand is the DNA of a university, conveying its essence and purpose to stakeholders.

It is an intangible asset with immense value for educational institutions. Yet, it cannot be quantified on financial statements. However, the equity derived from a university’s brand perception is arguably its most valuable asset.

Just as in the business world, branding for educational institutions shapes perceptions, improves awareness, and enhances recognition.

Most importantly, if you want your higher education brand to succeed, your target audience must have a consistent experience wherever they encounter it.

Therefore, in this blog post, we will explore the 5 best practices with examples for higher education branding that will help you establish as a distinctive institution.

What is Higher Education Branding

Higher education branding refers to creating and managing a university or college’s image, identity, and reputation.

It involves developing a distinct personality, message, and visual identity that sets the institution apart from others and communicates its values, strengths, and unique offerings to its target audience.

Higher education branding includes logos, colors, typography, messaging, storytelling, marketing materials, and online presence, all directed to shape perceptions, attract prospective students, engage current students and alumni, and develop a sense of community within the institution.

Successful higher education branding helps universities differentiate themselves, build strong connections with stakeholders, and achieve strategic goals.

5 Best Practices With Examples to Establish Higher Education Branding

Branding is a very interesting and complex process usually directed by the senior hierarchy of any institution. We have compiled 5 interesting tips to develop and enact a resolute branding strategy for any university.

1. Build Authenticity by Aligning Your Higher Ed Brand With Values

    Communicating your higher education brand values is important for creating a strong, authentic identity that resonates with your target audience.

    Values serve as guiding principles that shape an institution’s identity and direction, providing a clear sense of purpose and differentiation.

    Develop a visual identity that communicates your values effectively through your logo, colors, typography, and imagery. These elements should evoke the desired emotions and perceptions associated with your brand.

    For example, drawing inspiration from the Maryland state flag, Towson University’s brand pays homage to its geographical roots while embracing local heritage and pride—a value deeply ingrained in its ethos.

    The design of the new mark, with its interconnected letters, symbolizes Towson’s commitment to its core principles and beliefs, signifying an alignment of branding with institutional values.

    Source: TU

    2. Create an Emotional Appeal With the Power of Storytelling in Branding

      Higher education brands are built on more than enrollments, faculty, and programs. The context over content, with meaningful narratives and powerful stories, makes the brand relevant.

      It’s like when you hear a really good story—it stays with you, and you remember it. By telling stories as part of their branding, universities create a unique identity that people remember.

      These stories stick in people’s minds, making them more engaged with the university.

      According to McKinsey, Gen Zers often choose brands with a strong story or purpose. Storytelling taps into readers’ emotions, connecting with them on a personal level to inspire and drive them to take action.

      Institutions must use a conversational tone and content that the target audience can relate to, such as success stories, on-campus experiences, or research initiatives.

      As we research storytelling elements, we can look into university branding examples of how Georgetown University is leveraging the power of storytelling via Instagram to engage its audience.

      By sharing stories about alumni, new students, community events, and celebrations, they create a vibrant narrative and a distinctive brand identity that resonates with their followers.

      Georgetown University instagram account

      Source: GU

      3. Incorporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Effective Branding

        Diversity, Equity, and inclusion (DEI) reflects the institution’s core values and commitment to creating an environment where all individuals feel welcomed, respected, and supported.

        According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and institutions will find it increasingly difficult to connect with them until they have an inclusive brand that reflects DEI values.

        DEI-focused branding helps universities connect with a broader audience, including underrepresented communities, attracting a more diverse pool of applicants.

        The University of Michigan believes in the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as integral elements of its brand identity.

        The University actively promotes DEI principles not only in its hiring practices but also in its core mission and operations.

        For example, the University website has designed a strategic plan 2.0 to support the initiative, developing new academic programs, campus facilities, and student services to ensure equal opportunities for all members of its diverse community.

        Source: Umich

        4. Focus on Building a Strong & Consistent Visual University Brand Identity

          To turn a student into an advocate, every interaction with your brand should reinforce the same message or idea every time. Brand consistency ensures the story and the identity you’ve created are consistent across channels.

          Maintain a cohesive visual identity and messaging strategy to deliver a unified experience for your audience. Your institution’s branding guidelines outline what you can and can’t do with brand elements.

          Here are some best practices for improving university’s brand reputation:

          • Use consistent brand elements, such as logos, colors, typography, and other visual elements, across all communication channels.
          • Create visual templates for marketing materials, presentations, email newsletters, and social media posts.
          • Apply college branding across touchpoints, including campus signage, merchandise, event materials, digital platforms, and academic publications.

          The University of Tennessee–Knoxville’s consistent use of bold orange in its visual brand identity personifies the power of building a strong and recognizable brand.

          Since 1889, the university has incorporated orange into its logo as a primary signifier of its brand identity, evolving to symbolize progress and quality in education and facilities.

          This vibrant color reflects the institution’s vibrant spirit and sets it apart as unique and aspirational. With its hard-to-miss presence, orange helps the university stand out and reinforces its identity.

          University of Tennessee–Knoxville's example of the branding

          Source: UTK

          5. Leverage the Success of Alumni to Build a Brand Reputation

            When alumni do well in their careers, the university provides them with a quality education and opportunities.

            Sharing these success stories helps build trust in the university’s abilities. Also, seeing alumni succeed makes current students, staff, and future students proud to be part of the community.

            Consider showcasing this outside of the alumni network:

            • Regularly featuring alumni spotlights highlighting the role the institution played in their success.
            • Articles and photos of the latest initiatives and entrepreneurial journeys started by the alumni.

            MIT leverages the success of its alumni to further strengthen its brand reputation by highlighting their groundbreaking achievements in various fields.

            For example, MIT alumni include renowned scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders who have contributed to technology, science, business, and society.

            Source: MIT

            These success stories showcased via YouTube enhance MIT’s reputation as a premier institution for innovation and excellence and inspire current and prospective students, faculty, and donors.

            Conclusion

            Higher education branding is imperative to establish a strong and distinctive identity, attract top talent, engage stakeholders, and position themselves competitively in the ever-evolving industry.

            Establishing a strong presence in the minds of students, faculty, alumni, and the wider community is a multifaceted journey.

            Higher education branding goes beyond merely designing a logo or updating a website; it includes the collective perception of the institution by its stakeholders.

            A positive brand perception entails recognizing the university’s quality, value, and credibility, while a negative perception signals the opposite.

            Partnering with experienced higher education marketing firms can help ensure that your institution’s brand is communicated effectively and positively.

            That is why you must understand the best practices discussed in this post and know how to implement the university branding strategy in the right way.