We’ve been talking a lot about brand this year. Our Natives Group annual conference was themed around ‘Being an Effective Brand’. And our flagship research project, the National Clearing Survey, found that having a solid brand presence is vital when it comes to hitting your Clearing targets (81% of Clearing students have already heard of the HEI they enrol with, and 69% have visited the HEI’s website before A Level Results Day).
Brand is a big, broad and bold concept and we want to know how it is talked about, measured and valued within the higher education sector.
And so it became the topic for a focus group that we ran, bringing together some of the industry’s leaders from Marketing and Brand in Higher Education.
Led by the Head of Global Consulting, at the very appropriate Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, we experienced a fantastically honest and insightful discussion. This is what we learnt.
1. Brand is a senior leadership thing
Changes to brand, and how brand performs for an institution are issues that senior leadership teams in universities are into. This means that any measurement of brand is going to be shared upwards, and needs to align with the way in which senior leaders like to digest information.
2. Storytelling resonates more than data
This is something we already know here and talk about a lot with our creative and media services across Natives Group, but it also applies to data. Numbers alone do not provide enough insight to engage audiences and gain buy-in. Qualitative data, monitoring over time, and benchmarking are all essential elements of measuring brand, and need to be built into a cohesive picture, or story, to share with colleagues.
3. Brand is a multiple stakeholder concern
While student recruitment is top of mind for many HE marketers (with student recruitment campaigns attracting large proportions of budget), when it comes to brand a much broader range of stakeholders becomes important. In fact all stakeholders are relevant when it comes to measuring or communicating brand, including influencers, parents, teachers, international agents, employers, local community, the academic community, the media and, of course, staff across the institution.
4. What’s important about brand varies
There are some measures that spring to mind when you think about brand, for example, awareness. But just increasing that awareness metric doesn’t matter to everyone. Institutional size, specialisation, location, stakeholders, corporate objectives, and where they are on their brand journey all play a part in determining which elements of brand are important, and how and when they should be measured. What everyone agreed on was the value of qualitative insights, in particular brand perceptions, and how these align with where an institution wants its brand to be.
We are looking at how we can support education marketers with developing, communicating and measuring brand, and this event provided brilliant insights to help shape the development of a new tool for universities. More on that soon.