Higher Education Branding as Storytelling

Written by Bart Caylor, President and Founder, Caylor Solutions

connect-Jan-Feb-10_smallEric Hoover and Beckie Supiano wrote a Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled “In Admissions, Old Playbook is Being Revised.” The article was a good discussion on the pros and cons of traditional strategies of enrollment marketing: increasing the size of the applicant pool; expanding recruitment to far-flung states; discounting more heavily. The last element of discussion that I found particularly interesting was to better articulate the college’s brand.

“While it seems simple and obvious, the more colleges and universities that I meet with are unable to do so. Even the senior leadership is often at a loss to articulately communicate the brand’s benefits and unique selling points.”

In the article, Hoover and Supiano make a case that the downside of articulating the college’s brand is that “if the brand is not compelling, not enough students will enroll.” While that statement seems to be true, I think a better way to state it would be “if the [information you are presenting as the brand] is not compelling enough…”

Every institution has a story to tell. Every institution has elements that are compelling. Those elements just need to be articulated. Both Caylor Solutions and Fineline Printing Group have higher education marketing and branding nailed with experience in the industry.

Here are the main areas Fineline and Caylor Solutions recommend to consider when articulating higher education brands:


The Process of Higher Education Branding is Not the Same as Developing a Logo

A logo is a product of a brand, much like your wardrobe is a product of your personality. Your suit does not define you any more than a logo defines a brand. It complements and helps someone understand who you are.

FL_02 - 3In the same way, higher education branding is not simply giving your printed and digital collateral a look and feel that is consistent with your logo.  Branding goes much deeper, seeking to communicate your school’s distinctive qualities (its brand) using every medium available.  Everything about your print and digital collateral, from design to messaging to your website navigation, should be part of telling your story effectively.

Fineline just released their second-generation, on-demand marketing portal named Finelink 2.0.  It has tons of cool features, but specifically supports brand and logo consistency by marketing medium and channel.  When IU Health went through a massive rebranding initiative, Fineline and Finelink were able to roll out new digital and print pieces to every hospital and health center nation-wide.

Understanding the Heart

As I sit down with new higher education clients, I often begin by asking about the institution’s distinctives. Many times I am disappointed by what I hear; not because it’s not a great institution with great people, but because those in the room representing the school don’t seem to know how to articulate what makes the institution unique.

I find that I hear the same “distinctives” from many institutions.  If the five institutions down the road from you cite the same differentiators, are they really differentiators?  Rest assured; your institution IS unique and can stand out from the crowd if you learn to tell your story in a compelling way.

Perception vs. Reality

Another challenge I frequently encounter is that of helping institutions face reality in their higher education branding.  What colleges and universities think makes them unique can be quite different from what attracted students there in the first place. Understanding how your audience perceives you, including what attracted current students to matriculate, is a critical part of telling an authentic and compelling story.

Environmental factors also impact how and where to deliver the best version of your story. Fineline’s Kim Ramirez (Senior Account Manager: Promotional Products & Apparel Division) shares some tips on how to stand out at college fairs and events.

Storytelling Tools

iStock_000039386628_smallWe’ve already mentioned some of the storytelling tools that every institution can use, including digital media and print. Within those broad categories, however, lies a rich well of tools like rich media (e.g., infographics, video and 360 photography); social media; inbound marketing and more.  Even your elevator speech is an important part of your story.  Using storytelling to drive traffic and increase engagement can yield greater enrollment results… and produce a very happy ending.

How have you effectively used storytelling in your marketing efforts?

About the Expert

Bart Caylor, President and Founder, Caylor Solutions

With a career spanning nearly 20 years, Bart leverages his vast experience for his clients. Caylor has been honored to have relationships with a broad range of clients. For years, as part owner of one of the largest digital design and branding firms in Indianapolis, he was responsible for a number of higher education accounts, as well as new media initiatives for clients such as Motorola, Ingersoll Rand, Roche Diagnostics, Community Health Network, RCA, and Lexmark. Bart led several large-scale web initiatives, garnering acclaim in The Chronicle of Higher Education and U.S. News and World Report, as well as earning several awards, including a National Circle of Excellence Award through CASE including sites for Anderson University, Taylor University, Franklin College, Marian University, among others.

Bart graduated magna cum laude from Anderson University, is a member of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and has served as president of the Anderson University Alumni Council. He currently serves on the Anderson University National Campaign Cabinet. Bart is often asked to speak at universities and conferences on topics related to web design, emerging media and interactive marketing.

Leave a Comment

twenty − eight =