--By Roshee Lamichhane Bhusal
It is the era of differentiation and of clarity in communication. If targeted audience do not uniquely perceive a product or service, it can never become a brand. Such perception can only evolve if brand custodians make concerted and protracted use of seamlessly integrated marketing or branding communication tools and methods. B-School leaders should clearly understand that “institutes having specialty alone will prosper and those that don’t have will languish.” Most colleges and universities offering management courses have differentiation problem while communicating with prospective students, as most of them almost look the same. With the increasing backlash against the hike in tuition fees, the explosion of online education, and the increasing mobility of students within and beyond borders, these institutions must keep in mind the fact that competition in management education sector is going to get fiercer by the day.
Institutional branding is never done devoid of its academic mission. Rather it is meant to help propel the institute from its mission to its vision by creatively conveying the powerful strategy that will take it from ‘where it is’ to ‘where it wants to go’. On the ground and in practical terms, this means the institute has enough takers at the entry level (admissions) and takers at the exit level (employers), including coming together of high quality human resources. Alongside, the society at large recognizes the institute for its unique positioning or value proposition.
The brand strategy moves from finding a market gap, then creating the right educational product to address that, understanding its marketing and then the communication needs, the right positioning to address these needs, and strategy and tools of communication to tell the Big Story of that positioning to the right audience. When the strategy is clear and has creative, consistent and supportive communication, branding is powerful and can benefit a B-School greatly. Research has tied good branding to attracting students, faculty, and staff as well as to achieving success in fundraising and in getting media coverage. The big challenge in branding is creating a “living and breathing institution” that the lives of its students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff are intimately tied to it rather than coming up merely with just another look-alike undifferentiated product or service. Branding shouldn’t just be “an exercise to develop a tagline or a great advertisement.” It needs to get the institutes thinking about the promises they intend to make to their constituents and how those promises might be better communicated.
Brand Development Basics for Business Schools
Every well branded management school must have its unique brand identity, logo, positioning that encapsulates the values the school stands for, mission and vision statements that the community within is involved in developing, uniform and colours and even signage and campus practices that emanate from this identity, mission and vision. And then tools must be created to convey this communication and identity: offline (publications), online (portal and social media), on-air (presence in radio and television), and finally, direct communication through organizing and participation in on-ground activities (events, seminars, education fairs, industry stakeholders meets), etc.
Internal branding to the students and staff should also be a part of this overall branding strategy of the institute. It needs to provide succinct information on housing, transportation, and any other facilities that it offers and others don’t. Students should be assisted in developing interest towards a specific ‘niche,’ for contributing to service-oriented and environmental causes and education program should merge fieldwork and community service with academics. Strong sense of belongingness to a specific niche among students is necessary as all “institutes are not for everyone ... and no student may be for everyone." Institutes need to be mindful of how brand campaign language may be perceived internally. They need to be careful with the taglines they choose to carry when they launch their campaigns. Saying a lot of things at the same time ends up saying very little to the public. Making a decision on a specific tagline and being persistent in communicating that choice is what brings success. Internal to external communication, offline to online to on-ground: brand communication must be consistent, creative and seamlessly integrated across all channels of communication.
Brand Promotion in Management Institutes: Moving Further
B-School branding involves various internal and external stakeholders – students, alumni and society at large. Its goals have to build affinity with the institute’s alumni and pride in its community, and to inform the public that prominent local business and civic leaders are its alums. Little brand recognition and an out-dated image act as challenges for B-School administrators. Achieving special status as B-School definitely allows for a complete transformation of the marketing plan and graphic identity of any school. Having a special status enables to take advantage of its unique name in a series of ads and branding initiatives that emphasize how the school enriches the lives of its students even at a particularly unsettling period in the nation’s history, as in the case of Nepal. Colleges can raise visibility and build their brand with their target audience by offering programs tailored to that audience, for example, agri-business or energy management courses in Nepal’s special context. Different folks… different strokes, so goes the adage.
Institute’s branding strategy and integrated communications should be designed to ensure that different constituencies receive the appropriate letter, their own space online, and special access to people and ideas. Preparing and coming up with a comprehensive but user-friendly manual has the potential to promote a consistent look and feel for all print and electronic materials. It should offer step-by-step guidelines for the proper use of its colours, logo, and writing style when creating everything from apparel to websites and power point presentations, and all these can be done through a written and well-documented brand manual of the institute.
Magazines or newsletters are good branding tools and should be published by the institute twice or three times a year featuring real stories about students, faculty, and alumni that showcase what makes the Management Institute so very special instead of the facts and figures found in a typical college brochure. The institution’s leaders can create a brand identity by reflecting, for instance, its diversity, versatility, collaboration, compassion, academic rigor, and concern for ethics. Members of admissions staff can craft unusual essay questions each year to grab the attention of smart, creative students and such efforts help reinforce the college image as an institution that encourages individuality. Colleges can launch an internal campaign for its new brand with a college-wide community day for faculty and staff members. For instance, college officials can create opportunities for character development among students. Developing an acronym is one of the best ways to show what the college means by character and values such as self-management, integrity, responsibility, and respect for oneself and others can be instilled in the mind of students. Branding/re-branding programs can centre on the concept of customer service that map futures and fulfil dreams of students.
CSR, Cause & Landmark Promotion as a Brand Component
Corporate social responsibility is another strong route to branding, and it is with a heart in the right place. Colleges can use a “lean and green” paperless strategy for marketing to prospective students during the decision-making process, in turn maintaining its image as a tech-savvy institution and also promoting a good cause. Video e-messages, phone and text messages, parent and student blogs, a student portal, virtual view books, and telemarketing can be used as part of the marketing campaigns. Marketing materials should allow development officers and others to begin and advance dialogues. They can customize materials for each interaction, from high-production printed materials to once printed on-demand templates. The goal has to be, “match donors’ passions with institutional priorities. Video segments need to be created where in students talk about everything from what they enjoy most about the college to why they chose to attend it.
Interactive and customizable website, if designed to reflect the institute’s techno-culture, has the potential to attend to the desires of alumni for intellectual inspiration and exploration. Efforts can be made to spread the word about how the institute’s research programs are making a daily impact in the communities by making the visitors access stories about it research projects ranging from developing alternative fuel resources, to improving medical or environmental conditions, to developing fraud detection software, etc. In connection with silver/golden/diamond jubilee celebrations as landmarks of the college, colleges can launch an expansive multimedia campaign highlighting its past achievements and heralding its vision for the future.
Extending Brand Recognition
Good names, acronyms of projects, buildings, concepts, etc., is another strong route to extend the brand communication beyond the name of the college. Also, building the name of the institute within media and communication of others is another effective way too. Building name recognition should be made a key part of early efforts in a branding campaign. Agreements can be made with a corporate to lease college studio space so the company could tape a series of television commercials during vacation times in exchange for the college’s name being featured in them. Colleges can tap the talents of current students and a series of commercials, written, edited, shot, and produced by them can also feature them to discuss how the college could go to great lengths to make the branding effort affordable. The ad message should show that the college delivers on a promise, whatever it may be. B-Schools need to design a campaign in such a way that it would help put a spotlight on the institution’s special mission.
Some B-schools may have a loyal following that goes beyond their alumni. In such a case, they need to develop a website that allows users to download the college song to their cell phones, post photos or videos, or join one of a half dozen social networking programs. A B-school can leverage its athletic program to increase pride in its academic program by telling and appealing to people with any obvious reference to its artefacts such as the college colours. Getting a cute mascot as a recognizable visual beyond the B-School logo is another way for branding a college.
Management students bringing laurels to their B-schools by winning medals and prizes can be effectively used for publicity purposes. For instance, college administrators can launch campaigns if their teams had played in the prestigious sports events. Local sports teams view colleges as a feeder for their business ranks and hence are likely get more involved in institutional support. It is here, management students can get internships with sports clubs and some of them may land full-time jobs with the sponsoring sports organizations. B-Schools can design, develop, and produce TV commercials that highlight and showcase effectively their patents that have benefitted the local community or other research reports having practical utility and social relevance. B-schools’ brand positioning or repositioning should be made to centre on student-driven teams working with communities, businesses, and government agencies to develop solutions to real-world problems. Trying something new doesn’t make sense when the existing branding is working. There are instance where management colleges want to retain their identity as a B-school instead of changing it and acquire the status of a private/deemed university.
Brand building is like rearing a child. If it is done with love and care, and with caution against pitfalls, it will be long-standing. This involves research, understanding the target audience and market needs, resources and continuity. If not done this way, there will be no consistency in branding and hence no sustainable social role and good business in the long run.
The Writer is associated with the CG Institute of Management (CGIM) as the Head of Academics for its BBA program. She can be reached at email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org. The writer has referred to several online resources while researching for this paper, specially, http://jessicaharpersway.blogspot.com/2013/09/whats-your-brand.html and http://www.universitybusiness.com/article/50-best-branding-ideas.