What is a brand? A brand is the big idea, the promise and expectations that reside in a consumer’s mind. Branding is the linkage between a brand with how their customers see them. Take a moment and visualize your alma mater and imagine the kind of mental or visual imagery that you get in front of you. With lakhs and lakhs of students entering different educational institutions every year, it is important for the education landscape to take notice of how they are being perceived by their consumers (i.e., parents and students).
In any business, the marketing strategy plays a very important role in building the brand and in growing towards new customers while retaining the existing ones. The education sector is no different. However, branding in the education segment cannot be blatant and noisy. As an industry, education is synonymous with knowledge gaining and sharing, and branding for any education outfit should not be far removed from this thought. How does one break the branding barriers and come out as a successful education brand that students look up to?
Here's a quick lowdown on branding in the education space and there cannot be enough emphasis on the imperativeness of the same.
Understand how the brand is being perceived
Take a sample size of your current, previous students along with your staff members for a quick survey around the brand perception and connotations that your educational business evokes. These can be grouped into related moods or keywords. Doing this type of discovery research can identify ways in which existing branding might be misaligned to public perception. Even if your branding is perceived in positive terms, your goals for the future might be different than the current branding. Reconsidering and re-structuring your brand perception always helps you find new foresight and a chance to reach out to a new target market.
Break free from the clutter and find your own niche
Whether you are a primary school, college or even a language program, chances are you are never likely to exist in a vacuum. You are a part of a larger educational ecosystem with other players and competitors eating from your share of pie. Hence, a way to easily break away from the noise is to associate your business with a certain context or legacy. Consider the brand evocation of Harvard globally or an IIM in India. The names alone are evocative of the legacy of excellence in each case. For instance, a lot of millennials prefer to understand what kind of philanthropic initiatives their potential colleges or schools are associated with. Find ways for your business to break out and stand true to the brand ideals and showcase that to current and prospective students.
Consistent brand elements across marketing channels
Ensuring prospective students find consistent representations of your brand during their search is important towards consistent branding in any business, not only for an education setup. The use of logos, images, video quality, colour palette makes a huge impact on the way people perceive you as well as find you among other players in the market. There are several reasons why brand inconsistencies happen. Sometimes, when several people are responsible for social media, digital, branding initiatives, the consistency might get muddled. To ensure there is consistency, there should be certain standard operating procedures, like a common email ID or a press junket on the website where the consistent brand collaterals can be found for everyone’s usage. A visual impact is everything so ensure that you only upload quality pictures on your website, social media channels to enumerate your educational atmosphere.
Go digital first. Period.
Marketing your brand on a digital platform in the right manner will help you fetch your desired results. It is important that schools improve the visibility of their brand online to route the maximum traffic its way. While seeking to attract students most schools only focus on defining its characteristics, but schools must also focus on communicating these characteristics via digital channels like their websites, social media presence, SEO and their overall online brand aura. To ensure success, an integrated digital marketing strategy is required which reaches out to the needs of parents and students.
It is also important for schools to optimize their presence on search engines because that is where most parents begin their initial search journey. Schools should use the search terms that make their school discoverable. Optimization of the school’s Google My Business page is important so that schools only offer vital information to the parents. Also, ensure that the school website is mobile-friendly because more the ease for the parents better is the first impression that the school imprints in their minds.
Gauge how your word-of-mouth referrals are
Another aspect that will be very closely looked into by all parents will be the reviews for the school. Interestingly, this is an aspect that is usually overlooked by most schools but in real sense it’s the most essential element in effectively marketing the school. Parents are more likely to trust reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations over any other pricey marketing strategy. Thus, schools must always encourage positive reviews because who wants to send their kid in school that has any negative ratings. And just in case there are some negative responses always remember to respond politely to create a positive vibe. With the increasing expectations of the parents and students alike, educational businesses can also consider coming up with post-enrolment marketing strategies which include the regular student progress update for parents and timely curriculum and extra- curricular activity updates for the convenience of the students.
For any business to thrive, the most important factors are always having a great product and then having the right product-market fit. This translates to the education segment too. For any educational brand to succeed, it is important that the institution provides quality education first and gives students the right learning and opens avenues for them in the future. Understanding your audience and targeting them in a manner that bridges some gaps for them is a great way to target your institution’s branding. Concentrating on your core values and how the brand can transmit those can really help with breaking the noise in your market and stand out as an authentic brand. At its core, any branding is aimed towards making emotional connections and being authentic.
Hiren Panchal is the co-founder of Litmus Branding, India’s growing Advertising and Digital Branding Agency. He has a strong, multi-faced experience of 22 years in the areas of branding, advertising, marketing, designing and project management. With sound expertise in brand establishment, he has helped strengthen the brand assets for clients like Coca Cola, Payson Petroleum, India Institute of Management (IIM) Udaipur, Haldiram's, Sabi Foods, Almeer Saudi, IRU, and many more.