Education Branding is Dead. Long Live Education Branding!

Ed branding
Education institutions are increasingly facing competition to acquire quality students. The usual response has been to opt for traditional forms of branding and marketing:

• New logo and new-look website
• Bigger print and digital ad spending
• Hiring full-time marketing head and team, tele-callers, and others

Result? Almost abysmal.

Institutions and marketing teams investing in these initiatives have usually come out with dismal reports, failing to derive any meaningful outcome.

Honestly, haven’t we already heard enough of the tall claims of 100% placement, best global faculty, #futureproof, #classroomtoboardroom, industry exposure, and all of that by almost every second education institution?

So, is it safe to assume that marketing for education institution, the way we have known it, is dead? The answer is both Yes and No.

If you are aware of the trends, a new form of branding and marketing has been taking shape for a while now. The approach is simple. Almost like going back to the tried-and-tested technique of spreading a message via people who have been there, done that. It is about telling your brand story, consistently, through your own stakeholders.

How does this work:

(1) Think Holistically

Here major stakeholders –students, faculty members, and the alumni – get included in the brand building process. Not that simple. For instance, quite often we hear faculty members of an institution refusing to take to the social media to showcase their thought leadership and passion for teaching or to engage in mentorship conversation with students. This requires a cultural change!ir passion for teaching or engage in mentorship conversation with their students. This requires a cultural change!

(2) Encourage Participation

Students and alumni, whose lives have been transformed by the institution, don’t shy away from sharing instances of how the institution has positively influenced them or provided an amazing learning environment. For instance, the Twitter campaign by SPJIMR alumni – #iamspjimr – has trended nationally.

SPJIR, twitter trending

The ‘stories’ from these stakeholders are not casually brushed off as marketing tricks. The ‘stories’ create an ‘imagined world’ for prospective candidates.

Here it is vital to create the right enabling environment for alumni and student participation.

Let’s take the case of an institution which managed to do this. When Dr. C.N. Narayana became the Director of Kirloskar Institute of Advanced Management Studies (KIAMS) in early 2015, he faced a daunting task – the Harihar-based institution was facing fierce external competition and was not able to fill its 180 PGDM seats. Dr. Narayana quickly set things in motion. He decided to stay away from the traditional approach to branding – he refrained from expensive advertising, expanding the admissions team, getting new logo, etc. Instead, he used his own social media assets to highlight the legacy of the Kirloskar brand: achievements, student life, faculty accolades, initiatives being introduced by his team, and so on. Soon faculty members joined him, followed by students and the proud alumni. Gradually KIAMS was able to bring about a cultural shift to create a strong ecosystem of brand ambassadors out of each one of its stakeholders. They came forward to happily share, via social media, their transformational experience at KIAMS. Result? KIAMS closed the window to its 180 PGDM admissions by March, with 100+ students in the waitlist. How about the Cost per Lead (CPL)? Well, with a mechanism like that in place, insignificant.

So, words of advice for all institutions considering spending more on advertising, logos, and new websites: pause, reflect, and rethink. The new approach to brand building will take slightly longer to implement and would require a cultural change within the institution. But once you build this formidable culture, there is no looking back!

Bejoy Suri

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Bejoy Suri is the co-founder at E-squared, a digital marketing and consulting firm in the education sector.

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