University Library

The university. The college. The school. How they coexist in the brand hierarchy.

Rick Carey - VP, Creative Director

The question isn’t new to university marketing professionals. In fact, universities across the country have been trying to answer this question for decades. How do you effectively incorporate a highly acclaimed college, school or department into a comprehensive university brand?

At most universities, you’ll find individual colleges, schools or departments that rise above the norm for myriad reasons. They may have a national reputation based on years of consistently high academic performance. They may have a strong and focused faculty made up of published thought leaders. Or they may have a visionary dean who fuels recruitment of the best and brightest students.

These individual entities may believe – sometimes with merit – that their own brand is stronger than the university’s, at least for their specific audiences. And that is where the brand disconnect begins.

Avoiding that disconnect is one of the most important steps to building a consistent and well-defined brand. Here are a few strategies that may help you achieve this goal.

For purposes of this overview, let’s assume you are embarking on a university-wide branding assignment. The thoughts we’re sharing here apply to all levels of branding, whether it’s the launch of an entirely new brand or the refresh of a brand that already has equity.

The approach

During the early stages of the branding process, invest the time to compile a list of the colleges, schools and departments within the university with the reputation and credentials to justify having a prominent role in the university brand. Don’t ignore these areas of strength within the university: embrace them. Make them part of the process and, more importantly, part of the brand.

One simple way to achieve this goal is to include the people who lead these areas of strength in the branding process. That means more than simply sharing your initial ideas with them and asking for their reaction or approval. Rather, we recommend you ask them to become active participants in the branding process from the very beginning.

Acknowledge the challenge from the onset. Explain that while the university brand must represent the entire institution, it also needs to reflect individual areas of strength within the university. Ask them how the strengths of their college, school or department can elevate the university’s institutional brand. Seek ideas and input. Create a taskforce. Or develop a work plan that includes timelines and key milestones. The logistics of how you work together can be whatever works best for your institution. The important outcome is having a group dedicated to helping you achieve the goal.

The storytelling

When you are telling the university’s story, don’t shy away from incorporating its areas of strength within your message. If the stories are crafted carefully, they can lift the entire institution. Remember that storytelling involves more than words. Prominent images that portray the areas of strength should become part of the university’s visual standards.

Also, consider developing a digital message calendar that features the areas of strength prominently on the homepage of the university website. This accomplishes two goals. First, your homepage will be refreshed with relevant content on a consistent basis. Second, it builds trust among those who represent the areas of strength within the university. They will see how that messaging enhances not just their own reputation, but that of the entire university.

The identity system

If your brand project includes an identity system for the university, consider developing a logo hierarchy that incorporates individual colleges. If you can demonstrate how colleges are a prominent component of the university’s identity system, it will help dissuade colleges from developing their own logo.

Learn more about Hart’s work in higher education and brand strategy. Or to start a conversation on navigating the higher education brand hierarchy, contact:

Sharon Stemen
Manager, New Business Development
419.893.9600 Ext. 161