The Golden Arches of McDonald's, the Nike swoosh, and Coca-Cola's iconic contour bottle are all prime examples of globally renowned branding. Understandably, any organization would aspire to establish such an influential and instantly recognizable brand.
Like any other industry, the higher education sector also recognizes the significance of having a solid brand that elicits positive emotional responses and bolsters a positive reputation.

Rather than simply replicating the strategies of renowned brands, educational institutions should first evaluate the unique value propositions of their organization, as well as the concerns and motivations of their target audience.

So, what steps can universities, colleges, and training companies take to cultivate a compelling brand that differentiates them from competitors and appeals to prospective students locally and globally?

Approaching Branding: Understanding Its Significance and Best Practices

Educational institutions must first understand how the public perceives their existing brand to make informed decisions about new logos, colors, and other branding elements.

One approach to gaining this understanding is to directly ask staff, students, and other stakeholders to describe the brand in three words. Related words and moods can group these descriptions to identify any misalignment or shortcomings in the current branding that may not meet the expectations of students or other stakeholders.

Even if the current branding is perceived positively, it must align with the institution's future strategic goals. Therefore, it may be necessary to consider rebranding or developing more discipline in how the brand is used throughout the institution. This type of research can help identify aspects of organizational identity that are not currently reflected but could be in the future.

Branding should not be taken for granted but rather leveraged to promote a unique value proposition, stand out from competitors, and promote courses and certification programs. As a crucial part of organizational identity, branding should be unified across all departments to ensure consistency and prevent confusion in public perception. Developing a unified branding approach requires rules on color, logos, and taglines.

This does not mean taking control away from individual departments but ensuring they understand the brand strategy and match their public-facing communications accordingly. Creating a dedicated webpage and email address where staff members can access the correct Pantone colors, logos, and taglines can help maintain consistency across the institution.

Redefining Branding: It's More Than Just Logos

The communication of an educational institution's brand encompasses more than just the logo and tagline. It is essential to consider how photographs and images used in various communications reflect the brand's aspirations. The font selection for publications and online platforms is a crucial element that contributes significantly to conveying the brand's narrative.

Regardless of the size of a college or training company, developing and following a branding strategy and guidelines from the beginning is advisable. This approach will save time and prevent confusion in the long run, primarily when the institution aims to grow.

Creating a Successful Online Brand: Tips and Strategies

Once you have identified the core message and promotional channels, maximizing your institution's online and social media presence is essential. For example, take a look at the banner photos being used on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. What image is being portrayed, and how does it reflect your brand?

While some institutions may opt for a safe and straightforward horizontal logo across the banner, this space can be used to communicate essential brand values. For a traditional educational institute such as a university, this might mean showcasing library shelves, graduation ceremonies of famous alums, or iconic buildings. On the other hand, if highlighting a vibrant and diverse student body is essential, then event photographs could add value to your branding efforts.

Excelsior College's website and tagline are tailored to appeal to mature learners in specific subject areas looking to gain professional qualifications while balancing work, family, and other commitments. Their motto, “Life happens. Keep learning,” reflects the challenges faced by this demographic. At the same time, their website offers strong calls to action and options to transfer prior learning credits to expedite graduation. The photographs and stories on the site showcase diverse, older students who are already in the workforce or raising families.

In addition to using hashtags on social media platforms to raise brand awareness, institutions can leverage their students as brand ambassadors by encouraging them to use the institution's logo on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. By telling the story of what sets your brand apart from the competition, you can also differentiate your institution and make it more appealing to potential students.

Emphasize Authenticity to Build an Emotional Connection

Authenticity and emotional connections are at the heart of branding. Merely plastering a logo and tagline across all communication channels is only meaningful if they represent your company's values.

Your brand should accurately reflect your institution's identity, one that your current staff and students can rally behind. Failing to deliver on your brand promise can create cognitive dissonance and harm your reputation, potentially driving students toward your competitors.

Even big brands with big budgets have made past branding mistakes that have negatively impacted their reputation and financial success, such as Kendall Jenner's infamous Pepsi commercial.


Making branding strategy an integral part of your institution's strategic planning is crucial to avoid any missteps in branding. Although it may take up some time to develop a branding message, it is worth investing the time as it could have significant benefits in distinguishing your institution in a competitive market.

By focusing on your core values and figuring out how your brand can effectively communicate them online and offline, you can differentiate yourself from the competition and attract the ideal student demographic.

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