Brand Marketing in Higher Education

I’m not going to lie. Marketing higher education can be hard. Universities need to communicate to many audiences in varying ways for varying reasons. Just look at the vision for UW Oshkosh:

“The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh will be a national model as a responsive, progressive, and scholarly public service community known for its accomplished record of engaging people and ideas for common good.”

When developing our brand platform several years ago, we decided it wasn’t doable to translate our mission and vision into a succinct communication platform by creating one brand positioning statement, or a single brand promise. Instead, we created a promise for each of our key constituents. For example, here is the promise we make to our students:

“UW Oshkosh provides a hands-on, collaborative academic experience, promoting discovery in an environment that celebrates inclusive excellence, fuels imagination, and champions critical thinking and opportunity.”

Yet our promise to our community and region reads:

“UW Oshkosh is a regional center for the celebration of knowledge, culture and community that nurtures openness, imagination, diversity and opportunity. We partner with our community constituencies, actively listening to their needs and developing educational opportunities that shape our collective, global future.”

After developing this brand platform, including several other brand promises, the hard part came: living this brand and delivering on these promises.  From the communications standpoint, we now have to demonstrate that we are living the brand and delivering on the promises. We, as brand marketers, don’t create brand guidelines because it’s a necessary evil. Good brand marketers are merely documenting who we know ourselves to be then using our time and resources to show the world who we really are as an institution. I feel the best way to do this is through storytelling. Tell the stories that show we’re making good on our promises.

I’m excited that in early 2014 we’ll be launching a new University Home Page that will focus on these stories. Over the past year a great deal collaboration has taken place across campus to build a system of campuswide storytelling. We call it our Story Champions group. A weekly meeting of dedicated campus storytellers come together to not only exchange the happening of their area but to walk away with a plan to tell the stories. This has created a wealth of content that will soon be displayed on our new home page for the world to see.

Stay tuned… we’ll be asking for your feedback on the new site!

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