A New Academic Year Begins

UA Little Rock campus move in day

Chances are if you take a scroll through just about any social media platform, you’ll see photos of students moving into residence halls, moms helping with decorations and dads carrying lots and lots of boxes.

A new year of college is here.

Working Ahead

As students are coming on to your campus and getting ready for the new year — that means your marketing and admissions teams are starting the work for the next academic year.

One place they’re likely starting is brand work.

In my dissertation, participants talked about the important role the marketing and communication office plays in advancing the university brand and advocating for branding efforts.

Before getting into why branding matters…. what is branding?

Here’s what one participant had to say:

The overall perception of the university from all audiences and the promise of what the university offers to the rest of the world.

Study Participant

Why Branding Matters

Multiple participants talked about branding and its importance to a few key groups — including prospective students and parents, donors, and other influential stakeholders.

Here are the highlights of why they perceived branding was critical for universities to consider:


Continual brand messages help the university to remain top of mind when students are researching universities to attend. Several participants expressed concern that a student needed to be aware of your university before they were interested in college. Otherwise, it was difficult for a student to go through the full funnel (Awareness, Consideration, Application, Admission, Enrolled, Matriculated) in the short time most students explore colleges. Branding is a way to help students know you’re out there.


A strong brand and strong brand messages create evangelists. Those can be current students, alumni and faculty and staff. Having a consistent message helps these groups buy into the mission and become excited about it. Others who believe in and want to help tell your story are some of the strongest supporters you can have. Branding consistently over time gives these groups the opportunity to join you in telling your university’s story, possibly getting you into new places.


This is close to advocacy but it’s different. A strong brand creates affinity and excitement. It becomes something people can rally behind. Creating that excitement helps people to emotionally connect to your brand. That’s important because donors want to give to a place that they believe in. Students want to go to a place that they’re excited about. That emotional connection is what people crave. Creating affinity through branding is crucial for a university to achieve its objectives in enrolling students and in raising funds.


If people are unsure about your university, branding helps communicate what they can expect. It articulates the experience they will have when they interact with your brand. This is important because the brand is helping students determine if they’ll fit at your institution. Does what you offer align with what that student needs? It’s okay for that answer to be no. In fact, it’s actually better to realize that before the student comes and then doesn’t stay. What to expect from your brand is one of the most critical reasons that branding matters.

Don’t Forget Branding Work

One of the biggest challenges with branding work is it can be difficult to track. I don’t dispute that. However, it’s still important to be consistently in your market in general ways. As marketing and communications professionals, our budgets are tight. And sometimes get tighter each year.

This makes it incredibly tempting to pull away from the branding work and focus more on targeted campaigns because of their ROI. Both are important. Both matter. We have to find that sweet spot.

Have a Great Year

As you and your teams start planning for the next academic year, make it a great one. But remember the importance of balancing branding work with target work. Together, they will help you achieve your university goals.

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