University Branding

When students transition from home to campus life, the ability to acclimate quickly, build trusting relationships, and identify  with the campus “tribe” can make the difference between a student’s success or failure.  For a university it can mean attracting students and creating loyal alumni. Mackey Mitchell senior associate Merrilee Hertlein presented “Make Your Mark…Branding the University” at the 2012 Region 5 ACUI Conference. Citing the renovated student union at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and Western Kentucky University as case studies, she discussed how branding campus buildings can create relationship-building among students and the university.  From the moment students arrive, they should have an understanding of the campus culture and what it means to be part of the campus community. 

Merrilee outlined the following points to keep in mind when creating a university brand:

Identity    The consistent use of logos and school colors serve to reinforce and communicate the idea of ownership.  It’s important to have a tested graphic standards protocol developed to help guide the design.

Tradition   Campus traditions should be celebrated.  Designing the message to showcase those traditions can help strengthen and continue their relevance. Look for new traditions to incorporate into the message.  A bronze statue of your school’s mascot  may become a favorite new graduation day photo-op.

Legacy  People who have played important roles in campus development can be included in the brand message. Founders, donors, distinguished alumni, celebrated coaches, and even the school mascot can provide inspiration and enhance the bonding experience.

Keep it Relevant   When designing a branded message for individual spaces, look to current trends and colors to attract a student’s attention. Current or trendy messages can be easily changed; permanent statements such as bronze statues or plaques can be treated as permanent features.

Define the Message   Branding should clearly communicate who you are, what you do and why it matters.  A message communicated at the School of Business will be different from the School of Law. When branding shared campus buildings such as student centers or libraries, look for opportunities to communicate a comprehensive university brand.

Position the Message   Observing how a university programs space or the way students use it can help define how certain areas are branded. Consider the audience.  A recreation lounge used for socializing will be different from the trustee’s board room.

Keep in mind that every university has something distinctive to celebrate.  Branding can define those special characteristics and if properly packaged, capture the attention of students, help them integrate into the campus culture, and inspire loyalty toward their alma mater for years to come.