University branding: How to build a brand that drives enrollment


By: Amelia Wallace

Not too long ago, universities didn’t have much need for a strong brand. But as the market for funding, recognition, academic talent and even student recruitment has started to heat up, the need has become critical.

A survey by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup showed that in 2017, only 34% of schools polled had met their enrollment targets for the fall term on May 1, which marked a decline from 37% in 2016 and 42% in 2015. With recent setbacks like Covid-19 affecting enrollment, more universities have begun to focus on branding. At the moment, 85% of university leaders are concerned with accelerated rates of student attrition in the short term and 88% are concerned about a decline in overall future student enrollment due to Covid-19.

A strong brand and message can easily convert to higher enrollment, but with the current approach to education branding, it’s easy to see where many universities fall short. To build a stronger brand and improve student retention, follow these steps to develop a stronger brand and message.

How to develop stronger university branding and messaging

1. Collect brand perception data from every group

Universities have a lot of different stakeholders from every corner of campus. If you focus on only one group, it’s easy to miss out on some great university marketing opportunities. In order to solidify your brand and make it accessible to the majority, you need to collect brand perception data from every facet of your campus.

Most universities can be broken down into the following groups:

  • Current and prospective students (and their parents)

  • Alumni

  • Faculty (current and retired)

  • Administrative staff

  • Corporate partners

  • Research funding sources

  • Community members and leaders

  • Local media, nonprofits and businesses

  • University vendors

2. Identify student personas

Once you’ve collected perception data surrounding your university’s brand, you can begin identifying student personas. Developing these personas is a key part of your university branding strategy because it will prevent you from generalizing your brand decisions.

Your established personas will help you recognize the specific attitudes, concerns and criteria that drive prospective students toward you or your competitors.

Follow these steps to build the right personas:

  • Divide your student population into groupsE.g., divide returning adult students from recent high school grads.

  • Identify similarities for each groupFocus on what their motivations, goals and concerns are.

  • Confirm your assumptionsStart surveying your groups to get insight into their wants and needs. For example, you may learn that returning adult students are interested in social connections just like recent high school grands.

By building these personas, it can give you insight into current trends other competitors may be using for recruitment.

3. Identify unique traits

Once you’ve created your student personas, you can start to identify unique traits among them. Begin by considering student niches, your location and your history.

  • Student niches: If your university caters to a specific student niche, this can become a strong focal point for your brand identity. For example, a disproportionately high number of part-time students, mature students or international students can potentially attract students in a similar situation.

  • Location: Along with student niches, your location is another big part of your university’s appeal. You don’t need to put a huge focus on this, but it can help promote a general atmosphere for your university’s brand.

  • History: For most universities, history is an important part of their identities. Even if your university is on the younger side, it can still play a vital role in your brand identity.

How to maintain your university branding

Follow these steps to maintain your university's brand:

1. Keep brand assets in one place

A critical part of university branding is consistency. If your staff or faculty can’t access your brand assets easily, you run the risk of having marketing items developed that don’t follow your brand. This in turn can undermine all the research and work you’ve put into building a brand that drives enrollment. To avoid this, keep your brand assets in one place.

2. Use lockable templates

Lockable templates will also help keep things consistent across campus. By providing lockable templates, you can put a stop to any rogue designers and ensure that everyone is using your brand assets correctly. Lockable templates don’t have to be rigid — you can provide templates that different departments can personalize.

3. Share templates with faculty and staff

Finally, be sure to share your templates with all faculty and staff. With lockable, easy-to-use templates, anyone can quickly create posters, brochures, flyers and more that can be used throughout your university.

A university’s brand is key to driving enrollment. Your brand is what draws in students, and during a time where enrollment is dropping, it’s more important than ever that your university’s brand is solid and enticing. To get better insight into attracting the modern student, check out our free ebook that will teach you how to evaluate your brand and also offers tips for delivering a consistent recruitment experience.

Free eBook download

Attracting the modern student

A university's brand is defined by its culture and values. This brand experience is what draws students to a school and keeps them as loyal alumni after they graduate. But, the climate around student recruitment has changed as a larger and more diverse group of students look for the university that's right for them. Is your school delivering a strong, consistent message with its brand marketing?

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Amelia Wallace

Amelia Wallace has been writing content for far too long. Her expertise ranges from home decor to insurance to marketing and beyond. She is an avid movie-goer, retains only the best kinds of useless information, and is the worst to go hiking with since she’s constantly stopping to take photos.

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