Report: “The State of Higher Ed Branding: A Survey of Marketing Leaders”
Authors: Deborah Maue and Tom Hayes
Organization: mStoner Inc.
Summary: While many people in higher education remain uneasy about branding in the groves of academe, a new report indicates that it is becoming pervasive.
mStoner, a consulting firm, surveyed top marketing administrators at 125 four-year nonprofit colleges and universities for a report on the state of brand strategy in higher education. Brand-strategy projects may be most publicly visible through a new tagline or website, but many involve extensive market research and campuswide involvement in re-examining what an institution stands for.
Alongside a variety of data on what kind of brand-strategy exercises colleges did and how they felt about the outcomes, the report offers a broad-strokes portrait of branding at colleges today:
- Seventy-six percent of colleges surveyed have conducted formal brand-strategy projects, and two-thirds of those institutions have done so in the past five years. Two-thirds of the institutions that haven’t done such projects to date said they planned to do so in the next 18 months.
- Forty-two percent of colleges that had conducted brand-strategy projects said they had done them in response to increased competition — the most common reason.
- Only 2 percent of responding colleges did not use one or more external consultants for their branding work. Ninety-two percent hired private companies for market research, while 78 percent outsourced the brand-strategy work itself, and 61 percent left creative work such as graphic design or video to outside firms.
- Sixty-six percent of colleges said they had spent more than $100,000 on brand-strategy development; 31 percent said they had spent more than $200,000. (The report does not specify over what period of time the expenses were incurred.)
- College presidents or chancellors were the key funders of branding-strategy projects in 39 percent of cases, making them the most common source of funding and support. Chief marketing officers, or their equivalents, were the second-most-common, at 29 percent.
Bottom Line: Formal, research-based branding is increasingly common at colleges, often in response to increased competition. The institutions pay substantial sums to consultants to offer branding expertise, most often at the behest of the president or chancellor.