Turning Your Higher Ed Institution Into a Lifestyle Brand

Posted on 12 JUL 2017 in Branding, Higher Ed Trends by Rob DeLuke

Higher education institutions are becoming lifestyle brands. Yet today’s higher education communication programs seem to have fallen into the proverbial rut. Year after year, we see the same old things being recycled, as they try to get a critical mass of 17-year-olds to choose one learning institution over another. The days of treating college marketing material as a formula for student enrollment are over.

Media-savvy students demand authentic and relevant content where they decide what is important to them. These students have grown up in the age of instant gratification. They aren’t looking to be talked to; they want to have a meaningful conversation about their needs and wants regarding how they will spend their money—and their lives—over the next four years. Let’s be clear: They are choosing a lifestyle, not just an education. They want to be part of something bigger than just brick and mortar. They are aspirational in their thinking and demand that colleges deliver on that lifestyle.

What does that mean for colleges? Stop thinking in a parochial manner about how to deliver that messaging. Step up the effort to think creatively on how to market a higher education brand. Here are some guidelines to help move your institution into one of the lifestyles a student craves.

1. Develop an authentic lifestyle brand position.
The first step is developing an own-able authentic brand position that relates to the student’s lifestyle. Does it have a sense of what they view as community? Is it the right size—big or small? Will the programs offer a 21st-century learning experience that today’s employers crave? Will they be a better person because of where they went to school, all while having the most incredible experience of their lives?

2. Develop a lifestyle brand image.
It’s time to stop photographing students in a posed and non-approachable distant fashion. These students live in the moment; your photography should communicate that feeling. They can quickly draw the distinction between an authentic moment and a contrived, artificial recreation of something unreal. They live in the framework of iPhones and Instagram, where filters and effects add distinct personality to their own personal lifestyle. This is where the subtle nuance of understanding these psychographic behaviors shine through.

3. Develop a lifestyle brand voice.
This demographic doesn’t want to be advertised to; they want to have real conversations about real world questions pertaining to their lives moving forward. They want an authentic, genuine experience that is void of manufactured truths. They want an accurate representation from their peers through real experiences they can imagine being a part of. They want their voice to be heard and their ideas to matter. So, we should communicate a voice that demonstrates the thought-provoking position of What’s in it for me?

4. Develop lifestyle branded content.
The way to this demographic’s loyalty is through short, compelling, inspirational, digestible video that aligns with their social engagement, allowing for real-time sharing on topics they deem worthy. They are mobile, and want their information to be as well. Snapchat and Instagram reign in this demo because this group likes to process snackable bits of information.

5. Develop a lifestyle brand mentality.
Finally, you need to get your team and institution in the proper mindset to think differently. Today, students and parents have different priorities. They are fickle. One of the few ways to gain brand loyalty is by aligning with their lifestyle, so they can envision the extension of their world into yours and that you understand them on a personal and genuine level. It’s about filling their needs with relevant content so they feel a deep connection to your brand.

Isn’t it about time that you stopped marketing your college like an institution, and started marketing it like a lifestyle brand? Because, after all, we’re really selling an aspirational lifestyle wrapped up in a great education.

We’re here to help you evolve your institution’s brand.

Rob DeLuke
Rob DeLuke
VP, Chief Creative Officer

Rob is chief of creative—visually, strategically, conceptually. His ever-evolving expertise from more than 20 years of east coast agency and design firm led fortune 500 and 100 brands into the limelight through intellectually compelling and effective trans-media storytelling.

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