How Universities Should Build Their Brand Identity

With the vast amount of information available to students today, the competition between universities has never been higher.

As ever-growing numbers of people attend university, everyone is looking for the edge that will help them land their desired career, and to do that they need to know their university choice is right for them.

Making sure your institution stands out is vital for successfully attracting students. Branding is now an essential part of the marketing strategy for any university, especially if that institution isn’t particularly well-known or well-established. Creating a solid identity is the best way to appeal to students as it helps reinforce any advertising messages and promotes a distinctiveness which separates an institution from others. Consider the most successful companies; they all have a unique persona for which they are known.

The branding and slogans for most universities are remarkably similar. They tend to feature references to the institution being “unique” or “different” or “right for the student”, without any specific reference as to why that is. University marketing needs to specifically state what exactly it is that makes that place the perfect destination for students, and to do this they need a solid brand identity.

To ensure your institution stands out, you need to focus on what exactly makes it different and build a brand identity around that. There are a number of points to look at when considering this:


The first stage is to identify the exact strengths of your institution. What in particular do they excel at?

It could be a particular area of study, a particular degree which only that university offers, a specific course which is highly regarded in the higher education sector, or a department which is well respected. It could be related to an aspect of the study, such as a focus on work experience, practical degree elements or fieldwork, which may help students when they begin looking for a career.

It could be the “student experience” which sets a university apart from the rest: perhaps there’s a focus on study abroad, student exchanges, extra-curricular activities or contact time with lecturers. Or perhaps it’s the resources on offer which make a university stand out. Anything from research facilities, to libraries and art collections, an all help to create a strong brand identity.

The key is pinpointing the true strengths of your university.


For ancient universities, history is an integral part of their identity. While this isn’t true for younger universities, there’s no reason why history can’t still play a vital role in the brand identity of an institution. Interesting and notable events in a university’s life all contribute to the kind of place it is to study, and this allows marketers to form a brand identity which incorporates the history of the place.


Location is another significant aspect of a university’s appeal. Consider the specific area’s in which your institution is situated and decide if that has a specific impact on what you’re offering. This isn’t to say that marketing teams ought to focus entirely on the fact that there’s a beach just a few minutes away, but they can promote the general atmosphere that creates. Students are, after all, looking for an experience as well as an education – and weather, scenery, and local amenities can have a big influence on their decisions.

It’s also worth promoting significant geographical, historical and cultural locations and events nearby which may appeal to students.

Consider student ‘niches’

If there’s a specific student niche which a university caters to, this can be a strong focal point when creating a brand identity. A disproportionately high number of mature students, international students or part-time students can all help attract others in a similar position. By focusing on the benefits this presents, such as increased staff awareness of issues faced by those demographics, extra resources available and the comfort for students of knowing they’ll fit in, marketers can successfully create an identity which represents the student body.

By looking into all of these points, university marketing teams can successfully come up with a brand identity which is unique to them, and accurately reflects what their institution offers. This honesty and openness is the best way to appeal to new students, and will help set a university apart from the sea of ubiquitous taglines and advertising strategies.

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