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December 25

10 Critical Signs Your College or University Needs a Rebranding Campaign


by | Dec 25, 2023 | Branding, Featured

In today’s rapidly changing higher education landscape, does your college or university need to launch a rebranding campaign?  

Budget margins are thin and market realities are constantly shifting for colleges and universities.

In such a dynamic environment, keeping your education brand fresh and relevant is crucial. 

But how do you know when it’s time for a rebranding campaign? 

Rebranding campaigns can be large, drawn-out projects that can drain your institute of vital funds that could be used for other high-priority programs. 

But if your education brand is indeed at risk, then the consequences of not launching your rebrand could be devastating. 

Before you get to the edge of a crisis, here are 10 critical signs to watch out for:

1. Enrollment Is Declining

The higher education sector is fiercely competitive, and standing out is more challenging than ever. 

These days, the competition is getting tougher as the pool of prospective students is getting objectively smaller with the looming demographic cliff.

If you’re noticing a decrease in applications, or if your institution isn’t resonating with prospective students as it used to, it might be time to refresh your brand.

A rebrand can help you redefine your unique selling proposition and communicate them more effectively to your target audiences.

2. Institutional Focus Has Shifted

If you have added new programs or changed your research emphasis, you may wish to consider a rebranding campaign. 

To stay relevant, your brand should reflect any significant changes to your offerings or focus. 

A rebrand can communicate these changes effectively, ensuring that your institution’s public image aligns with its current reality.

Beyond maintaining your brand authenticity by staying current, you’ll be able to leverage the buzz that’s created by announcing something new happening on your campus. 

Alumni especially appreciate new initiatives and programs that align with your unchanging values. When they share about you with their children and friends, they can be confident that you’re keeping up with the changing demands of the industries and disciplines you serve.

3. Student Needs and Values Are Evolving

Today’s prospective students are different from those a decade ago, and much different from those who came before them. 

They value digital literacy, practicality, authenticity, social responsibility, and diversity. 

If your brand doesn’t resonate with these values, you risk appearing out of touch. 

A rebranding campaign can help realign your institution with the values and needs of current and prospective students.

4. Digital Technology Is Passing You By

In the age of digital transformation, an outdated brand can make your institution seem behind the times. 

Modernizing your brand can demonstrate your commitment to innovation and state-of-the-art learning, an attractive prospect for tech-savvy students and faculty.

Of course, revitalizing your content marketing doesn’t have to break the bank! Check out these 9 must-have items that can definitely fit your budget.

5. Recent Events Have Caused Negative Publicity

Bad press can have a lingering impact on an institution’s reputation. If this has happened to you, you’re not alone!

Jenny Petty from the University of Montana shared with Troy Singer and me on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast how a public scandal motivated them to what she called a “brand renaissance.”

From 2011 to 2017, The University of Montana had seen a 40% decrease in the freshman class. They were experiencing a steep enrollment decline [that started] a decade before [I arrived]. 

On top of that, there was a very public sexual assault scandal that was documented in Jon Krakauer’s book, Missoula. The main hall of our university is on the cover of that book. It was very public. It involved athletics, and so it was very prominent. 

On top of that, there were big budgetary issues. The marketing department went from 15 to three members in 2016 because the university offered buyouts.

If your university or college has faced negative publicity like this, a rebranding campaign can be an effective way to turn a new page. 

It’s a chance to redefine your narrative and focus on the positive aspects and future direction of your institution.

If you’d like to get more detail on how Jenny and her team turned things around at UMT, listen to the podcast episode here or read the blog summary here

6. Mergers or Acquisitions Have Occurred 

Mergers and acquisitions in higher education are not uncommon these days, especially as institutions seek ways to shore up declining admissions numbers. 

In fact, more than 16% of institutions explored the idea of a merger or acquisition in a 2020 survey of college and university presidents. 

When institutions merge, a rebranding campaign is essential to unify the new entity. 

It’s an opportunity to create a brand that reflects the combined strengths and vision of both institutions.

7. Alumni Engagement and Fundraising Need a Boost

Alumni are a vital part of a university’s community and resources. 

If you’re struggling with alumni engagement or fundraising efforts, a rebrand might be in order. 

A fresh brand can rekindle alumni pride and open new doors for fundraising opportunities.

8. Your Global Footprint Is Expanding

For institutions aiming to expand their international presence, a rebranding campaign could be crucial. 

A global brand needs to appeal to a diverse, international audience, showcasing the institution’s multicultural environment and international opportunities.

If your education brand is rooted largely in the local region in which you’re located, you’ll probably need to consider a rebrand.

9. Budget Is Getting Tighter

Due to the enrollment decline, many institutions are facing serious budgetary challenges.

Too often when colleges and universities tighten their belts, the marketing budget is the first thing to get trimmed. 

If budget restraints keep getting tighter, it may be time to consider a complete overhaul of your education brand to ensure that it can carry you into the coming years.

It’s true. A rebranding campaign certainly does include some spending. 

However, by identifying and fixing some of the messaging problems that stand in your way, you might be able to turn things around without investing too much of your marketing budget.

10. Community Relations Are Getting Distant and Weak

Universities and colleges are integral to their local communities. 

If your institution’s relationship with the community isn’t as strong as it could be, consider a rebrand. 

A refreshed brand can emphasize community involvement and regional impact, strengthening these vital connections.

Rebranding Campaigns are More Than a Marketing Ploy

Rebranding is more than just a facelift. 

It’s a strategic process that can rejuvenate your school, making it more appealing to current and prospective students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community. 

If you’re seeing any of these 10 signs at your college or university, it might be time to consider a rebrand. 

And if you need any help getting your rebranding campaign done right, contact us today or check out why you should partner with a higher ed marketing agency.

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Featured image by freshidea via Adobe Stock

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