In the Age of the Internet, it might be tempting to relegate signage to the backseat of your education marketing strategy. But here are seven compelling reasons you should invest in university environmental design from a marketing standpoint.

If you’re familiar with the Caylor Solutions blog, this post might throw you. Digital marketing has been a passion of mine for a long time.

However, offline forms of marketing, like print, are still powerful marketing mediums!

In fact, print and digital marketing are much more successful when they are used together within integrated marketing strategies. You can also combine print and social media marketing campaigns to boost your social media results.

I think most education marketers get how important print marketing is. Brochures, viewbooks, postcards, flyers, one sheets — you name it. We all understand that these print mediums are necessary for a robust education marketing strategy.

But there is a part of offline or real-world marketing that is often undervalued: university environmental design.

University Environmental Design is marketing that lasts for generations.

On many campuses, university environmental design is an afterthought for marketers. We’re not architects, and normally we’re not involved in campus planning or building renovations.

So for most of us as education marketers, university environmental design is a term relegated to nothing more than signage or “wayfinding.”

Now perhaps you love sign design. Or, perhaps you only do it because people need to find their way around the campus. No matter how you see it, I challenge you to take a deeper look.

And if you think about it, university environmental design is a marketing workhorse.

How long have the signs, monuments, and art around your campus been hanging high, visible to every prospective student who comes for a campus visit?

University environmental design isn’t about disposable signage projects. It is the thoughtful placement of artful, useful expressions of your brand distinctives that can last for many class generations. It is an investment.

So here they are — seven compelling reasons you should take university environmental design on your campus seriously as an education marketer.

1. Environmental design improves brand awareness.

The number one reason to invest in signage is that it raises your education brand awareness. Not only does common sense tell us that a sign outside will tell people about you, there’s been a lot of research to prove that investing in high-quality, durable exterior signs really does make a difference for the bottom line of your private college, university, or independent school.

In 2012, FedEx conducted a study that found that…

“…eight in 10 (76 percent) American consumers enter a store they have never visited before based on its signs, and nearly seven in 10 (68 percent) have actually purchased a product or service because a sign caught their eye.”

A report from the Economics Center at the University of Cincinnati produced a similar result stating that “Signs are among the most important elements of visual communication… Effective signage can drive job creation, generate tax revenues, and provide quality access to goods and services.”

  • Sign changes generally had significant, positive impacts on sales, number of transactions and profits. Roughly 60 percent of businesses reported increases averaging about 10 percent.
  • Sign changes also led to small positive impacts on employment. Nearly a quarter of respondents reported hiring more people.

University environmental design isn’t cheap. Tight budgets may balk at the idea of spending on changing signs with outdated brands.

But according to the studies above, it’s worth it.

These studies show that high-quality signage can be a powerful lead generator, especially for local prospective students.

2. Environmental design brings in the locals.

One of the key insights in the UC study above is that location plays a significant role in the marketing power of signage. A relatively high percentage of people who saw the signs would go in to the businesses to investigate what they had to offer.

As you’d expect, university environmental design is most influential on those who live within the local area and can see your education branded signs.

When you look at this unchangeable fact next to the almost limitless reach of digital marketing, you might be tempted to scrap your signage budget all together. But that would be a bad idea!

An American Council on Education study showed that a large majority of freshman students choose to go to a private college or university school within 50 miles of their home.

That is something to really chew on for all of us who are nuts about digital marketing (which I am!).

It’s almost guaranteed that every one of those local students will land on your website at some point, so having a proper digital content marketing strategy in place is essential. But knowing that the majority of your student body will be recruited from the local market means that marketing to this demographic is key to your success.

Bottom line: Ignore environmental design at your peril.

3. Environmental design attracts attention.

The main signs on your campus simply mark the boundaries of your physical space, like your entrance sign. Most often made out of stone, marble, or some other durable material, these boundary signs are great for establishing the longevity, seriousness, and elegance of your brand.

But they don’t do all that well at catching attention. For that, you need something more engaging.

University environmental design includes flashy signage like flags.
University of St. Thomas waving their flag via https://www.mnprivatecolleges.org/our-colleges/university-st-thomas#overview

For example, create branded flags for your fans to wave wildly at sports games.

Feather flags are also a great way to catch the eye of attendees at your next event on campus.

A robust strategy for university environmental design includes high-energy, colorful and cheery attention-grabbers like these to help you get people excited about your school’s brand and what you stand for!

This kind of signage helps turn event attendees into ambassadors as their social media friends and family see them waving your colors at their favorite sporting event.

4. Environmental design makes people feel important and cared for.

Of course, this obviously applies to welcome signs, but it goes right to the heart of hospitality when it comes to directional signage.

But what does that have to do with feeling cared for? Let me explain.

I bet there’s been a time in your life when you needed a restroom… but you couldn’t find the sign.

Frantically, you searched everywhere, but couldn’t find what you needed.

Or perhaps you’ve been on a campus trying to find an event or arrive at a meeting, but you couldn’t figure out any of the buildings. So you wander around until someone takes pity on you and directs you to where you need to go. Or you go online to the school’s website to try and find the campus map.

How did each of those situations make you feel?

Frustrated? Desperate? Vulnerable?

But if there had been a sign, you would have felt something altogether different.

Directional signage to the facilities, to the buildings, or even the info desk, would have made you feel important, welcome, and comfortable.

And aren’t those the exact feelings you want your prospective students to have when they get to your campus? If so then, you’ll need thoughtful, helpful signage.

5. Environmental design can boost web traffic. 

There are so many ways you can drive traffic to your digital marketing assets through the elements you create in your school’s environmental design by placing your URL or a text short code on the various signs, vinyl, and print media you have around campus.

Now that the Internet rests in their pocket, it’s easier than ever to drive online traffic through offline marketing.

I highly recommend creating landing pages specifically designed to welcome site visitors who land there from one of your physical spaces. Make sure the landing page content is exactly what they’re expecting to see and gives them the information they’re looking for.

Quick Idea: Brand your school vehicles with your URL.

Don’t just place your logo or education seal on it. People (especially high school students in the backseat) need to know where to go when they see you.

A vehicle wrap by https://totalimpactsigns.com/vehicle-wraps/#gallery/916/266

Think about how many people you see on the road every day. That’s how many impressions you can get with a simple paint branding or vinyl vehicle wrap.

And while you’re at it, consider branding the admissions golf cart…

University environmental design goes way beyond architecture! Consider vehicle wraps like this one.
Check out this cool golf cart wrap at http://www.fau.edu/publicaffairs/creative-services/

6. Environmental design creates spaces.

One of my favorite benefits from using signage is that you can create spaces with them, much like how a museum creates exhibits.

 When you’re in a museum exhibit, you’re in the same building, often in the same room, as other exhibits, but you feel somehow that this space is all about dinosaurs while the space 10 feet from you is all about cavemen.

University environmental design creates spaces for your visitors much like a museum exhibit.

At your next campus visit day, think of how you can create spaces where prospective students can be surrounded by stories, images, and branding that shows off your brand distinctives.

For example, set up an “exhibit” showing your university’s history. Or one that showcases various service activities. Or series of banners that regale them with your study abroad or student missions programs.

You can also create spaces for parents that demonstrate campus safety or career opportunities for your graduates.

The different kinds of spaces you can create on your campus for your various audiences is only limited by your imagination.

7. Environmental design creates experiences with your education brand.

The whole point of creating spaces on your campus for various audiences is not so that your campus will look cooler than the other campuses that prospective students will likely visit, although creative signage will help you stand out.

You and your staff cannot be everywhere all at once, but your signage can be the friendly face, the colorful attraction, or the helpful guide that they need to make an informed decision about their educational future.

Essentially, all education marketing is an attempt to create an experience with potential students that endears your brand to them and promises them similar experiences in the future if they decide to come to your school.

Key Takeaway: Make sure your signage conveys all of your brand distinctives to your audience in a way that will “Wow!” them.

For a really cool idea that would work great on a college campus, check out this innovative sign tool:


Marketing colleges, universities, and independent schools is our thing.

If you like what you’re reading here on the Caylor Solutions blog, why not reach out and contact us?

Helping education marketers like you reach your marketing and recruitment goals is all we do. Your consultation is free, and there’s no obligation.

Featured image by Natalia Bratslavsky via Adobe Stock
Dinosaur Exhibit image by Arkady Chubykin via Adobe Stock