Branding is about so much more than Sex and the City
24 October 2023
Andrew Crisp focuses on the need for strong and strategic approaches to brands in business education.
Brand is sometimes a dirty word in academia with some suggesting that it smacks of commercialisation and is not appropriate. However, business schools and universities are competing for students and that competition has intensified in recent years with new entrants outside traditional higher education institutions and greater international competition. Brand can play a significant role in helping institutions stand out, ensuring marketing budgets are efficiently and effectively used.
Twenty years ago, when CarringtonCrisp was founded, our first product was a study titled ‘The Business of Branding’. A seminar for the then Association of Business Schools revealed that those tasked with marketing their business schools were under resourced and struggling to clearly identify points of difference in their offer compared with others.
In the first study, the words most often used by students to describe their business school were friendly, international, academic and modern. Probably words that might be used to describe 99% of business schools around the world, and definitely not words that help differentiate those business schools from their competitors.
Before starting CarringtonCrisp, I worked for a corporate communications agency where I lead the team that helped rebrand London Business School; for them the key word was London and everything that it suggested. At the time the website address was changed from lbs.ac.uk to london.edu. However, ownership of a place is difficult, just think of Imperial College London, King’s College London, University College London and the London School of Economics to name a few; in recent research we found 66 institutions in London offering business degrees.
Some confuse brand with logo and branding with marketing, but these are very distinct terms. Logo is one expression of the brand and marketing is the activity which can support communication of the brand, but brand itself is far more strategic. That being said, marketing can sometimes have a considerable impact on raising brand awareness. The Daily Mail recently carried a photo of Sarah Jessica Parker, the Sex and the City star, carrying two UCL tote bags. It will have little impact on choice of UCL as an institution, but does no harm in raising awareness of UCL.
Brand needs to be strategic, driven by clear values and purpose, focused on audiences and ambition. Differentiation is becoming a more difficult challenge in a crowded business education landscape, but those schools that can build a strong, clear brand will be reap enormous rewards with students, staff, alumni and many other stakeholders.