Cultivating education brand loyalty is a long game. Getting new students to come to your school is just the beginning. How are you working to make this critical marketing condition a reality?
It’s a tricky condition to create for two big reasons:
- Education brand loyalty requires considerable time to create.
- It requires the combined effort of your entire staff, faculty and current students.
Education brands like yours are very different from consumer brands. According to this Inside Higher Ed article, schools “have experiential brands and long-term relationships.”
This means that your brand is either helped or hindered by each and every single interaction that a student, alumnus or donor has with any representation of your school.
Conversations with faculty. Dealing with administrative issues with school staff. The energy felt in your school’s on-campus coffee bar. Each one of these interactions will either build or destroy the way your audience perceives you.
And this ultimately determines their loyalty to your school.
The head cheerleader
I know what you’re thinking. Your marketing team has very little control over the experiences people have with your school.
And you’re right …
But you can have a big influence on improving these interactions all across your school as the brand cheerleader for your school!
You are the head cheerleader for crafting education brand loyalty. You are the cheerleader, pumping up the school spirit with your audience!
Cheerleaders, mascots and marching bands can’t control all the variables that make up school spirit at a sports event, but they exert a ton of influence on the crowd to keep spirits high and make that event unforgettable.
Education brand loyalty is more like school spirit than customer retention in the business world.
You and your marketing team are the cheerleaders who help stir up school pride, spirit and excellence. Here’s how.
Ways you can improve education brand loyalty
- Craft and enforce language that expresses the heart of your school’s brand.
The very first task of any education marketing team is to discover and articulate the core values and essence of the school brand in words and imagery. The words, slogans, colours, typography, symbols and logos chosen to represent your education brand should be standardised and made available to all departments that communicate to the various audiences. Train your staff colleagues in how to insert key marketing messages into their daily communications as a matter of practice.
- Consider current students as a primary audience.
Don’t wait until graduation! Alumni development begins on the first day of school. It’s a common mistake to focus all the marketing attention on external audiences. But because your school has an experiential brand, every interaction with your school, every day, needs to be accompanied by your brand’s messaging to create a seamless experience later for graduates of your school.
“This paradigm creates access to many different types of touchpoints — from student experiences to alumni communications and therefore many opportunities to build loyalty. The more institutions take advantage of these opportunities to build meaningful engagement, the more loyal and committed their constituents will become.” Inside Higher Ed
- Optimise your marketing for retention, not just acquisition.
There’s a big ongoing discussion among fundraising professionals on the merits of spending more on retention rather than acquisition. The same could be said about how we go about marketing. Retention-focused marketing tactics focus on engaging with people after they do what you asked for in your acquisition marketing. This includes thank you letters, welcome packets, student on-boarding and other helpful elements. Retention could also include marketing that motivates the audience to engage further with the school’s mission.For example, marketing your referral program to new students and asking them to refer their friends to your school would be a retention strategy that feeds into your acquisition strategy.
- Tell stories that inspire school spirit.
Make sure your marketing isn’t all about you! Highlight the people who are living out your school values in blog posts, newsletters, magazines and video hero spots.
- Promote programs that make alumni feel as though they’re still a part of the action.
Put some marketing muscle behind the departments in your school that offer sports, volunteer and career mentoring or networking opportunities for your alumni. These programs and events can be marketing mediums that reinforce education brand loyalty.
- Host interdepartmental school spirit events.
Administrative staff are often overlooked when it comes to school spirit activities. They’ve got their heads down in the work that needs to be done to keep your institution running at full speed. As the school brand’s head cheerleader, put together office events that foster goodwill and school spirit among your office staff. These gatherings can inspire your support staff to greater excellence in their daily work, which will improve every interaction they have with students, parents, alumni and donors.
- Don’t get caught up with rankings. Focus on what matters.
School rankings are great, but they’re not your biggest competitive advantage. Encourage your team and your school’s leadership to focus instead on making every interaction with your audiences as memorable as possible. The rankings will follow. “Rankings get you into the consideration set, but it’s actually what happens after that determines what brand people choose.” Rao Unnava, Dean of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management
The experience of a lifetime
The key to education brand loyalty comes down to the experience that students have while at your school. The memories and feelings they have about their experience with you will follow them for a lifetime as they become alumni and donors.
You may not be able to control everything about student experience at your school, but you can do a lot to support and promote what your school is doing already to boost school spirit.