In Monday’s post, Georgy talked about the theme of relationship management and content strategy from our panel discussion last week: Creating and Sustaining Higher Ed Web Content That Works. Another theme that emerged from our discussion was the role branding plays in effective higher ed content with relation to identity, delivery, relevance and community.
Branding and Identity
A college brand is its story. It represents its values and community. It allows people to relate and connect. Facts and figures don’t define your institution—your messaging does. It’s not what you say but how you say it. Effective content needs to describe your institution so people can imagine themselves in your community.
Mike Petroff, web manager of enrollment management at Emerson College, discussed how colleges often have a generic view of content, focusing on facts such as program descriptions and statistics, rather than on on-brand content that defines their specific college experience.
"What separates us from that next school right down the street? Yeah, we have different majors available, but what about our students—what are [they] looking for?" he asked. Mike discussed ways to reach students with stories. One suggestion was to feature content that captures faculty-student interactions reflective of your institution’s specific brand, rather than having a faculty member simply talk about her class.
On-brand content brings your college to life online through storytelling, providing insights that can’t be expressed by facts alone.
Branding and Delivery
Samantha Snitow, assistant director of alumni relations at Tufts University, discussed the challenges of managing your brand across multiple delivery channels within your institution—particularly when different groups manage those channels.
A single department does not own your college brand. Every facet of your institution shares the responsibility and execution of branding. Samantha highlighted the value of collaboration between departments and content creators to ensure that all communications are on-brand and represent your college’s content goals.
Branding and Relevance
Your brand helps make content relevant for your audience by putting it in the context of your community. Off-brand content appears irrelevant because it’s out of sync with your core messaging. As panelist Charna Westervelt, director of internal communications at Wellesley College, said: "Content has to support the brand, or else it all falls apart."
Remember, you constructed your brand messaging to support your website goals and users’ needs. Off-brand content threatens these objectives.
Branding and Community
If a college brand is its story, what role does it play in social media and online community building? A big one. Branding is the bridge between content and community. It makes content meaningful and relevant. Content becomes valuable when community members can see how it relates to their college experience. It becomes part of their story.
Panelist Nathaniel Boyle, web producer at Boston University, offered one of my favorite quotes from our discussion: "School spirit is just a higher ed term for brand enthusiasm." Indeed, your community’s online conversations are extensions of your brand. Content you publish in social media fuels these conversations—if it’s off-brand, you’ll be dampening enthusiasm instead of igniting it.
Your Content, Your Brand
Your content influences people’s perception of your brand whether you plan for it or not. Content affects your college’s identity. "Whatever your content is," said Charna, "it has to be genuine and unique to your institution." Off-brand content undermines your content goals, compromising relevance, value and trust.
Establishing branding guidelines is important. In addition to visual branding, you need a message architecture and style guide to define your core values, voice, tone and editorial style. These documents enable content creators to support their institution’s brand as well as their own communication goals.
This is hard work, no doubt. How do you support branding at your institution? What are your challenges or success?