Increasing enrollment and school visibility through branding strategies

Woodbury University and Meredith College roll out successful branding campaigns

Colleges and universities face added pressure to enroll and retain more students as undergrad enrollment recently fell for the sixth consecutive year. Higher ed marketing officials can remedy this and other challenges by coming up with effective school branding ideas to attract prospectives—and keep them enrolled. Here are two higher ed institutions that employed a successful brand strategy.

Producing authentic stories at Woodbury University

To compete with larger and more well-known state universities in Southern California, Woodbury University officials needed school branding ideas that would increase awareness of the 1,170-student private institution.

A new marketing director, Greg Houle, formed a team to produce stories of students, alumni and faculty through articles, videos and podcasts. Two years later, the university now generates four weekly articles plus a podcast. “Content is king,” says Houle. “The more we can get out there, the more we can connect with people.”

The brand strategy goal is for prospective students to relate with the content. “Nobody wants to read press releases or watch blatantly promotional videos,” Houle says.

Success at Woodbury University

53,366—Page views from March 2018 to March 2019

14,000—Video views from March 2018 to March 2019

50—Weekly podcast “listens” since winter 2018

Searching for compelling stories can take more time at a small school, but partnering with alumni relations officials, deans and chairs expedited the process.

“As we produce more content, we hear from more people who want to have their stories told,” says Houle.

For videos, the director employs a freelance videographer since he doesn’t have the resources to shoot in-house or to hire part-timers. “We try to budget a few good evergreen videos each year,” he says. Meanwhile, editing podcasts takes Houle up to two hours. Articles are kept short to streamline production.

“We know that Generation Z applicants will more likely seek out information about universities online, on their own terms,” Houle says. “So producing and distributing lots of good content is critical to helping these prospective students understand who Woodbury is and what we can offer them.”

Distributing the content

One of Houle’s school branding ideas involves heavily promoting stories of Woodbury University students, faculty and alumni through social media. His method of scheduling 25 daily tweets every day takes less than one hour per week using TweetDeck. He also posts on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Houle also tweets and retweets each story multiple times per month. This strategy has generated 2,000 sessions to the school website.

Read: Why a university press is a good investment

In addition, Houle’s department sends weekly alumni updates and quarterly community newsletters that feature these stories. Woodbury has done advertisements as well.

“Because Twitter is so ephemeral, each time we tweet, we’re exposing that tweet to just a fraction of different people who follow us,” Houle says. “That’s why most organizations using Twitter well will tweet content multiple times because, presumably, different followers will see what they’re tweeting each different time they tweet it.”

POINTING OUT THEIR STRENGTHS—One of the school branding ideas that Going Strong relies on is the StrongPoints research-based assessment tool that Meredith College students take to identify their strengths. Students then use the assessments to shape their goals.
POINTING OUT THEIR STRENGTHS—Going Strong relies on the StrongPoints research-based assessment tool that Meredith College students take to identify their strengths. Students then use the assessments to shape their goals.

‘Strong’ brand strategy at Meredith College

Meredith College officials recently began updating a branding campaign to target Generation Z students and to reflect the cultural climate. Going Strong tells stories about how students at the North Carolina women’s institution apply their strengths to shape their academic goals and experiential involvement, and to plan their financial and career choices as graduates.

Meredith enrolled its second largest first-year class and created its most successful fundraising campaign after launching Going Strong.

“Our campaign conveyed to donors that their gift means they’re behind an institution that is already strong and wants to make us even stronger,” says Kristi Eaves-McLennan, vice president for marketing and communications.

Success at Meredith College

Goal: Increase enrollment.

After rolling out the branding campaign more fully to graduate and post-baccalaureate program prospects, enrollment increased by 26% in fall 2016.

Goal: Raise more funds.

A recent fundraiser collected $93 million—surpassing the original $75 million milestone.

The preceding fundraiser received $41 million.

This year, Eaves-McLennan will change how the brand strategy captures strength. The current method features individual student portraits in which facial expressions are highlighted, but a new method may focus more on the “Going” part of the brand strategy through student internship action shots or group photos that show the power of women.

College leaders worked with outside brand strategy consultants to survey what new audiences knew about Meredith. “These audiences either hadn’t heard of us, or what they knew was pretty general,” says Eaves-McLennan. “We wanted to be associated with strong academics.”

Surveying students and alumni helped to zero in on the concept of personal strengths. The college will use the same firm to update questions this year.

“Get as much data as you can for branding campaigns,” Eaves-McLennan advises. “We had focus groups and surveys from different audiences, which was absolutely critical.”

Lessons learned

When Meredith first launched the campaign, it also unveiled a new website. “We wanted to make a big splash,” says Eaves-McLennan. “It made sense at the time because websites are one of the most visual tools that schools have.”

Additionally, the college advertised in the digital marketplace, aired TV commercials and designed billboards.

When coming up with school branding ideas, Eaves-McLennan recommends creating a realistic plan that involves phasing in different parts of a project over time.

Even though Going Strong targeted future donors and prospective students, the campaign involved surveying alumni and current gift-givers. “You want to make sure that the people who already know and support you feel that the messaging is effective, especially for faculty and staff who are here every day,” says Eaves-McLennan.

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