Some of the world’s oldest universities have built a reputation for themselves over the years, decades and centuries – making their university brand synonymous with higher education excellence in the process. Many internationally recognized institutions – the likes of Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and MIT, for instance – can trade on their long-established reputations alone. So, when it comes to student recruitment, where does this leave universities without so many years under their belts?
The QS Top 50 Under 50 ranking aims to put the spotlight on the world’s highest-performing universities established in the past 50 years. Though 50 years may seem a comparatively long time to establish a university brand, universities such as this year’s number 1 young university – Nanyang Technological University in Singapore – is competing with universities that can trace their origins back to the 11th century.
But how do these younger universities differentiate themselves from their more-established counterparts and pull in hundreds of international students each year – all without a centuries-long reputation to trade on?
In some senses, a younger university can actually have an advantage when it comes to differentiating themselves from the crowd. Without the restraints of long-standing traditions, a new university can create its own brand from scratch and can focus on several aspects to show prospective students why it represents the perfect place for them to enroll
1 – Promote diversity and new student markets
A new university will be free from preconceptions about the ‘type’ of student that goes there, whether this reputation has been justifiably earned or not. A new university is also highly unlikely to have either a stuffy stigma attached to its name, or a reputation as a ‘party-school’. As such, it will have the opportunity to attract a wide range of prospective students representing different backgrounds, ethnicities and countries.
Engaging with prospective students on various platforms – both online and in real life – can help establish a connection between your university and this potentially wider pool of students.
2 – Promote an experience rather than a name
A university is so much more than a place where students earn degrees, for many it’s where they gain the skills and experiences they need to transition into adulthood, build character and cultural understanding and make advances in their professional lives. These experiences are an element that new universities can promote just as well as older universities or, in some cases, even better.
Successful universities will be the ones that focus on the different opportunities and experiences they can offer prospective students outside of the classroom and in addition to academic credentials. While parents may be more intent on ensuring their child spends enough time in lectures and studying, many prospective students will be more interested in meeting new people and learning how university can help them achieve their dream job after graduation.
3 – Plan your university marketing long term
Younger universities may not have the reputation that their older counterparts have … yet. But, for those seeking to establish and build a reputation that will be on a par with long-standing universities, a long-term strategy is vital. Short-term or reactive marketing strategies can conspire to create a disjointed image of the institution as a whole. For example, jumping on board with trending topics and focusing on eye-catching images is understandable, but if it is the entirety of your university marketing strategy it won’t build a clear image of your desired university brand.
Creating a long-term plan will allow your university marketing team to be better prepared to react to events and trends as they happen. It can also ensure that every article, email and social media post is in keeping with how you want your new university to be seen.
4 – Tell a story
Once your new university settles upon a desired brand image and a long-term strategy to achieve this is safely in place, digital marketing can be used to tell stories about your brand. In other words, posting blogs, articles and links across your digital platforms that fit in with the new brand identity you want to cement for your new university. For example, a relatively young technological university such as Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) could produce plenty of articles about research and technology, all of which would be in keeping with their university brand as a leading technological institution.
A clear brand strategy that is given a central place in a new university’s thinking can enable it to differentiate itself from others in the higher education marketplace – allowing prospective students to buy into an experience rather than just a name or a fancy logo.
Read more about university marketing and identifying your university’s USP on our blog.