Crafting compelling brand messages for higher education websites

Crafting compelling brand messages for higher education websites

Crafting compelling brand messages for higher education websites

Crafting compelling brand messages for higher education websites

Danielle Ford

Webmaster and Managing Assistant Director for Digital Content Strategy

In higher-ed your teen audience’s hyper-alertness to disingenuous or canned messages has an upside, they also love really good marketing. Teens are avid consumers of online content and much of the best content is created by brands and the influencers that represent them. 

Crafting compelling messages starts with identifying your brand’s value proposition and culture. What makes you distinctly you? Gather stakeholders at every level of your organisation, these should include students, staff, faculty, administrators and leadership. Use consensus-building activities, like KJ sessions, to crowdsource your campus culture. 

Named for its inventor, Japanese ethnographer Jiro Kawakita, the KJ method or affinity mapping, is a way to ensure that the loudest voice in the room doesn’t dominate the branding conversation. This method is inherently democratic and it’s an excellent way to engage every team member.

Facilitating an affinity mapping session

Here are three steps you can take to facilitate an affinity mapping and KJ session.

Step 1: Identify a focus question. 

Examples: What is the primary goal of this project? This project will be a success if we accomplish what?

Step 2: Aggregate opinions.

A simple way to do this is to have team members jot their ideas on sticky notes and post them on a wall.

Step 3: Group similar items and identify any clusters.

When multiple contributors rally behind a single idea, areas of institutional priority will begin to emerge from individual objectives. 

The goal of brainstorming sessions is to identify themes and messages that resonate with your entire community. These are the authentic messages that you can use effectively in your marketing. Be quick to identify areas for improvement and what you’re currently doing well.  

Listening to what your audience is saying

Identify the core audiences you serve. In higher ed these would include prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents. Are everyone’s needs being met? 

In student interviews and focus groups, words like home, community and family all get said a lot by our students when describing the campus environment. Listen to what your audience is saying and more importantly listen to what they say like they really mean it. 

Perhaps those words don’t get said on your campus.  Maybe what people say about your institution, and more importantly what they say as if they believe it is:

  • Innovation
  • Excellence
  • Advancement
  • Achievement
  • Opportunity

If that’s who you are and you’re selling home maybe you’re marketing the wrong thing. Market your strengths. Market realities. 

Be sure to align anecdotal data with quantitative data. When your numbers and user feedback tell the same story, you’ve found an actionable insight. For example, do you see a significant drop off in applications that are begun and those that are completed and submitted? Meanwhile, prospective students are contacting admissions via phone, email and chatbot to complain about the process? Perhaps streamlining your online application should be a top priority for your next redesign. 

Identify user paths through your website

Use heat mapping to identify the most common user paths through your website. Where are users exiting your site? Are they encountering a roadblock? Is important information, like deadlines and costs, readily available? Avoid UX anti-patterns and focus on ease of use. Evaluate how long it takes users to complete common tasks, like applications and requests for information. Can the process be simplified?

Creating brand experiences for a competitive sector 

In the Northeast, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education projects declining graduating classes through 2032. In an increasingly competitive higher education landscape, retention and engaging audiences via their preferred channels are all the more vital. Studies have established a correlation between social media engagement and college adjustment, a key retention indicator. 

Today’s social media generation is drawn to immersive brand experiences. Create experiences for your students. Curated content plus memorable events equal increased conversions.

Case Study: Translating data into engagement

At Kean, we implemented a social and events based marketing strategy to increase engagement. One of my favourite featured events, the meme booth, combined catchphrases, emojis and celebrities, inviting students to use the images and text to make their own memes. Drake, DJ Khaled, Kermit the Frog and Crying Jordan were audience favourites. When I saw how many students burst out laughing at the concept, and how many adults were deeply perplexed, we knew we had a win. 

Anyone remember the Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” memes? It’s an ancient meme, a meme OG. A team of meme archaeologists had to excavate it for the purpose of our discussion. Here’s a very embarrassing meme booth photo of me pretending to fangirl over Ryan Gosling.

An image showing one person holding a stick with a big picture of Ryan Goslings face on it and another stick with a speech bubble attached and the words Hey Girl in the bubble. There's another person looking and screaming in delight at seeing 'Ryan Gosling.'

Our launch year, 70% percent of Kean Students attended a campaign event and the program earned a Collegiate Advertising Award. The project also garnered over 2,000 new social followers for the university over the course of its 6-week run. Other events included a social media scavenger hunt, a male beauty pageant and a voice style singing competition. The inclusion of live elements in a social media campaign helps to build community and promote engagement.

Engagement is one of many ways to enhance your Institutional reputation. Effectively highlight what makes your institution unique. Feature fast facts and news throughout your website. This is marketing from an authoritative angle. Rankings and data provide empirical evidence to support your core brand messages. That’s vitally important.  

Be sure to also leverage your university’s considerable subject matter expertise when honing your institutional voice. Brands are inherently nuanced and complex. Don’t build yours with assumptions. Do your homework. Listen to the story the data is telling. Engage your community in the process and above all have fun. 

In higher-ed your teen audience’s hyper-alertness to disingenuous or canned messages has an upside, they also love really good marketing. Teens are avid consumers of online content and much of the best content is created by brands and the influencers that represent them. 

Crafting compelling messages starts with identifying your brand’s value proposition and culture. What makes you distinctly you? Gather stakeholders at every level of your organisation, these should include students, staff, faculty, administrators and leadership. Use consensus-building activities, like KJ sessions, to crowdsource your campus culture. 

Named for its inventor, Japanese ethnographer Jiro Kawakita, the KJ method or affinity mapping, is a way to ensure that the loudest voice in the room doesn’t dominate the branding conversation. This method is inherently democratic and it’s an excellent way to engage every team member.

Facilitating an affinity mapping session

Here are three steps you can take to facilitate an affinity mapping and KJ session.

Step 1: Identify a focus question. 

Examples: What is the primary goal of this project? This project will be a success if we accomplish what?

Step 2: Aggregate opinions.

A simple way to do this is to have team members jot their ideas on sticky notes and post them on a wall.

Step 3: Group similar items and identify any clusters.

When multiple contributors rally behind a single idea, areas of institutional priority will begin to emerge from individual objectives. 

The goal of brainstorming sessions is to identify themes and messages that resonate with your entire community. These are the authentic messages that you can use effectively in your marketing. Be quick to identify areas for improvement and what you’re currently doing well.  

Listening to what your audience is saying

Identify the core audiences you serve. In higher ed these would include prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents. Are everyone’s needs being met? 

In student interviews and focus groups, words like home, community and family all get said a lot by our students when describing the campus environment. Listen to what your audience is saying and more importantly listen to what they say like they really mean it. 

Perhaps those words don’t get said on your campus.  Maybe what people say about your institution, and more importantly what they say as if they believe it is:

  • Innovation
  • Excellence
  • Advancement
  • Achievement
  • Opportunity

If that’s who you are and you’re selling home maybe you’re marketing the wrong thing. Market your strengths. Market realities. 

Be sure to align anecdotal data with quantitative data. When your numbers and user feedback tell the same story, you’ve found an actionable insight. For example, do you see a significant drop off in applications that are begun and those that are completed and submitted? Meanwhile, prospective students are contacting admissions via phone, email and chatbot to complain about the process? Perhaps streamlining your online application should be a top priority for your next redesign. 

Identify user paths through your website

Use heat mapping to identify the most common user paths through your website. Where are users exiting your site? Are they encountering a roadblock? Is important information, like deadlines and costs, readily available? Avoid UX anti-patterns and focus on ease of use. Evaluate how long it takes users to complete common tasks, like applications and requests for information. Can the process be simplified?

Creating brand experiences for a competitive sector 

In the Northeast, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education projects declining graduating classes through 2032. In an increasingly competitive higher education landscape, retention and engaging audiences via their preferred channels are all the more vital. Studies have established a correlation between social media engagement and college adjustment, a key retention indicator. 

Today’s social media generation is drawn to immersive brand experiences. Create experiences for your students. Curated content plus memorable events equal increased conversions.

Case Study: Translating data into engagement

At Kean, we implemented a social and events based marketing strategy to increase engagement. One of my favourite featured events, the meme booth, combined catchphrases, emojis and celebrities, inviting students to use the images and text to make their own memes. Drake, DJ Khaled, Kermit the Frog and Crying Jordan were audience favourites. When I saw how many students burst out laughing at the concept, and how many adults were deeply perplexed, we knew we had a win. 

Anyone remember the Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” memes? It’s an ancient meme, a meme OG. A team of meme archaeologists had to excavate it for the purpose of our discussion. Here’s a very embarrassing meme booth photo of me pretending to fangirl over Ryan Gosling.

An image showing one person holding a stick with a big picture of Ryan Goslings face on it and another stick with a speech bubble attached and the words Hey Girl in the bubble. There's another person looking and screaming in delight at seeing 'Ryan Gosling.'

Our launch year, 70% percent of Kean Students attended a campaign event and the program earned a Collegiate Advertising Award. The project also garnered over 2,000 new social followers for the university over the course of its 6-week run. Other events included a social media scavenger hunt, a male beauty pageant and a voice style singing competition. The inclusion of live elements in a social media campaign helps to build community and promote engagement.

Engagement is one of many ways to enhance your Institutional reputation. Effectively highlight what makes your institution unique. Feature fast facts and news throughout your website. This is marketing from an authoritative angle. Rankings and data provide empirical evidence to support your core brand messages. That’s vitally important.  

Be sure to also leverage your university’s considerable subject matter expertise when honing your institutional voice. Brands are inherently nuanced and complex. Don’t build yours with assumptions. Do your homework. Listen to the story the data is telling. Engage your community in the process and above all have fun. 

Webinar Recording

Translating brand messages into website content

Learn how high-level brand concepts can apply to functional and informational content across your website, not just your About Us page.

August 20, 2020

4:00 pm

Register now

Webinar Recording

Translating brand messages into website content

Learn how high-level brand concepts can apply to functional and informational content across your website, not just your About Us page.

August 20, 2020

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Danielle Ford

Danielle Ford is Webmaster and Managing Assistant Director for Digital Content Strategy at Kean University. She has more than 10 years of content strategy and digital marketing experience in diverse industries, ranging from higher ed to fashion and medical technology. A national conference speaker, she's lectured on higher-ed marketing, branding, accessibility and digital communication.

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