Brand strategy faux pas can cost your college too much. But the good news is, they can be easy to fix!
“Tattered, taped-up signs send a message — but not the one you want,” cautions Interact’s Brand Strategist and VP of Account Services Mary DeLuca.
That’s why it’s important to look at your college campus as if you are a brand-new student or visitor and see where your brand strategy might be missing the mark. Doing a campus “Brand Triage,” or what we call a “Fresh Eyes Visit,” can also help you spot missed opportunities to celebrate student success and raise school spirit.
“Doing a fresh eyes visit with Interact opened our eyes not only to what a brand is but what it could be in terms of a living, breathing experience for people when they come on campus,” says CCBC Associate Vice President of Communications Leslie Tennant. “The brand triage showed us so many more opportunities and blank spaces across campus where we could illustrate our brand and create a welcoming experience.”
CCBC Associate Vice President of Communications Leslie Tennant and our VP Mary DeLuca pose on campus at CCBC!
Our VP effuses that helping colleges like CCBC get a new perspective on their brand is her passion. DeLuca says, “A brand triage and fresh eyes visit can be a quick win, with fixes that don’t require a lot of time or budget but really enhance the college experience for everyone on campus.”
Keep reading for insider tips to beef up your brand on campus … and claim your handy, downloadable checklist for your campus brand strategy!
How to Find Broken Brand Windows
As a staff or faculty member, you walk the same route to your office every day. But if you’re on autopilot, you might miss what DeLuca calls “broken brand windows.” That’s when your campus environment undermines your brand with a poor visitor experience.
What is the campus experience like for someone new?
Is it a welcoming, positive experience?
Or do you have elements on campus that are giving the wrong message?
Seizing Missed Brand Opportunities
Beyond broken brand windows, there are also missed opportunities on campus where you could supercharge your brand from bland to bold.
“Your campus is part of your owned media,” says DeLuca. “You might be spending a ton of money running wonderful ad campaigns. But right here, your own campus real estate might not tell the same positive brand story.”
How to Do a Fresh-Eyes Look at Your Campus Brand Strategy
Tour every nook and cranny of your campus like you are visiting for the first time. From the big picture to the close-up details, what kind of messages are you giving visitors?
Are unprofessional, torn, taped-up signs giving students and visitors a less-than-stellar impression as they enter the buildings?
Are folks greeted by welcoming banners? Or are they confronted with instructional signage, perhaps even in ALL CAPS, barking orders?
Do they find blank walls lacking warmth and personality that may even clash with your college brand and colors?
“Take a step back, take some photos, and those ugly truths will jump right out at you,” advises DeLuca. Where is your brand broken, bland, or blank? Where can you clear away the clutter and capitalize on campus canvases to tell the story you want to tell?
Our VP says, “A fresh eyes visit is about being creative, visualizing that space, and seeing it as your shop window. What message are you giving now, and what opportunities do you have to improve that message?”
Just think how your favorite sports venue extends its brand experience the moment you set foot in the stadium. Similarly, what does your campus environment say about your college spirit and pride?
CCBC’s mascot “Volt” got brand-new illustrations as part of the brand strategy upgrade.
Campus “Hot Spots” to Help Triage Your Brand Strategy
Here is a list of the top places and spaces to consider as you evaluate your brand experience on campus:
1. Lost Visitors are Unhappy Visitors
Does Your College Have Clear Signage?
CCBC’s new stadium signage raises school spirit while helping visitors find their way.
Can students find their way through your campus? For CCBC, taking a “fresh look” revealed opportunities for better visitor guidance.
“Because we’re small, we think everybody knows where everything is,” says Tennant. “One of our biggest ‘wow moments’ was realizing if visitors enter campus from the Health Sciences Center instead of the main entrance, there’s no sign that tells you where you are.”
Prominent signage on campus directing visitors and new students is a must. Remember, your campus is a 3D space, so you can use the walls, floors, and even the sidewalks to help everyone find their way.
“If people are lost or confused, they’re already having a bad experience,” says DeLuca. “Wayfinding is one of the most important things to address first. If visitors don’t feel like your campus is easy to navigate and welcoming, they will be in a bad place right off the bat.”
Are Your Map Areas up to Date?
The next stop is your map areas. Does your campus map sport an out-of-date logo or old building names?
“So often, you come upon these campus maps, and they’re useless because things have changed, but the map hasn’t been updated,” says DeLuca.
Her helpful hack? Add a QR code on your exterior maps. That way, students can always access the most up-to-date map and even take it with them on their phones.
Are Your Building Names Confusing?
What about your buildings that are named after donors? Unless you are already a student, would you know what programs that building houses? Also, do you have helpful signage at all the building entrances or just the main entrance?
“People enter buildings from the side or back all the time, so you need to look for opportunities to place signage appropriately,” says DeLuca. “You also want to show the services or programs housed inside so that people feel confident they are in the right location when they enter the space.”
Is It Easy to Make It to Campus in the First Place?
Before folks even come to campus, colleges can ensure their brand strategy is strong in the larger community. Does the signage leading to your campus have your logo on it? Does GPS bring you to campus without hitting any snags? Are your welcome signs big enough to help visitors find your campus, and are they attractive and friendly?
2. Build a Better Brand Strategy in Your High-Traffic Zones
Beat Bookstore Branding Blues
Your bookstore should be a hot spot for brand ambassadors and students to purchase spirit wear. But all too often, apparel is sold with improper branding and old logos! This means those t-shirts worn out in the community will have the wrong typography or colors.
“Major universities are strict about how their brand is printed on spirit wear, and there’s a reason,” says DeLuca. “They take their brand identity seriously, as all colleges should.”
College Courtyard Opportunities
CCBC leverages folding chairs to build a little school spirit.
“There’s often the opportunity for branding things as simple as your tables with umbrellas if you have a patio,” says DeLuca. Do your popular student hangouts show college identity and spirit … or do they accidentally sport your competition’s branding colors? 😅
The visual elements on campus should celebrate your college. It shouldn’t be an afterthought but part of the college experience.
“Four-year universities have branded spaces full of college spirit, and they do an exceptional job,” says DeLuca. “They think of every detail, ensuring you know where you are and have pride in that place.”
For an extra branding boost, why not add charging stations with your school colors? It’s a way to “power up” school spirit while being extremely useful.
Celebrate Your Brand in Athletics, Theater, and Art
CCBC’s new banners on the athletic dome show their Titan spirit!
The spaces that welcome the greater community should show off your college’s vibrant personality. And those spaces also offer chances to add a brochure rack with related college programs.
In your athletic spaces, you’ll want to promote your upcoming games and then some. DeLuca says, “In your sports venues, make sure you have photos displayed that visually tell the stories of your athletes.”
One of CCBC’s big brand strategy initiatives on campus was sprucing up its athletic building, a unique and historic geodesic dome. Not only does the space host games, but it’s also the spot for graduation, student orientation, and a host of community events.
“There was a lot of old, outdated branding in that building,” recalls Tennant. After cleaning up the old branding, it was time for the new. The college hung up fresh championship banners and signage with brand-new illustrations of Volt, the Titan mascot.
Tennant says, “Now, we have a lot of QR codes and signage throughout the athletic building that brands it and gives people an opportunity to learn more about the college.”
As for theaters and art galleries, while you are showing off students’ wonderful creative work, it’s also a colorful opportunity to market the rest of your college. Says DeLuca, “Have collateral available about related programs and courses that people can take advantage of.”
4. Set Your Brand Strategy Priorities
“Where can you find the budget to put together a plan so you’re starting with high-traffic areas for prospective students?” posits DeLuca. For example, clear, welcoming signage in enrollment services is key. Can students find admissions and records? And once they arrive, do they automatically know where they can find help?
But don’t forget about your current students! Your spaces should inspire them, too, and motivate them to persist.
Capitalize on Your Campus’s Missed Brand Strategy Opportunities
Once you clean up the elements on campus that send the wrong message, you’ll be ready to find all those missed opportunities. We’re talking about blank walls and beyond!
“Think about the hundreds and thousands of people you have, from your community to current students, that are in your spaces every day,” says DeLuca. “If you’re not maximizing your brand message and student success storytelling in your space, you are missing a huge opportunity.”
Your interior spaces should reflect your values and mission. Do you have a blank hallway in a high-traffic area? Then it’s a chance to showcase your college’s personality and ensure that students and visitors see themselves there!
Empty walls on the outside of your buildings are also big opportunities. Do you have a blank building everyone in town drives by? Then, try turning that property into an engaging banner. It’s a billboard you don’t have to pay to rent.
“We spend so much time and resources on our advertisements, we tend to neglect our owned media and the campus real estate we already have,” says DeLuca.
Discover Your Brand Strategy Ambassadors
When there are tattered signs in your college neighborhood, who are you going to call? Your brand ambassadors!
Recruit faculty and staff from each building on campus to be on your brand ambassador team. Then, have regularly scheduled walks so you’re cleaning up campus throughout the year.
Since Beaver County’s mascot is the Titan, their brand ambassadors formed a “Titan Up” committee. Comprised of staff, faculty, and administration across the campus, the Titan Uppers watch for old logos, outdated flyers, and stale information.
“Prior to our Middle States Accreditation visit this past summer, the committee went around to find those broken brand windows,” says Tennant. “They did a comprehensive campus walkthrough, where we updated a lot of signage, logos, and brand cleanup.”
From signs with outdated office locations to old templates, the Titans tidied up the college’s image and polished their school spirit until it shone. Tennant says, “The more people who have pride in our brand, that will trickle down to what students experience when they come onto campus.”
Finally, get your students in on the action. Create student focus groups and ask them how they feel on campus and what could be improved.
Campus Brand Strategy Takeaways
In the long run, having a welcoming campus that lives your branding, mission, and values will help students persist.
“A sense of belonging is inspiring and motivating and is one of the best things you can do for retention,” says DeLuca. From posting motivational messaging to student success stories, you can leverage your physical space to engage and encourage students. Says DeLuca, “Make it so students want to be there.”
What was CCBC’s secret for a successful brand triage and fresh eyes visit for its campus?
“Having that outside perspective and ‘fresh eyes’ on our signage and branding that we look at day in and day out was huge for us,” says Tennant. “Now, we’re moving forward to really create an immersive brand experience on our campus.”
Ready to get started? Download your free “Essential Steps for Campus Branding: The Ultimate Checklist” by filling out the form below!