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Higher brand standards for higher education
September 30, 2008, 4:46 pm
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I’ve been following this debate on brandchannel with some interest, partly because I’m quite interested in the topic and partly because I’m a student (who happens to be doing a project on a similar matter).

The question? Whether branding is important to universities, and allows some to charge a premium for what is essentially a generic product. Essentially, are universities brands or just trademarked commodities?

I have to admit I’m a little confused by the assumption that subjects are the same wherever you study them – obviously the writer has never had a lecturer blather on about the all-new revelationary theory they just came up with. It’s like saying there are no schools of thought. Even within a field you’d think would be static – say, European history 1936 to 1950 – different education institutions have radically different interpretations and methods of teaching, having made their own decisions about academic staff.

That’s branding decision number one.

The biggest gap between universities is whether they take a research approach or a practical approach. Having attended both types, I can tell you that the experiences are completely different.

But let’s take a step back. As Adam Morgan would say, we’re limiting ourselves by looking at universities as being in a product category of delivering information. For students, university is an entire lifestyle for several years, offering greater access to resources (not just academic) and of course the opportunity to meet people. Business look to universities to provide them with new employees. Parents hope universities will make their children those employees.

I was talking to a rep of my university about this and yes, he believes that as universities increasingly compete globally the creation of their brand is vital. (If it wasn’t already.) Even if the subjects were the same, universities differentiate through teaching styles, research, staff, alumni, partnerships, fees, location, student services, and the type of students they attract…

A lot of people still make the mistake that advertising constitutes branding, and it just isn’t true. If an established university needs to resort to advertising to maintain its numbers, then it’s not delivering the right brand experience for its stakeholders.

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