Building your brand

UK universities are beginning to employ the services of specialist branding agencies in order to raise their profile

By Ollie Leggett, Managing Director and Brand Consultant at IE Design Consultancy

With the advent of tuition fees in England and Wales being paid directly by students and their families, consideration of value for money has come to the fore in the minds of 18-year-olds seeking a university in which to study. Graduate employability statistics have become a key measure for parents and students who carefully shop around before they buy.

Students still ask ‘Do I want a city or a campus uni?’ and ‘Is this the best course?’ But now they also consider the question of how likely they are to be able to land a well-paid, graduate level job on completion.

The challenge of reporting against universities’ graduate employability levels has largely fallen to careers services across the country. There is growing pressure on these services not just to deliver careers advice, but also to market themselves and their services to both current and prospective students – in order to ensure performance against ever more demanding employability targets and status in national league tables.

These same services have discovered the importance of two critical factors which are essential to achieving their targets and leading the league tables:

✥High levels of service awareness on and off campus.

✥Early engagement with students in order to maximise time to improve outcomes.

 These are challenges that have faced countless commercial brands for centuries:

✥How can we improve our target customer’s awareness of our brand?

✥How can we engage them in a process that will end in a sale?

 So maybe it should come as little surprise that careers teams in universities around the country are beginning to employ the services of specialist branding agencies in order to raise the profile of their services and to improve upon the depth and frequency of student engagement, as early as possible – in order to deliver the stats that will ensure VC-pleasing student recruitment levels.

University campuses are frenetic, noisy places with a dizzying plethora of brands jostling for attention. From student societies to banks, from the SU bar to branded coffee shops.

So careers services have to work harder than ever in the battle for awareness, interest, desire and action – and a new found recognition of the power of brand is driving the best university careers services into the lead.

Last year, the University of Birmingham’s Careers and Employability Centre (CEC) was renamed the Careers Network. Underpinned by rigorous research, the newly expressed visual identity and tone of voice was radically overhauled with a keen eye on audience specific messaging and peer-to-peer stories of experience, impact and student success. Within 12 months the service saw levels of student engagement rise by 289%.

Impressed by the work of the branding agency responsible, University of Warwick’s Student Careers and Skills (SCS) team commissioned a campaign brand under the title ‘My Warwick Journey’. The campaign utilised a set of challenge statements and powerful calls to action that were delivered through a multi-channel, visually arresting campaign that sought to interrupt student journeys and drive up early engagement with the service.

Over 500 students attended the launch event at Warwick and 68% of those went on to directly engage with the service. 10,060 event bookings followed and 2,183 one-to-one careers advisor appointments.

Warwick SCS went on to win a gold award for ‘Best Public Sector Visual Identity’ at the Transform Awards 2014, Europe’s only dedicated celebration of excellence in re-branding, repositioning and brand transformation.

Birmingham’s Careers Network scooped silver in the same category and bronze for Best Use of Visual Property.

IE Design Consultancy, the brand, digital and marketing agency responsible for both projects, has since rebranded Imperial College London’s Careers Service and has just begun work with University of Aberdeen.

Driven by the desire to prove that their courses are worth the price tag attached, it seems that universities are beginning to recognise afresh the considerable power of a strong brand.

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