Why Building Your Brand With Campus Constituents Matters
It can be easy to assume that your higher ed peers across departments at your university understand and value the work you’re doing in your office. More often than not, though, your colleagues are so focused on figuring out how to stretch their resources and execute their initiatives that understanding your brand on campus just isn’t a top priority. At the Tacoma Liberal Arts Leadership Summit in July, however, Oberlin College’s Gayle Boyer shared a compelling argument for investing time in building your office’s brand with campus constituents.
Put simply, your brand encompasses your reputation – on campus and throughout the world. When higher ed institutions think about internal branding, it’s typically thought of as a top-down communication initiative intended to share the institution’s core identity with employees. As Jeremy McLaughlin put it:
“Your ‘brand’ is what your prospect [e.g., prospective student, parent, donor, stakeholder, etc.] thinks of when he or she hears your brand name. It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering – both factual and emotional. Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it. It’s fixed. But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.”
In higher ed, collaboration across departments is mission critical. How else would you be able to launch the programming or initiatives you’ve dreamed up with limited resources? Ultimately, if campus partners aren’t familiar with your work – if you’re not effectively communicating your brand – the college and your students aren’t getting the full benefit of that work.
How Oberlin Career Development Center Built their Brand on Campus
Oberlin College’s Career Development Center knows what it’s like to try to meet students’ changing needs while facing constraints. Their team is made up of 5 advisors, 2 support staff, and 1 student staff member, giving them a student to advisor ratio of 472:1. When a new director stepped into the role in 2015, several initiatives were introduced:
- New education model: In an effort to move towards a Career Communities model that allows for scalability, Oberlin implemented Wisr and Handshake
- New branding: In partnership with the College’s Communications team, they adopted a new name and updated their visual brand
- New administration: Their office moved in with Student Affairs, and the College also named a new president
From their perspective, career and graduate outcomes are a top priority, but their team was flying under the radar on campus. In fact, the substance of their work was actually stronger than their brand. After executing their first few events with these new initiatives under way, Gayle and her team extracted some notable “a ha” moments:
- Align on your approach. To launch the re-branding, Gayle’s team first identified who they’re defining the brand for (students first, then senior administrators, faculty, and key staff), what they’d like to be known for (delivering useful resources right on time), and the three words they want people to think of when they think of the Career Development Center (friendly, helpful, effective). When you’re working with limited resources, the impact of your work has to justify the effort. Oberlin learned to hone in on their audience’s varying needs and tailored their messaging to specific pain points. Instead of competing for students’ attention, they’ve shifted their brand to be a solution center.
- Identify opportunities to build that brand with other constituents. Once they firmly established how they aspired to be perceived, Gayle’s team set about building relationships to spread that messaging. Their top target audience was senior administration, and the Career Development Center wanted to find creative ways to demonstrate their value in helping the College meet campus-wide goals, especially as it related to admissions and retention. One such effort involved launching the First Destination Survey (FDS) to better understand outcomes for graduates, filterable by major. They openly shared the results across campus, which uncovered a surprising insight: their colleagues didn’t know that that data was available to them, or that anyone was even collecting it. The result was renewed interest in and respect for the Career Development Center’s work – plus more concrete evidence of the impact of their work.
- Raise your profile on campus through timely and relevant communications. By shifting marketing efforts from utilitarian to strategic, the CDC was able to deliver messaging that better suited their audience’s needs. For example, instead of just advertising events in advance, they now send a follow-up email to non-attendees to share highlights and success stories from the event. They also created a new Instagram account and have streamlined their social media management, which allows them to meet students where they (digitally) spend their time.
- Confirm Oberlin’s reputation by positioning themselves as helpful experts beyond campus. Increasingly, their team has sought out opportunities to share what they’ve learned through their rebranding efforts with other schools and career services offices, and they continue to be active with consortia. Collaborating with faculty and alumni for classroom-based career development programming has been a recent win for the CDC, and serves as a relatively low effort, high impact initiative.
Signs that the new branding is resonating with students, faculty, senior administrators, and staff are already evident. Gayle’s main takeaway? Building your brand on campus doesn’t take away from the work you do with your students. Rather, the branding efforts with campus constituents enables you to better target your programming, partner to reach shared goals, and boost your office’s reputation. After all, Career Services is a solution center.