Why exemplifying your institution’s brand is more vital than ever — and how to do it right. Why exemplifying your institution’s brand is more vital than ever — and how to do it right.

In the last year, thousands of new students, staff, and faculty spent their first day of school or work alone. They logged onto video calls, from home and got down to business.

No anticipatory hallway chit-chat, no fanfare of any kind. They were robbed of a quintessential Welcome to Higher Ed. cultural experience. 

Despite your best efforts to normalize this impossible-to-normalize time, your priorities shifted and getting everyone bought in to your brand and values took a backseat. Everything was heads down, make it work, and live to tell the tale.

Now with normalcy buzzing back to life on campus, you have the opportunity to confirm to your communities that they made the right choice, to prove that they belong, and to tell them why. Because if you don’t, you risk endangering the core of your institution.

But it’s not just a matter of reiterating to your students, faculty, staff, alumni, and donors who you are and what you stand for. Because so much has happened in the past 20+ months, you have to make sure your values and brand still resonate. That they still reflect your culture after all that’s taken place — and that you still live out those core values.

A lot has changed since March 2020. Does that include your institution?

Why you need to ensure buy-in for your institution’s brand and values.

With the only connection happening over the past umpteen months being through WiFi, it’s not hard to understand why your students, faculty and staff — new and old — may need a refresher on your institution’s brand and values. After all, if they wanted a fully remote experience, they could attend a fully online school or job. There’s no shortage of those these days.

Not only do they need a reset on what your institution is all about, but also why they chose to be a part of it in the first place. Because to choose to study, work, or donate to your institution they originally felt a pull toward you — to your brand, your values, and what sets you apart.

Now that they’ve had a taste of remote learning or work, the only thing stopping them from continuing that comfy school-from-the-couch life is being part of something bigger that can’t be replicated online. A culture only your higher ed. institution provides that they’ve been looking forward to experiencing since the day they signed up.

This leaves your team at a crucial time to self-analyze and reflect: 

  • What is your brand all about? 
  • Are your actions reflective of your values?
  • How are you demonstrating, well…all of it?

Do your institution’s brand and values still resonate?

Before you go full steam ahead in proving why your institution is the best, take a step back. You need to review your values to make sure they still stand in the first place. Chances are, some things have changed due to the pandemic.

Your strategic plan may have been put on hold. Different priorities have certainly emerged. Your student population may have experienced trauma from the reckoning over racial injustice. Your faculty and staff may be facing hurdles in managing their own mental health.

How do your values reflect what’s going on in this pivotal, precious moment?

Before you can answer that, you need to revisit where you were before the pandemic. Conduct an internal audit, looking for ways you can shift and improve.

If your values have only shifted slightly, that’s OK. But they need to be meaningful and applicable to your school and its actions now. If they aren’t, it might be time for a reset . 

5 ways to reset your brand and get everyone on the same page.

After your audit, it’s time to get to work either resetting or restating your values. Since you’ll need to communicate them to every facet of your community, you’ll need to cater your tactics to your internal and external audiences. But one thing is for certain: Your messaging needs to align.

Here’s how to make sure you’re demonstrating your values to all relevant stakeholders from your prospective students to your longtime donors to your newly initiated staff.

  1. Integrate your brand language and values into all corners of your internal and external communications. For your internal teams this may mean manifesting your brand voice, or widely sharing your brand messaging matrix. For your students, consider content like a welcome back video featuring your president who reestablishes what your institution is all about and where to find resources that talk about your institution’s key values.
  2. Infuse sessions with real-world examples of your institution’s values. With the influx of onboarding, training, enrolment, and orientation going on at the beginning of the school year or a new semester, there’s no better time to elucidate what your institution stands for and how you prove it. So, for example, if your institution believes in community and giving back, encourage involvement in community projects and provide the resources to get involved. Or, if you’re all about equity and inclusion, highlight your initiatives and policies. Provide tangible ways for everyone to live out your institution’s values.
  3. Consider values when hiring. For faculty and staff, your institution is more than a place to get a paycheck. It’s a place for them to promote and live the values that you hold dear — or at least, it should be. Hiring faculty and staff who are going to uphold your values will go a long way in proving that you practice what you preach. For example, if sustainability is one of your values, your staff and faculty should champion your climate change research initiatives.
  4. Work on your internal communications. As alluded to above, values start from within. So make sure your internal teams are on board with your brand and values, and are ready to bring those values to life. Don’t just talk about it, be about it. Otherwise your brand values are hollow and won’t create a real, meaningful culture on campus. 

The time is now to bounce back, reclaim lost time, and spark meaningful engagement within your community. The most robust way to do that is by living out your values — and inspiring everyone on campus to do the same.