Every school, college and university needs a brand strategy, which starts with a strong brand positioning, but often, institutions struggle to find the time and resources to establish one. To help you better position your brand, we tapped Donna Balinkie, Kalix’s brand strategist and expert in brand development and management, to answer a few questions on the often-misunderstood and underused concept of brand positioning.

Q: Define brand positioning vs. messaging.

Brand positioning is sometimes confused with messaging or your elevator pitch. It is the strategy not the words used to communicate who you are and what makes you different from your competitors.  It all starts with really knowing what is meaningful and important to your target audience.

Once you set the brand strategy, the messaging (tagline, logo, etc.) follows and creatively conveys that positioning in an impactful and consistent way. Being proactive about brand positioning is an essential first step to establishing how you are perceived in the marketplace.

Brand positioning happens with or without your input. If you don’t position your brand, your audience (parents, students, faculty) will do it for you and, sometimes, it’s not exactly what you want to stand for.

Q: Why should educational institutions focus on brand positioning?

Think about your favorite brand – any brand. Ask yourself why are you loyal to Starbucks or Southwest Airlines or even your favorite car brand? How much would the price have to go up before you switch? What would need to happen other than a price increase to get you to switch? These are the kinds of questions corporate brands ask themselves to test the strength of their brand.  Educational institutions need to think about their organizations brand that same way.  What would be the impact of a tuition change on the brand?

Q: How does a school or university get started in developing a brand positioning strategy?

One of the first steps in creating a brand positioning is making sure you really understand your target audience. Are they primarily prospective and current families? Students? Donors? You will need to develop an umbrella brand positioning that works for all the important stakeholders but really hits the mark with your primary audience. You may need to do some primary market research and understand your current brand perception as well as what attributes your audience rates most important.

Next, you will need to really dive into how your competitors are positioning themselves and how they articulate that message. You don’t want to end up with the same message as someone else.

It can be super effective to create a cross-functional working group composed of marketing and admission staff, parent and alumnae volunteers/donors, faculty, trustees, etc. and workshop the brand positioning together answering these few, important question. If they seem “corporate,” that’s the point.

At the end of the brand positioning process, you should be able to answer “YES” to all of the following:

  • Is it memorable, motivating and focused to the core audience?
  • Does it provide a clear, distinctive and meaningful picture of the brand that differentiates it from the competition?
  • Is the point of difference important to the target?
  • Can the brand own it?
  • Is it credible and believable?
  • Does it serve as a filter for decision-making?

Q: How does a school use a brand positioning statement?

Remember that a brand positioning statement is for internal use only. It should serve to guide and inspire your external branding and marketing messages, taglines, etc.  Take it and develop a list of talking points with specific language to use and share that “cheat sheet” with your volunteers, faculty and staff so that everyone is speaking the same language when they are talking with prospects and current families and donors.

Use these words to drive your social media posts, talking points on school tours, opening messages during orientation, etc. They are your touchpoints for every spoken, written and posted message about your school, college or university. If they are top of mind for you and treated as such, they will become what your audience thinks about you.

Need more on brand positioning? We are here to help.

Be sure to check out Kalix’s ongoing Summer Marketing Series.

Donna Balinkie is Kalix Marketing Strategist.