7 challenges for the brains in charge of uni brands to get their heads around

BY Julian Gorham

In the last few years, the landscape of Higher Education has changed beyond recognition. How are universities and other institutions to meet the harsh realities of a world now driven predominantly by market forces and technological change? Gather has identified 7 of the big challenges facing organisations in the sector;


There is a growing trend towards localism and a sense of identity that rests in people, place, pride and purpose. If your Higher Education (HE) institution is in a city with a distinct personality and culture, the challenge is to find the truth of that personality and articulate it in a way that can be useful.

…and Globalism

Today all institutions have to play on a global scale. You must leverage your ‘place in the world’ to face, particularly, new recruitment from the East and from the Indian sub-continent. The challenge is to ensure your positioning enables you to reach abroad for both prospective students and funding opportunities.

Students are consumers

Students want choice, they want control over their futures, they want better health, wellbeing and an experience on their own terms… and they increasingly view universities as suppliers of services in an open market. The challenge is to articulate and express the brand in such a way that it competes effectively in this new ‘consumer’ landscape.

The new funding

Not only is the student a consumer, you are also competing for the best students in an age of austerity. There is an argument that says that the real challenge is to articulate an ‘investment story’ to diverse audiences.

It’s personal

Whilst digital is critical in terms of delivery, HE brands must work hard to fully exploit the desire for more personal engagement. The challenge is to make your organisation come to life in more personal ways e.g. through peers, family and friends. That means understanding who the influencers are and providing them with tangible and personal evidence of the brand values.

Branding beyond

HE brands should be trying to understand how they can move beyond identity and place to create social brand platforms to fulfill needs; social (one-to-one, many-to-many); layered (multiple levels of involvement); living (shaped by the audience experience) and curated (functional and facilitating).

Alumni 2.0

Membership and loyalty schemes must now think differently about their traditional (transactional) offers: There is the challenge of finding the value in traditional Alumni operations in the era of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Your institution should be using its brand to reframe Alumni membership, identity and purpose in order to create new networks in wider society.

The ultimate challenge for any one institution is to identify its particular strengths and articulate them so that meaningful and relevant connections can be made with stakeholders; everyone, that is, from potential domestic and international students and their parents, to academic and professional staff, to alumni.

Our experience in the sector suggests that this is the point at which challenge turns into opportunity.