Higher Education: Branding Our Way Into the Digital Future

ed innovation

Whether it’s their physical image, where they live, the gadgets they use or what they drive, Millennials have quickly learnt the value of a good brand.   Branding represents the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumer’s mind, through utilizing themes, visuals, ideas and associations in advertising. Branding seeks to distinguish and differentiate what ever is being promoted, as it attempts to foster customer loyalty. So what does branding have to do with the future of Higher Education?

The digital age in which we live is admittedly dynamic, competitive, edgy and a tad unpredictable. As soon as we think we have mastered the latest technological gizmo or gadget, we are quickly introduced to an even faster or more efficient one. At the same time, market demands for knowledge and digital competence and the easy accessibility of such, means that today’s educational consumer is a far different animal from those in the past. Millennials

Widespread access to knowledge through the Internet, our propensity to always be “on line” and the pervasive use of social media, have effectively redefined life as we knew it. Social media and personal branding allows anyone to tout himself/herself as an expert in any given field. “Googling” and “YouTubing” have today become the “go to” behaviours of 21st Century digital natives who are quick to trade stuffy textbooks for Internet expertise, and the real-time experiences of live streaming. This has given much power or at least a sense of power and ownership to today’s learner or educational consumer. Educational institutions at any level must, therefore, “up their game” if they hope to maintain the attention of individuals who are now self-directed, empowered knowledge-learners because they already bring so much to the table. How then can Higher Education institutions maintain their competitive edge in this unpredictable, disruptive but exciting digital world?

Educational leaders and stakeholders must seek to actively engage in rebranding their institutions, in order to change the way these institutions are perceived by potential consumers. Are our institutions actively engaged with the digital world? Is this engagement reflected in our programme design and delivery, communication systems, or by our programmes’ openness, accessibility and global reach? Are our institutions comfortable with maximizing the benefits of social media, since this is the new normal in relationship building and social engagement? Institutions which are able to successfully market these attributes in their recruitment drives and programming, will perhaps emerge as those of choice in the digital era.

While attracting quality, competent students will always be an important factor in Higher Education sustainability, the extent to which institutions and their leaders are current and active participants in the digital world, will to some degree, also determine institutional relevance in the 21st Century. Institutional relevance is as much about leveraging a digital presence, as it is about shifting the institution’s raison d’etre to one, which is in sync with the disruptive innovation of today’s digital era and all that that entails. How institutions choose to navigate the digital world through both programming and presence on the digital landscape is, in itself, a critical component of building a successful brand.

Author: Denise J Charles © 2016

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