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Brad VanAuken University Branding

Building A University Brand

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At least two universities are on to something big in their brand positioning: my alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and American University. Both focus on their students’ and prospective students’ aspirations.

Rensselaer chose the tagline, “why not change the world?SM” as its service mark in the late 1990s.  The tagline reflects the university’s intention to market itself as a place where people can change the world through technological innovation. It uses as its proof points alumni who have invented life changing things – microprocessor, television, pocket calculator, email, etc. It also cites its environment of interdisciplinary innovation, innovative pedagogical techniques and extensive support of student entrepreneurship. The tagline has attitude and builds confidence. Most importantly, it attracts students and faculty members that want to change the world and increases alumni pride in the school. 

American University recently announced its intent to own the category of educating “Wonks.” Their new campaign states “When you know something backward and forward, you’re a wonk. It’s a term Washington insiders use to describe their experts, people who are focused on creating change—people like American University’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni.” Again, this is an aspirational term and appeals to students and faculty members alike.  It also makes a strong reference to its location in the midst of our nation’s capital and its politics and policy making.

Another university that comes close on this direction is Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks. While it hasn’t chosen an equally pithy tagline, it does refer to itself as “The College of the Adirondacks” and its website’s home page features a slide show of outdoor wilderness activities in which its students are participating. The college is clearly trying to appeal to people who love the outdoors, wilderness and the Adirondacks in particular. It’s no wonder that its concentrations include forestry, surveying, fish & wildlife, recreation and arboriculture and also hospitality and culinary arts management. Go to school at Paul Smith’s College and enjoy living and playing in the Adirondacks. 

More colleges and universities should try to appeal to the aspirations of prospective students, faculty members and alumni in their branding efforts. 

Sponsored byThe Brand Positioning Workshop (Ideal for College and University Brands) 

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