The university brand is not a one-dimensional concept. We are talking about the «house of brands», which includes international, national and regional levels, internal identity and external image, scientific and educational components, as well as brands of structural divisions and leading scientists.
The university brand, and even more so the digital brand, cannot be created artificially — it is the cumulative experience of interaction with it of different stakeholders. And the main goal of digital marketing is to achieve a stable association with the brand. It is important to answer the question "what kind of university?", for example: ambitious, bold and open, or traditional and conservative. Depending on what it really is, and what the needs of its stakeholders are. On the Internet, we can no longer "appear" (create an image), it is important for us to "be" and be real (manage the brand identity or the experience of stakeholders that they broadcast in digital channels).
Brand identity is about the environment, relationships, and emotions.
The environment is, first of all, the corporate culture: the goals, principles, priorities and values that underlie it and which are important to reflect in the Internet space. It is also a social environment in which students' study. And in general, the university's ability to create a sense of belonging and confidence in the prestige of the brand with which they associate themselves among internal stakeholders.
The experience that students get at the university is based on relationships — employees and administration, employees among themselves, students and employees, etc. A student can receive a high-quality education for 4–6 years, but if they are in difficult relationships with peers or teachers all this time, brand loyalty will not be formed.
Not only can we experience emotions towards the brand, but also cause them.
It is very important to do this when you first introduce your brand via the Internet, showing its identity. Emotional identity arises as a sense of belonging to the inner environment. This is a story about me as a member of the organization. Our foreign competitors actively use this tool, posting the stories of students and employees on their websites.
The importance of brand identity in the digital environment is even higher than in the traditional one, because there are more opportunities for both the transfer of experience, and for the joint creation of content or semantic content of the brand.
University brand for international applicants
The decision to enter a foreign university is a decision that is usually made once in a lifetime, which cannot be changed, and which affects the fate of a person.
How does this affect the branding of universities? Our target audiences are less likely to believe the information coming from the university and make decisions based on feedback and recommendations. The higher the socioeconomic status of a family (that is, the more talented and solvent students we want to recruit), the more our applicants rely on independent search for information about the university, comparing the content in different sources.
In the context of the reverse marketing funnel, we must invest in the generation of eWOMs (online reviews and recommendations) during the capture and heating stages, as well as form and manage communities of brand supporters.
The main goal of the university's international brand communication with foreign applicants is to reduce risks and stress levels. How do we do this? We position the material (buildings, libraries, archives, awards, etc.) and nonmaterial (culture, values and ethical norms, rituals and ceremonies, relations with graduates and partners, etc.) heritage, inspire confidence in the university (convince that the university will cope with any difficulties) and improve the quality of services (not only educational, but also administrative).
Universities with a solid heritage are classic universities with their own history, culture, and 'way of doing things'. It can be assumed that the rules, processes and operations established in such universities have passed the test of time and therefore contribute to the high quality of services. The authors of the article (Panda S. et al. 20181) conducted a correlation analysis of the impact of heritage on the reputation of universities in the United States and India and revealed a high level of dependence and influence of the heritage reflected in the image on the decision-making of foreign applicants.
Trust in the brand is formed through dialogue and reflection of ways to meet the needs of international applicants and students in the digital environment. It is important to take into account all levels of needs: from basic (physiological) and security needs to socialization, self-realization and self-actualization.
The quality of services is evaluated as the ratio of the actual and expected level of quality. Therefore, it is important to position attributes that have a real "reinforcement" and distinguish the university from its competitors. In addition, for the student as a client, it is important not only the quality of educational services, but also the quality of services that they receive at the university.
How to create an international digital brand of a university?
The digital brand is based on two components: the identity and the voice of the brand.
The brand identity forms the basis of Internet positioning: it is reflected on the website, in the description of university profiles in social networks, on the stands of online exhibitions and educational portals. The brand identity can be represented through the positioning profile: slogan, description in one sentence, mission, attributes.
At exhibitions and portals, there is such an element as a business card of the university (photo, short brand name, city and country, slogan). And it depends on the attractiveness of such a business card, on the emotions that we will be able to evoke when looking at it, whether the user will click on this card, whether they will continue to get acquainted with the university.
The general trends of digital marketing — short presentation and fragmentary perception in the "scrolling" mode — also push us to go to the presentation of the university in three sentences, which should both tell about the university, evoke emotion, and reflect social responsibility to society.
The voice of the brand is about the style of communication and the language of presentation of information.
It is important to build a dialogue with foreign applicants, involve them in communication, and call them to action. To tell not about the brand, but about how the university can best help foreign applicants meet their needs.
The development of the international digital brand of the university should be preceded by competitive analysis, analysis of reviews and Internet positioning of the city, surveys of students, faculty and administrative staff, SWOT analysis of export potential. This will allow you to design a positioning profile that the university will place in different digital channels and use in contextual and targeted advertising. And, thus, to ensure brand awareness and memorability, to evoke emotions and associations, to build up from competitors.