• Marketing the Career Center: Analyzing Your Brand

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
    January 8, 2014

    by Gary Alan Miller

    Gary Alan Miller

    This past fall, I began this series on marketing with articles about segmentation, storytelling, and analytics. In this New Year, I challenge you to do a serious analysis of one primary piece of your marketing efforts: your brand. But, I'd like to acknowledge up front that the "brand" concept is abstract and difficult to discuss without context.

    Let's start with history. In literal terms, branding means to burn. Think of the designs that ranchers used to identify which cattle belonged to their farm. However, in modern marketing parlance, a brand is not a design. Nor is it a motto. It's not a color scheme or a logo. While all of these things can help convey a brand, at its core, a brand is what establishes your organization as unique and authentic to the reputation you carry among your stakeholders.

    The true language of branding is around "essence," "identity," and "value." We have a tendency to not think about our centers in those terms. However, they do exist and our students internalize them whether or not we are intentional about them.

    Case in point, when I first arrived at the University of North Carolina (UNC), everyone in our center dressed in business professional attire. The idea was that we needed to model appropriate dress for our students. But, it led to our center being a pretty intimidating place, especially for first-years and sophomores. We relaxed our dress code and gave ourselves permission to be more light-hearted with some of our communication efforts. In doing so, we were able to soften our image and be a less intimidating place. Those were brand decisions, even though we weren't talking in those terms.

    Your brand tends to be a reflection of your efforts, but you are not fully defined by them. It is a participatory experience between you and your students. A given organization may want to brand itself as the most efficient. But if the customer actually experiences regular inefficiencies, they won't consider the organization efficient just because their communication messages say so. Your career center may want to think of itself as being student-centered. However, if the students don't experience that, it won't be your brand. Just saying it doesn't make it so!

    As a next step, let's define some relevant terms. Within these definitions are some things that you can control or affect to better serve your center:

    • Brand awareness is the ability of your customers to recognize, recall, and understand which of their needs are satisfied by the brand.
    • Brand experience is the combination of impressions of your organization through all "touch points" (both in-person and via communication channels).
    • Brand identity is the various visual and communicative means by which your organization wants to convey its brand—including logo, color, catch phrases, and so forth.

    This year, I encourage you to think deeply about what it is that we do as career professionals and how you want your students to understand and experience your center. What characteristics define your center? What is your reputation among students and other stakeholders? What would need to change in order to emphasize or positively impact that reputation?

    Interested in reading more about branding? Here are a few good articles and resources:

    Gary Alan Miller is co-founder of the Innovation Forum for Career Services, is director of external relations and communication for SoACE, and currently serves as senior assistant dean at UNC Chapel Hill. Find him on twitter@garyalanmiller