A Guide to Brand Awareness

Have you heard people call themselves Cornhuskers, Fighting Irish, Crimson Tide, Tarheels or Buckeyes?

These are perfect examples of where brand awareness and people’s lifestyles intertwine. They wear their school colors with pride and are the greatest brand ambassadors. This is brand awareness.

Our goal for this post is to help you better understand brand awareness: why it is important to all institutions, and how it helps your community grow and thrive.

What is Brand Awareness?

Brand awareness shows how familiar your key audience is with your brand and how well it is recognized. Institutions with a strong brand awareness are often associated with popular athletic programs or have a long-standing history of famous alumni and collegiate accolades.

Brand awareness might seem like an ambiguous concept and in a sense, it is. It can be difficult to see the correlation between brand success and its impact on your Return On Investment (ROI). Although this might not be easy to defend to your President of Enrollment, that doesn’t mean it does not have value. Brand awareness is essential to the success of your enrollment numbers and your overall marketing and fundraising goals. Here’s why.

Brand Awareness Establishes Trust and Loyalty

In an era where prospective students rely on extensive research, their parent’s input, and their peers’ opinions before they make a simple decision, can you imagine what it takes to feel secure about their college choice? Brand trust is everything. Once a prospect forms an emotional connection in some way to your community (i.e. your brand), they are more likely to want to be a part of it; bridging the gap between trust and loyalty.

By establishing a proverbial face to your institution’s name, prospects find it easier to trust. Your brand awareness efforts give your brand a personality and an opportunity to be sincere, tell your story and receive feedback. Which in turn makes them feel heard and special. This is innately human nature.

Brand Awareness Creates Community

Brand awareness for institutions associates actions, values, and programs with a school. Positive brand equity develops when prospects observe a supportive and energized community on social media or in your email communications. A little effort truly goes a long way – you can easily develop strong brand equity by consistently promoting positive student experiences with your school and in turn build brand awareness.

Once a prospect is familiar with your brand, they start to recognize it without assistance, seek it out to learn more about specific programs or events, then they begin to prefer it over some of their other college options. Which is ultimately the goal for your student search initiatives.

How to Establish Brand Awareness

Brand awareness among your audience and the general public doesn’t happen overnight. It also doesn’t happen from a simple advertisement or marketing campaign. Strong brand awareness is a result of multiple simultaneous efforts that extend beyond trying to get a student to apply to your institution.

If you expect to raise awareness of your institution by running a few advertisements on Facebook, you won’t get very far. Here are some ways to establish a solid brand awareness foundation and make a lasting impact on your prospects.

Be Personable

When you are getting to know a new person, what do you like to learn about them? Maybe you like to learn about their hobbies, passions, likes, and dislikes, maybe their goals? You pay attention to how they speak, what gets them excited. These are attributes about your institution that should be promoted. Make them feel like more than a tuition check, show them how you want to include them in your community.


Introvert or extrovert, outgoing or quiet, all humans benefit from social contact and spending time with one another and being in a community where they belong. It’s how we stay connected, learn new things, and become known by others.

The same goes for your brand. If you only attempt to connect with your audience when trying to get them to apply or raise money (don’t forget about your alumni) you will be known as the school with a singular intention.

To raise awareness of for your institution, you’ve got to be social. Interact with your audience by asking questions, commenting on posts, or retweeting or sharing content you like. Treat your social accounts as if you were a person trying to make friends, not a business trying to make money.

Be a Storyteller

Storytelling is an incredibly powerful tool for student search and brand awareness. Why? Because it gives something real for your audience to connect with. Developing a narrative around your school and its values humanize it and give it depth.

People love hearing stories about each other. Authenticity is impactful, and it can lead to a big boost in brand awareness.

Make Sharing Easy

Whatever enrollment strategies you are using, it is important to make it easy for your audience to share your content. This could be videos, social media posts, campus events, or alumni news. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s shareable.

Word-of-mouth is the most effective way to establish trust and familiarity among your audience. If a prospect sees a friend or family member is sharing your school’s content, they will take notice. It could inspire them to explore your website and check out your offerings.

How to Measure Brand Awareness

How do you know if your brand awareness efforts are working? How do you know if you need to change direction, top the competition, or fix a crisis? Just like any other marketing metric, you measure it.

Although, brand awareness can’t be measured in the traditional sense. But, you can still review activities and metrics that’ll help you gauge where your brand stands in terms of popularity.

Quantitative Brand Awareness Measures

These numbers can help you paint the overall picture of your brand awareness. To measure quantitatively, check out these metrics:

  • Direct traffic. Direct traffic is the result of people intentionally typing in your URL and visiting your website. Your direct traffic number will tell you how much your marketing is prompting students to visit your website. If you have a single purpose admissions website (digital viewbook) this could be an excellent indication of brand awareness and prospect interest.
  • Site traffic. This number reflects overall site traffic, which will tell you how much (and how long) the general internet population is checking out you. It won’t necessarily tell you exactly where they came from but that doesn’t matter because they are aware of you and are landing on your website.
  • Social engagement. Engagement can refer to followers, likes, retweets, comments, and more. It’s a reflection of how many people are aware of your school and socialize with it, as well as how impactful your posts are.
Qualitative Brand Awareness Measures

This step is where your brand awareness “score” gets a little muddy. But these tactics can still help you gauge who and how many people are aware of your brand. To measure qualitatively, try:

  • Set up Google alerts. Doing this gets you up to speed with how your brand is being talked about online. It will alert you to any news or mentions by third-party press. Plus you can set it up to give you convenient daily or weekly emails. If you set aside just 15 minutes a week to review the alerts, you will have great insight into your brand awareness.
  • Social listening. Who is tagging your institution, mentioning it in comments, or using your hashtag in their posts? The more your audience is discussing your school on social media, the more they’re aware of it.
  • Brand awareness surveys. This process involves getting direct feedback from your students, prospects, and alumni. This can be incredibly helpful with understanding who knows of your brand but also what they think of it.

Utilizing quantitative and qualitative metrics will help you understand your brand awareness among your audience and the general public. It will never be a precise number, but keeping your pulse on these metrics will help you craft campaigns that help you stay connected.

Building and growing brand awareness is a never-ending process, so don’t get frustrated. Boosting your brand awareness through campaigns gives you a chance to explore different techniques in marketing and advertising opportunities you’d otherwise not invest in — meaning new, powerful ways to connect with your audience. So have some fun, be creative and curious, and show your audience what you’re all about!

Make Your Brand Work Smarter, Not Harder

Take a second and remember the first time you stepped on your alma mater’s campus. You’re nervous and excited; anxious, but ready to start this new stage in your life. The sights, the smells, the emotions–memories that will stick with you throughout your life– create that once in a lifetime experience. What challenges did you come across? What do you wish you knew back then to make it a better experience?

Now, take that experience and try to express it with words and images. How would you capture that emotion in a phrase or in a photo? What would be the one thing that you would want the future generation to cement in their memories? The challenge: you only have 15 seconds to capture the attention of your prospect and inspire them to take an action.

Easy, right? Well, maybe not so much.

So, what do you do? How do you jam-pack all the important information in your messaging while keeping your target audience captivated and engaged? How do you move them through the funnel and keep them eager for the next step in the process?

The key to engagement is understanding the prospect experience and empathizing. Branding is all about stepping away and seeing your institution through your prospect’s point of view. This ensures that your brand not only stays relevant but also that you’re attracting the right students for your community.

Forget your deadlines and goals for a minute. When was the last time you stopped and asked what the hardest part of the enrollment process is FOR THE STUDENT?

Where do you even begin? The answer: research.

Perception is reality. Therefore, a successful brand campaign begins with a thoughtful, proven perception study process. A perception study will put your brand to the test and evaluate how both your prospects, as well as your internal audience, perceive your school (and your brand). A simple online survey can provide critical insight into the beliefs and behaviors of your prospects and stakeholders, and lay the foundation for successful enrollment marketing strategies.

Who should make up your internal audience? Current students (undergraduate and graduate), faculty, staff, administration, and alumni are indispensable resources. Exploring the extent to which your stakeholders understand and embrace your mission, vision and institutional strengths are key. Remember that they are the ones living and advocating your school’s brand on a daily basis.

Don’t stop there!

Is your messaging resonating with your key audience? A survey of your prospective students will help you answer that. Getting prospects to respond can be tricky, so consider incentivizing them in some way. The farther along they are in the funnel, the more likely they are to respond, so applicants and beyond are ideal candidates to leverage. Research with prospective students will identify issues related to your reputation, image, and awareness, perceived strengths, and weaknesses, as well as overall academic reputation. You’ll gain insight into who they are, where they are, and what influences their college decision-making process.

An online study also provides the quantitative analysis necessary to establish baseline metrics and engage a larger campus community in the quest for the right students. The more data you have, the better. Information is a powerful tool that will make every communication you have with a potential student personal and inviting, establishing the trust that is needed to make a decision as big as choosing a college or university to attend.

It’s simple but takes time, reflection, and thought on your part. Put your brand to the test and see how it measures up. Did it pass the test this time? Does it need some work? Remember to keep checking in on your brand to make sure it’s working for your institution.

If you’re uncertain whether your current branding is helping or inhibiting your enrollment goals and you’re seeking a data-driven answer, research is key. If you have any more questions about how to get started evaluating how your institution’s brand measures up, the TWG Plus team would be happy to help! Email us at info@twgplus.com to set up a time to talk.