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.

Improve Your Brand’s Performance

From crafting a unique story that uncovers your key messages to creating the buzz that sets you apart, building and maintaining a successful brand is no easy feat for an educational institution. Is your school up to the challenge? Of course it is – so take a deep breath and follow our tips for taking your brand to the next level.

Top 10 Tips Brand Banner

Know your audience.

What matters most to them? Start with a solid foundation of market research to bring clarity and focus to your branding efforts.

Know thyself.

What sets you apart from the rest? Identify your distinctive qualities and develop a message that highlights those strengths.

Make a promise.

Let your brand promise be your guide. Strive to meet and exceed expectations at every level of communication.

Be authentic.

Authenticity speaks volumes. Brands that tell a genuine, honest story will resonate with your students, build trust and make a connection.

Be consistent.

Your brand represents who you are. Regardless of the medium, consistency is key to building recognition, familiarity and trust.

Create brand ambassadors.

An engaged and passionate internal audience is the key to brand awareness. Let your faculty, staff and students be your voice.

Be inspired.

Inspire your students by taking risks. When you explore new and creative ways to connect with your audience, you strengthen your brand.

Be data-driven.

Just remember success takes time. Conduct surveys, focus groups and interviews to gain insights of the effectiveness of your campaigns.

Build community.

Invite your audience to be a part of your story. Every tweet, post, like or share extends your brand’s reach exponentially. Encourage it.


An updated brand deserves some buzz. So celebrate your institution on campus: throw a party, print new t-shirts, make a splash. Incorporate elements of your new brand into every marketing effort.

Download the Top 10 Tips to Improve your Brand’s Performance

If you are in the Atlanta area and would like to learn more about our brand process and what it could do for your institution please join us at Brand Camp August 26th. Sign up today! 

Survey Research vs. Focus Groups


In my work with clients I’m often asked, “Which is better? Surveys or focus groups?”
Data-gathering through surveys and focus groups is an important component of brand positioning. It’s also a smart, strategic effort to learn about prospective students’ decision making process and their perceptions of your institution.

Let’s take a look at surveys and focus groups.

Survey Research:

  • Can be more cost effective, collecting the most data possible, at a fraction of the price of numerous focus groups
  • Provides more quantifiable and statistically significant data which can be cross cut to account for various segment groups (based on demographics, program of interest, GPA, etc.)
  • Allow for more candid responses without the influence of others’ opinions
  • Helps establish better benchmarks and the ability to track changes in responses over time, which can give you further insights into overall marketing and recruitment strategies and tactics

Focus groups: 

  • Tend to take place with a much smaller sample size in an interactive group setting
  • Are often too small to draw definitive conclusions, and data can be harder to analyze
  • Can be a great way to encourage participants to share ideas and express opinions and attitudes
  • Can be an effective way to facilitate open discussions and allow members of your campus community to express themselves deeper that a less-personal survey
  • Can be more costly and time consuming, in comparison to a survey. But if you have deep or complex issues you want to understand better before developing targeted, meaningful questions to include on your survey, or, if you have a number of theories which you would like to test for relevance, focus groups are a great tool in providing clarity and structure to the next steps of your research 

Keep in mind, however, that without the anonymity of a survey, it can be challenging for some people to speak freely and express their opinions.

So, which is better?
  • If you are simply looking to generate ideas or gather feedback about what prospective students (and potentially other audiences) think about a creative concept, or your programs, or academic offerings, then focus groups may be more helpful
  • But, when it comes to collecting consistent, reliable and accurate data, the advantages of survey research are unbeatable
  • Survey research provides a larger sample, with responses that are more honest and open, providing data that is more concrete and easier to analyze
  • Focus groups certainly have some advantages, but surveys can offer significantly more meaningful data

In my experience, the best strategy is to use a combination of the two approaches for the best results:

Conduct focus groups first to inform and refine the questions which will ultimately be asked in a quantitative survey (or conversely – focus groups can be used following a quantitative survey to dive deeper into certain issues or to further refine concepts introduced/tested in a survey). Allow focus groups and surveys to affirm and enhance one another.

In other words…measure twice, cut once.

Ultimately, reliability is a key factor in strategic decision-making. With either method of research, we want to make sure that the information collected is going to provide accurate and reliable information in order to make informed strategic decisions and move forward with confidence. When implemented correctly, a little market research can go a long way in improving your overall marketing and recruitment efforts and generate a considerable return on investment (ROI) for your institution.

Are you contemplating testing a creative concept or gathering information regarding your current image in the marketplace? Contact us. We’d love to talk.


Check Out Our Latest Higher Ed Marketing Awards

Think “Birdman” winning 4 awards is impressive? Then we ought to blow you away with the 22 awards we just received in the 2015 Education Advertising Awards, sponsored by Higher Education Marketing Report. Not to mention the additional 10 awards we won earlier this year in the 2015 Education Digital Marketing Awards.

Here a few of the winners.

Gordon State College, Gold for Student Viewbook, Gold for Search Piece, Merit for Brochures


University of Idaho, Silver for Total Recruitment Package


Bloomfield College, Silver for Total Recruitment Package


Averett University, Bronze for Acceptance Poster


Stay tuned for more award posts!