When was the last time your university revisited its public image and positioning and updated its messaging? In spite of budget shortfalls, how is your university raising awareness with more innovative approaches to messaging, communications, digital strategy, and alumni giving?
In general, HBCUs have unique challenges that other colleges and universities don’t, and negative public perceptions only adds to the problem. The value proposition for an HBCU education is constantly being challenged while more general market universities are vying for the Black college student.
In order to compete HBCUs will need to reinvent themselves. That means that marketing should be fully integrated across the entire campus and from programs to major departments so that the branding and messaging strategy is consistent and compelling.
Here’s five other instances that may require an overhaul of the school’s brand.
A Time of Crisis
Between on-campus shootings and cases of hazing related deaths, universities need a comprehensive crisis communications plan before the crisis hits. Surviving the crisis isn’t the issue; it’s the damage to morale, reputation, recruitment, and partnerships that’s at stake. The crisis communications plan should outline proactive measures to defend the university’s reputation during the crisis and an approach to addressing negative press. The plan should also have a communications strategy to keep the university community, alumni, and stakeholders engaged. Failure to do so could mean disaster and may require to go into repair mode following the crisis.
The Struggle for Relevance
It’s not new that the relevance of HBCUs is always in question. That’s just the result of the HBCU value proposition not evolving over the years to resonate with a new generation of students. For the most part, HBCUs are still relying on history, tradition, and culture as the value proposition, but that’s no longer enough to compel today’s students to see the value in choosing an HBCU education over a PWI. The value proposition of HBCUs should be repackaged to more competitively communicate the student experience and value of an HBCU education.
Public perception plays a big role in how a school is branded, and many HBCUs haven’t had their image, core messaging, and positioning modernized in years. Messages get stale and the school’s narrative may no longer be relevant for today’s generation. If that’s the case, it’s time to refresh the image.
Awareness has waned
Only about 11% of African-American college students attend HBCUs compared to 70-85% in the 1970s, which could be the result of declining awareness since the relevance of HBCUs are always being questioned. Refreshing the school’s narrative so that the university is in a better position to leverage media to more widely position the university is an opportunity to increase visibility.
Competition has stiffened
Enrollment at HBCUs is an issue across the board and with stiff competition not just from other HBCUs but also from PWI’s and online universities. A competitive rebranding can create a clear distinction from competing schools.
A rebranding can be a small update, an extensive transformation, or tied to a specific objective. It’s more than just the graphics. It’s about resonating with your audience with a more compelling message. When Florida A&M University was faced with the hazing crisis in 2012 that suspended its Marching 100, attendance and ticket sales for the university’s football season was in jeopardy. So we rebranded the entire athletics messaging and halftime experience so that the same excitement and game energy would be felt in the absence of the band. As a result of the rebranding, ticket sales fared strong and was on par with previous years.