How the university 'brand' could hurt funding
By Marshall Bellamy
University branding has revolutionized the way universities advertise to prospective students, but according to critics, there are substantial drawbacks.
Branding, which turns a university name and the degrees it offers into a recognizable brand name, has brought many universities into a quagmire because it primarily showcases the schools' great features. On the other hand, the public sees the branded image of universities and concludes that other public programs, such as health care and education, are more deserving of vital government funding.
"I think branding has to be looked at in a broad, broad perspective," said Arnice Cadieaux, executive director of the Council of Ontario Universities, adding branding is about marketing a university's reputation to the public.
According to Cadieaux, branding is necessary for universities wishing to capitalize on their strong features, such as cutting-edge research or a high quality of education. Branding is a means of recruiting students and faculty and maintaining a strong reputation, she added.
"We need better investment, everybody knows that," Cadieaux noted, citing universities need to emphasize their best qualities to the government and point out the need for funding to maintain these high qualities. "There's two sides of this coin - and each of these sides must be addressed."
She also pointed out that two messages exist for prospective students and faculty. "The messages are tailored according to what the audience needs and wants to know, but all audiences have access to the big picture."
"Western has been a leader in the area [of branding]," said David Estok, Western's director of communications and public affairs, noting Western began branding in 1996 to promote the character of the university to potential students and emphasize the teaching and research that is performed at the university. "There's growing competition; every university president is attracting the best and brightest students - we're in a very fierce competition."
Estok pointed out problems with the term "branding," noting the university has no intent on being a corporation. "The academic environment is not commercial by nature."
While the general public may not think universities are in need of government funding as a result of branding, Estok defends the practice and the benefits it has brought to Western. "I think it is important in an environment where we need public funding that we let people know what we are doing."
According to Lori Gribbon, Western's manager of undergraduate admissions and liaison services at the Office of the Registrar, there is a need for branding because it develops a relationship between the university and prospective students.
"They're two separate issues, funding and branding are different - branding just gives information about the university," Gribbon explained. "It's a fine line that you walk," she added, noting there is difficulty in effectively promoting the university and obtaining more funding from the government. "It's a conundrum."
Kyle Winters, director of marketing programs at the University of Toronto, pointed out that branding cannot be underestimated because of how pervasive it is, adding U of T has used a variety of branding methods in the past.
"That's a fair criticism - we have tried to empower the university," Winters said, in response to the public's perception of branding at universities.
"[Branding is] certainly a necessary thing. I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing," said Kim Moller, director of marketing at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, adding universities depend on public funding and tuition fees while bringing the university's accomplishments to public attention.