University Branding: Making the Intangible Tangible

b7e7ee89953c53876a7c6c5a30f7e7f0Walking down Mutant Way at night you will notice the Deakin Worldly cube lit up in a kaleidoscope of colours. Looking more like a nightclub than an educational institution, this is an example of the branding revolution that universities have undergone in recent years.

The thought of attending higher education no longer conjures up images of old buildings, dry lectures and dusty libraries. Marketers are creating a new image of education and expanding the idea of what a university is.

University marketing has now become ‘less transactional, more inspirational’.

Yet, education is an intangible product. It is a service which cannot be sampled so it can be difficult for potential customers to analyse the quality of the service that is on offer. It also involves a high level of commitment from the consumer, in terms of both time and money, so purchasing decisions are not made lightly.

To sell their product universities need to provide evidence of what they actually do in order to make the intangible more tangible.

So what are universities doing to make their product more tangible? 

Let’s look at a few ways. 
Show the customer the core market offering 

While the main objective of higher education is to get a qualification, universities can highlight the more tangible features that they have to offer. These could be their hi-tech facilities, social clubs and events, student housing facilities, internship and travel opportunities, knowledgeable staff and so much more. The key is to focus on their strengths as a way of differentiation (Iacobucci 2013).

Victoria University presented their core market offering in this recent commercial:

Create a connection with the consumer

Through partaking in higher education students are not just getting a degree – they are gaining a sense of identity and belonging, and becoming a part of a life-long branding community. Brand communities enable students, staff and the community to connect, communicate and build relationships .

The University of Melbourne’s ‘Where great minds collide’ campaign was ‘a metaphor for when creative ideas meets collaboration and robust research’. This was implying that if you study at their university you can become a part of a community where brilliant minds connect to achieve amazing things. It also plays on the university’s strength as a research leader.

Build relationships through social media

Universities are also making the student experience more real and tangiblesocial_media_strategy111 through the use of social media.  The main target customer for most universities are Gen-Ys who have grown up in the tech era and use social media as one of their main forms of communication.

Universities are taking advantage of this and using social networking to spread their message and develop a community around their brand.

It also enables consumer-to-consumer interaction which provides students with more personal information about the brand.

Sell the experience through the eyes of a customer

The university experience is more real and authentic when it is shown from the perspective of existing students. Personal testimonials are said to ‘speak to potential customers in an honest, believable way’. Student stories can be used to sell the brand on university websites and in marketing materials and social media.

One way in which Deakin University has done this is through Navigator: a blog with student stories and experiences, written in multiple languages to target both local and international students. Links to the blog are promoted on social media to encourage greater customer engagement.


These are just a few of the ways in which universities are re-branding and evolving to attract the attention of potential students.

So ponder this:

  • What made you decide to study at Deakin University?
  • What techniques did marketers use to capture your attention?
  • And in what ways did they make the experience more tangible for you?

Iacobucci, D 2013, Marketing Management (MM4), South-Western, Cengage Learning, Mason.

Written by: slessels81 (211235102)

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