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As universities and colleges compete for more students in an increasingly crowded market, branding has become more important than ever for alumni marketing. But branding isn’t only for prospective students; it also plays a crucial role in maintaining strong connections with alumni.
Alumni are an important part of any institution, and leveraging their goodwill and support can help schools stay ahead of the curve. If you, as a keen alumni marketer, are ready to start building an authentic alumni brand, here are some key components, steps, challenges, and considerations that you should keep in mind.
The Power of Branding in Alumni Marketing
If you’re not convinced that alumni branding is important, consider the following:
- Alumni are often the best ambassadors for your school. They have already experienced what your institution has to offer, and as such, they can provide authentic, powerful testimonials that can entice prospective students to join the community.
- Alumni can also be key supporters of your institution. Not only can they donate money, but they can also serve as mentors, recruiters, and network connections.
- Alumni also play a role in maintaining school spirit and traditions, which can help current students feel connected to their school and proud of their alma mater.
Key Components of Authentic Alumni Branding
Your alumni brand should be a reflection of your school’s values and culture, while also resonating with alumni. The following are key components to consider when crafting your brand:
This includes logos, color schemes, imagery, and typography. Ideally, this will play nicely with your institution’s existing brand, so starting with your school’s brand guidelines is a great start.
NYU Alumni Day Campaign – The visual branding of this event didn’t reinvent the wheel when it came to colors and fonts. But using the existing NYU color scheme in a new way instantly created a feeling of familiarity while also feeling fresh and vibrant.
What does your institution stand for? What values do you want to project to alumni? This includes both written messaging (e.g., mission statements, taglines) and visual messaging (e.g., photographs and videos).
UCSC Return to the Redwoods campaign – Knowing that their proximity to the famous California redwood forest was a huge part of the school experience, the UCSC alumni department cleverly named their alumni event “Return to the Redwoods.”
You need to engage with alumni in order to build a strong relationship and foster a sense of community. This can include events, social media, newsletters, and more.
Using the software platform Almabase, LLUSM moved their efforts to an online alumni community and saw higher participation rates and an increase in their average donation amount.
Steps to Craft Your Own Authentic Alumni Brand
If you’re ready to start building your alumni brand, here’s what you need to do:
1. Determine your objectives
What specifically do you want to achieve with your alumni branding efforts? This will help you define your messaging and engagement strategies. E.g., is this for an annual event, a fundraising campaign, are you trying to increase alumni engagement, or is this an effort to strengthen your institution’s overall reputation?
2. Research and understand your alumni community
Gain insights into their preferences, interests, and aspirations. This will help you tailor your branding efforts to their needs, segmenting your approach to ensure there are appropriate levels of personalization. As Steve Harvey, not that one, co-founder of London Branding Agency Fabrik writes,
…if you want to make a real connection with your audience, then you need to let them know you understand and appreciate them.
3. Define your school’s unique value proposition to alumni
Determine the distinct features and advantages that make your institution stand out. Every institution makes some grandiose claim about “preparing students to become world-changers” or something similar. But consider what your college might be able to boast about that no other university can. For instance, does your institution have a well-known program, a noteworthy past, or major contributions to particular academic fields?
4. Develop a compelling narrative and messaging strategy
Craft a powerful story that encapsulates the essence of your institution. Create messaging that aligns with your values and resonates on an emotional level with your alumni.
E.g. The Fueling Innovation campaign from the Illinois Tech Alumni Association highlighted their legacy of technical invention, launching with a creatively poetic center-piece video.
5. Engage alumni through various channels and platforms
Along with the content on your alumni website, use social media, newsletters, events, and other platforms to foster a sense of community and maintain ongoing communication with alumni. Encourage their active participation and create opportunities for them to connect with one another.
E.g., Golden Gate University saw little success in engaging with alumni through emails and newsletters. So they created an Oral History Project to compile alumni’s personal stories of their memories of campus life. After phone calls, postcards, and emails, over 5000 alumni responded, resulting in 400 first-time donors in just 2 months.
6. Continuously evaluate and refine
Regularly review engagement metrics, gather feedback from alumni, and use these insights to refine and enhance your branding strategies over time.
Challenges and Considerations for Alumni Marketers
While our approach to alumni branding can yield remarkable results, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
- Branding isn’t a quick fix. It takes time and effort to build a strong alumni brand.
- Messaging needs to be as authentic as possible. Your branding shouldn’t be a superficial attempt to woo alumni; rather, it should reflect the values and culture of your institution.
- Consistency is key. Your brand needs to be consistent across all channels, from social media to newsletters to events.
- Engaging with alumni can be difficult. Alumni can be spread across the globe, with very different schedules, interests, and needs. It’s important to be flexible and responsive to their needs.
- Measuring success can be a challenge. While you can track engagement metrics, it can be difficult to measure the intangible benefits of an alumni brand.
If done correctly, alumni branding can be a powerful tool to keep alumni engaged and supportive of your institution. By focusing on key components, taking a strategic approach, and being responsive to alumni needs, you can build a brand that not only resonates with alumni but also helps you achieve your institutional objectives.
By following the steps outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to creating an impactful alumni brand. Remember, we are here to support you in navigating the complex world of alumni branding and creative services. Take action today and start crafting your own authentic alumni brand!