To Universities: Don’t Let Rankings Define Your Brand
The annual flurry of university rankings has recently flooded the media. These lists serve mainly to sell magazines, not meet the needs of the reader, and they do little to convey the true value a school offers to its students, community and faculty. The statistics employed can be – and have been – distorted and manipulated. If your school’s brand strategy is centered on rankings, your brand strategy needs rethinking.
The flagship of college rankings is U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Colleges’, which, the magazine says, is built using “quantitative measures that education experts have proposed as reliable indicators of academic quality, and on our researched view of what matters in education.” [http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/09/11/how-us-news-calculates-its-best-colleges-rankings]. As a recent NYTimes op-ed pointed out, the results are counter-intuitive to much of what education needs today, positive long term returns on a significant investment. The U. S. News rankings reward the opposite, and schools spend money hand over fist to improve their score.
One of our clients, U.C. Berkeley, produces remarkable facts and figures, and demonstrates a solid rankings performance year after year. These rankings were not doing enough to avoid concern for the school’s reputation, however. We helped Berkeley develop a brand story that is built on the intangible attributes that differentiate it from its peers. This essence is timeless, not reliant on rankings, and will not be compromised as long as Berkeley is Berkeley. Facts and figures can help validate a brand strategy; they shouldn’t define it. Our expectation is that communications based on what makes UC Berkeley a uniquely great place will draw students, researchers and donors for the right reasons, not just for rankings.
A college is more than a number – when your school understands what makes it great, it does not need to rely on magazine rankings to communicate its value. Brand value is inherent in your students, faculty, culture, history, reputation, and community. If you don’t define your university’s brand by taking all of these into account, you’re losing out on an opportunity to demonstrate your value in the education marketplace.