Location, location, location.
Realtors proclaim location to be the ultimate selling point. And universities often treat it as a pivotal message in their marketing.
In our branding work, institutions regularly ask for Zehno’s help in making their locations appeal to more best-fit students. We’ve helped recast many locations as advantages:
- As a leg up for internships
- For a comfy, small-town feel
- For cultural opportunities
- As a safe place to live and learn
- As a career launch pad
- For that total college experience
- And more.
Whether it’s a buzzworthy town or a dot nobody can find on a map, your institution’s location is a given.
So how can you shape how people think about your location? Here are some ideas:
Broaden the image of your city
For Loyola University New Orleans, years of research showed that NOLA was divisive. Half of respondents imagined it as a great place to go to college (with deep history and quirky culture as draws). The other half wasn’t interested (perhaps picturing Bourbon Street bars, hurricanes, and oppressive humidity).
Because Loyola the institution is so intertwined with the city, the school’s challenge was to broaden people’s perception of New Orleans.
Admissions materials now show off the city’s many “scenes” — tech, festivals, sports, music and more. And 28 James Beard-award-winning chefs/restaurants within 6 miles of campus means no more grumbling about dorm food!
Many classes take students into the community to learn: making student films in Hollywood South, tracking biodiversity in the bayous or transforming a Mardi Gras float warehouse into a free dental clinic.
Claim an entire region
Long known for its breathtaking hilltop view — Pacific Ocean as far as the eye can see — Marymount California University needed to recast its Los Angeles location as a career-enhancer for an experience-driven curriculum. But could Marymount truly claim LA?
Here’s the problem: If you’re from outside the area, Marymount is in LA. But if you’re from Los Angeles, MCU isn’t in LA (it’s in Rancho Palos Verdes).
An experience-focused illustration stakes Marymount’s claim on SoCal, not just LA proper. The map shows companies students work for, cultural attractions, outdoor activities, and more. Students can imagine a SpaceX internship, Coachella weekends, and surfing at the beaches nearby.
Weave your city into the fabric of your school
For St. Edward’s University, Austin was traditionally acknowledged as an advantage, but not yet fully embraced as an essential component of the college experience. As the city ascended to its culture-capital status — and the population boomed — the university’s challenge became to showcase Austin as something beyond a hipster haven.
St. Edward’s doesn’t need students to enroll as just an excuse to move to Austin. It wants the right students to choose St. Edward’s because it is intrinsically linked to Austin’s culture and career-launching opportunities.
The school’s new brand refresh brings the city’s tones and textures into the marketing as a tactic to increase the school’s national draw.
New admissions materials weave St. Edward’s stories into the city’s texture. Murals, landscapes and flora keep the location as part of the story.
These signature stories demonstrate how St. Edward’s delivers a full college experience on a tight-knit campus in a world-class city. When you graduate, you might see yourself joining a major corporation like Apple or hatching your own business idea.
Don’t short-sell the cool college town
Unenlightened coast-dwellers who view Middle America as flyover territory have never seen Iowa City. This city — named the nation’s best college town — pairs high quality of life with great career potential.
For the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, the challenge was bigger than just bringing the uninitiated up to speed on college towns. Tippie needed to also persuade those already familiar with Iowa City that it is more than a Midwestern oasis of cool: it’s an ideal starting point for the career you’ve always wanted.
In the same way that a travel website tempts you with details about your next trip, Tippie presents Iowa City in photo-driven blurbs. This classic college town appeals to foodies, sports fans, rockers and others.
Profile stories highlight the pipeline to nearby Chicago, where many grads build high-flying careers. Other stories show the city as a start-up hub for folks with entrepreneurial spirit.
The pandemic problem: how to think about location
During a pandemic, can location continue to be a defining part of your institution’s brand?
The jury is still out. It may depend on what your campus looks like over the next year:
- If you’ll have students on campus, your location can be an advantage over other schools. Survey after survey shows that most students still seek the classic on-campus college career. So even if your location wasn’t a plus before, it may be now — especially if your cross-app competitors can offer only an online experience.
- If students are not back on the physical campus, think about how to build your digital student experience into a “destination.” Look for ways to bring your school’s culture and traditions online — whether that’s through online club meetings, behind-the-scenes pride videos or even talent shows.
Need help talking about your location or building your digital student experience? Let’s talk.