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BlogHow Research and Brand Refinement Improve Higher Ed Marketing

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Higher Ed Creative Fusion session in Iowa.

How Research and Brand Refinement Improve Higher Ed Marketing

It’s not easy to make meaningful marketing connections with 18- to 24-year-olds, even though we’ve all been one of them at some point. The success of many higher ed recruiting campaigns, however, hinges on getting it right.

Some audience research and refinement of your brand and messaging may be in order.

Why It Matters

Nationally, college enrollments remain below pre-pandemic levels at public and private four-year colleges, although fall 2022 saw some improvement in freshmen numbers. In the Midwest, undergraduate enrollments dropped at twice the national rate. Community colleges did see slight growth, thanks to dual-enrolled high school students.

So the competition for a potential student’s attention is fierce among higher education institutions. A better understanding of this audience and how they see your brand can help you stand out in the crowd — because your competition for attention is more than just other schools.

An often-quoted statistic says the average human attention span is just 8.25 seconds! (Take that with a grain of salt. The research is considered murky, and the reality is our attention spans vary a lot depending on the task and other factors.) What’s clearer is that the distractions for your audience’s attention are numerous — smartphones, social media, Internet, video, etc.

So you need smart, strategic tools, data and planning to make your college recruiting efforts a success.

Start With Research

Start with research. It’s a foundational piece of a strategic plan, and it’s a good way to assess a brand’s perception among the target audience. Ways to do this:

  • Man Filling Online Survey Form On LaptopOnline surveys
  • Focus groups
  • One-on-one or small-group interviews

A focus group of first-year students is one example. What insights can they offer on why they chose to attend and what marketing messages and materials they considered effective? Also, what didn’t they like?

Or a survey of students who started down the recruiting path but didn’t select your institution of higher ed. Why, and what is their perception of the brand?

Armed with this qualitative data, you can refine your marketing messaging and tactics to better reach and connect with potential students.

Refine Brand Positioning

What if the problem is brand alignment? Maybe your marketing messages or brand story is inconsistent across campus. And because of it, the target audience doesn’t have a clear understanding of who you are and what you can do for them.

Higher Ed Creative Fusion session in Iowa.We’d recommend getting down to basics and doing some brand development work. Again, start with research, specifically to check points of alignment (and misalignment) between:

  • Organizational strategy
  • Operational strategy
  • The student experience
  • Brand positioning

Those insights help determine what needs fixing and how to position the organization moving forward. Our proprietary Creative FusionSM process can help you do that positioning work. We peel back the layers and take a deep look at your brand promise, your target audiences, your vision for the future and even your culture.

That data is then used to better define who you are and refine your brand story. Because when you can clearly and quickly convey your value proposition, you have a better chance of catching the distracted attention of those elusive 18- to 24-year-olds.

If you found this helpful, sign up for our newsletter below and get smart insights for higher education marketing delivered to your inbox. And if you’d like more information on AMPERAGE’s research, brand development and planning & strategy services, contact Rachael Holland at  

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Rachael is a relationship builder, a keen listener and a strategic thinker with a proven track record of driving business growth. Here is how one client described Rachael. "She is smart, respectful, and listens to our direction and ideas. She uses her expertise to enhance plans by drawing on her knowledge and experience and communicating our vision to the rest of the AMPERAGE team." With an extensive background in higher education business development as well as earning her MBA, Rachael utilizes her growth mindset to formulate and implement growth strategies that drive expansion. She also oversees and optimizes marketing strategies for enhanced brand visibility. She has worked with many clients but has worked most closely with the Eastern Iowa Airport - CID, Kirkwood Community College, Cowley College, Southeastern Community College, Heartland Express and Iowa Health+. She has also presented at numerous conferences, including the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), The Way Up and UNI PRSSA. Rachael is also a community leader including volunteering for the United Way, serving on the board for the Iowa Giving Crew and fundraising as part of the Leadership for Five Seasons class of 2023. Her role on the local Executive Leadership Team for the American Heart Association in Linn County grew out of personal experience. According to Rachael, "My mother survived a stroke 15 years ago, so I naturally became passionate about fundraising and educating communities about warning signs/symptoms of stroke and heart disease in women." Because of these kinds of personal passions, philanthropy and nonprofit work have become hallmarks of AMPERAGE's work and volunteerism. If you want a sample of Rachael’s thinking, click on the AMPERAGE Marketing AMPcast or an AMP Blog.