Everyone knows they need to be doing it but many don’t know how. Typically, brand strength is measured through periodic research with your target audiences, which could include prospective students, parents of prospective students, alumni, guidance counselors, teachers, higher ed peers, business and community leaders, and other groups. Once you’ve identified your target audiences, you need to decide WHAT to measure to understand your institution’s brand health. There are a few important categories:
- Awareness – Are you known? Ask your target audiences questions like, “When you think of excellent private colleges in [your state or region], which ones come to mind first?” Edit this to be appropriate for your category and location. You can ask a question like this as an open-end and calculate the percent of the time your institution is mentioned; this is referred to as “unaided awareness.” You should also gather an “aided awareness” percentage by providing your survey respondents with 20-25 possible answers. (FYI, your aided awareness will always be higher than your unaided awareness.)
- Familiarity – How well are you known? Get your target audiences to rate their familiarity with your school on a Likert scale. A simple 1=low and 10=high will do. Make sure to get ratings for a few of your competitors and/or aspirant schools so you have a basis for comparison. When analyzing the results, look at both the mean familiarity level and the “top 2 box,” or percent that mark a 9 or 10. Each metric can yield different insights.
- Quality – How good are you? How do your targets perceive the quality of the academic experience at your institution? How does that compare to your competitors and aspirants? How do they rate the quality of the social experience, programs in different majors, the quality of students you enroll? There are infinite ways to get at quality. Figure out what quality means in the minds of your leadership and build questions that will help you generate metrics around those attributes. For example, if “greatness” at your institutions means being recognized for service or research or global initiatives or diversity, gather data that helps you understand your institution’s performance on these measures.
- Momentum – Are you getting better or worse? Ask your targets, “How has your opinion of [university] changed in the last 5 years?” (or however long you want to measure). Is it better? Worse? Or about the same? Is their opinion more or less favorable? This will help you understand any recent movement in your brand that could have been influenced by bad news or by the effectiveness of your marketing.
- Choice – Are you preferred? How likely are students to apply? How likely are alumni to engage with you and support you philanthropically? How likely are business leaders to hire your students for internships? Hire your graduates for full-time positions? Partner with you on key initiatives? There are behaviors you desire from each of your target audiences. Build questions around those desired behaviors and include the insights they generate in your package of brand-strength metrics.
- Promotion – Are you recommended? Ask your current students, faculty, staff, alumni, guidance counselors and other relevant audiences how likely they would be to recommend your school on a scale of 1 to 10. With this data, you can calculate a Net Promoter Score. It’s an extremely simple yet flexible metric that has been shown to be strongly correlated with the future growth of a business, significantly more so than satisfaction data. The NPS should be one of the anchors in your toolkit of brand-strength measures.
Just as there is no one measure that can tell the full story about the strength of our economy, for example, there is no one measure that can fully capture your institution’s brand strength. If you gather data in each of the six categories above, you will have a strong family of metrics to use to measure your brand strength over time.