It can be a little jarring to think of companies as having ‘personalities’. The truth is that so many brands really don’t have any personality at all. The ones that do, though, help us to understand how this idea can work in practice. Universities like Oxford, Princeton and MIT each have their own set of values and connotations. We can almost picture the type of person we might meet there. When building your brand personality, that’s the goal – to give a unifying voice to an abstract set of qualities.

And the arguments in favour of a strong brand personality are strong. Research shows that brand personality has a much greater affect on brand equity than does short-term marketing approaches like promotions. It could mean the difference between missing your international recruitment KPIs and hitting them on your off day.

Let’s explore some of the key issues surrounding brand personality management.

How is brand different from reputation?

Your brand is the sum of all the choices you make in the way your institution presents itself to the world. That includes your logo, your website copy, your social media posts, but also your academic reputation, recruitment style and the way you speak with students Your reputation, on the other hand, is made up of the thoughts and feelings the public has about you.

This difference is key to understanding the role that brand personality plays in affecting communications outcomes. Your brand personality has to synergise with your existing reputation whilst also finding a unique voice in the market to differentiate your offering. If you fail to understand the critical difference between the two, you could end up making brand decisions that work against your existing reputation to lacklustre or even catastrophic results. 

That’s why it’s extremely important to measure and understand your existing brand personality.

Measuring your existing brand personality

Quantifying something as abstract as brand personality can feel like a daunting challenge. Fortunately, academic research offers us some quality frameworks to help understand and analyse our institutional brand personality. The University Brand Personality Scale (UBPS) is a six-point framework that allows you to measure key personality characteristics such as prestige, sincerity and conscientiousness. It’s useful for understanding your brand personality in a range of contexts, from self-analysis of outgoing communications to feedback from existing students. Use it as a basis for an institutional audit of all your brand touchpoints.

Building your brand personality infrastructure

Once you have a thorough understanding of how your brand personality manifests across multiple touchpoints, you can start to create some direction for your brand. If you don’t have established brand and tone-of-voice guides, now is the time to build them. You can even use the UBPS scale as a tone-of-voice framework to help your writers get the voice that you want. 

Remember, the key to great branding and editorial documentation is using real-life examples to show what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t have existing work that shows off the brand personality you want, you can always create something new. Just make sure you’re clear about how and why your examples are effective.

Building brand continuity

Continuity is the area that most universities struggle when it comes to branding. Just like an individual, it’s common for different stakeholders to get a different view of an institution’s personality. However, when these views are too different, it leaves the public overall with a confused idea of who you are as a university. 

Don’t forget, brand personality extends far beyond your communications channels. Your academic network activities, recruitment cycle and student success services are all part of the mix. You’ll need to find ways of bringing all these activities in line with your brand personality. This is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face in your branding journey.

We’ll be going in-depth on brand continuity and more interesting subjects in later posts, so make sure you check back in to The Brand Education blog. We hope to hear from you again soon.