Do you know what "brand community" is? I had never heard the phrase until I read an article in the International Journal of Educational Advancement (IJEA) (vol. 6, no. 2). The article (linked at the end of this post) is called Building Relationships of Brand Community in Higher Education: A Strategic Framework for University Advancement and was co-written by three business and marketing professors.
So what is "brand community"? It is
the product of social relationships among users of a brand, regardless of their geographical location, who recognize their commonality and who share rituals, traditions, and a sense of responsibility toward the brand.
In other words, a group of people who are so into something (such as a company, a band, a TV show, a product or - yes - a university) that they make it part of their identity and imbue its presence in their daily lives with great importance. The authors say that "once we accept the idea of the university as the steward of a brand, the implications of a brand community are especially intriguing."
Implications for alumni relations? The authors suggest:
- increasing investment in logos, mascots, student activities, and facilities;
- exceeding student, alumnus, and donor expectations;
- promoting the "foundations of affiliation" (class year, school/college, dorm/Greek organization);
- measuring the effect of "the brand community" on "loyalty-related outcomes" (annual giving, association membership, reunion attendance, and so on).
Connecting all these dots, the authors say, can increase giving, boost admissions referrals, and engage more alumni. Alumni programs that "neglect the diverse connections that form a university brand community may be shortsighted and result in lost opportunities."
Admittedly this is bordering on the obvious for an alumni professional, but thinking about these activities in the "brand community" context shines a different light on what we may take for granted. And the last bullet point is promising - in a future posting here we'll look at efforts to measure what we do in alumni relations.
Check the list of Other Useful Sites on the Alumni Futures web page. U Brander and mStoner Blog in particular have content related to marketing and brand in education, as does College Web Editor (with an online focus) so click through and explore.
Is your alumni body a "brand community"? Does it matter? You decide. Here's the article [PDF format]:
Since 2003 the IJEA has published other research-oriented articles on branding in higher education so check out their Archive.