Instructional Leadership, emphasis: K-12 School Leadership (MEd)
Students create NAU letters on field outside

Defining marketing and branding

What is marketing?

Student sits at computer in front of mural

Marketing is the art of reaching target audiences with communication that will stimulate a positive action from these audiences, whether it is to inquire about a program, engage with a specific member of the NAU team, support an initiative of importance to the university, or result in a prospective student considering NAU for their education, and a potential program or area of interest.

Effective marketers recognize that it is not only important to reach the specific individual or group that you wish to activate, but also others who may have an influence on the target audience’s perceptions, awareness, and inclination to support.

What is branding?

Branding is the heart of marketing—it is the development of a position and a set of themes underlying this position that demonstrates the value of your service, how it is relevant to the target audience, and how it is different than other services in your competitive space.

The brand must be based on authenticity—it is a promise for future performance that needs to be based on the ability to deliver on this promise. For example, if we are branding ourselves as a university that is focused on the success of each individual student, we must in reality be organized to deliver this kind of student-centered experience.

Branding is particularly critical in higher education, given that there are 2,600 four-year colleges and universities in the US, many with very similar communications and selling points. It is a challenge to stand out from the pack, which is what a branding strategy is all about.

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Branding versus naming and positioning

University Marketing staff works on print and design pieces

The process of finding a name for an area/service/delivery mode is called naming. We have many naming opportunities within the NAU brand to identify a specific area, service, or delivery mode, which plays an important role for further promoting the area/service/delivery mode to our audiences. However, naming isn’t a substitute for branding; not all areas/services/delivery modes require customized branding in addition to the institutional brand.

Positioning work is common in the marketing and branding world. It helps us identify differentiators of a brand or an area/service/delivery mode within a brand, e.g., a specific college, a specific delivery mode, etc. It defines “what we offer” and “why our audience should care.” Positioning isn’t equivalent to branding, as the latter entails how to promote our “differentiators” to our audience to establish awareness and understanding of, and connection with, the brand.