Brand Snapshot: 2017/18

2017/18 W100 Members can now access the full Brand Snapshot report in the Members Area.

Fifty Shades of Blue: global universities struggle to look or sound distinctive

Research by the World 100 Reputation Network found that top universities really struggle to look or sound different when their websites are compared. 50 universities use the same or similar shades of blue, and the best online brands are not necessarily the highest ranked.

The Network, the largest grouping of world-leading universities focused on building reputation, analysed the websites of 100 global institutions, finding that they adopted the same language, with phrases like ‘world impact’ and ‘challenging’ being repeated regularly.

Very few employed the techniques of brand campaigns that commercial companies use to clarify their points of difference or engage consumers with humour or succinct messages.

Few made the most of their locations, or used social media in imaginative ways. Only a limited number used their academics to illuminate their research strengths or explain their teaching styles. Institutional news was dominated by dull photographs of handshakes and visions were often multiple pages long.

Those that appeared most distinctive were prepared to say what they were really focused on, with engaging story-telling, and strong visual and personalised approaches. Such as Helsinki, with its powerful public engagement campaigns and its revolutionary Think Corner, or Manchester, with five ‘research beacons’ of excellence.

North American institutions were less good at explaining their global presence or international offerings. Asian universities tended to have formal approaches to language and old-fashioned designs. Across all continents, universities relied on long lists of rankings or partnerships to justify their brand, rather than explain what they were really good at.

“In such a competitive higher education world, universities have a long way to go in engaging the busy reader who looks at their website,” said Louise Simpson, Director of the World 100 Reputation Network. “Too many of them look and sound the same, and can’t explain what it is that makes them special. They really need to be much bolder both in the way they communicate, and in what they communicate. Good branding requires both creativity and decisiveness!”

The top 25 online university brands in the W100 study were dominated by universities from the English-speaking world, such as Melbourne, Illinois, UBC, Birmingham and Queen’s Belfast; Keio University (Japan) stood out among Asian global universities; and Groningen, Helsinki, Aarhus and Karolinska were the European online brand leaders.

Notes for Editors:
1. 100 university websites (the top 50 in world in all four main global rankings, plus W100 members and nominated peers) were assessed by two independent analysts on key brand attributes between January and June 2018. View the methodology here
2. For more information, and expert comment, contact Louise Simpson or Mark Sudbury at The World 100 Reputation Network. Louise.simpson@theworld100.com; Mobile : +44 (0)7977506722; Mark.sudbury@theworld.100.com; Mobile: + 44 (0)7795 426543
3. Alternative images for Helsinki Think Corner and Manchester research beacons are available upon request.
4. The World 100 Reputation Network brings together leaders in reputation, brand management, marketing and international at top global universities. With 52 members on five continents, the Network is one of the largest global university groupings. For more information see: www.theworld100.com