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Who Are You Marketing: Your Unit or Your University?

When marketing continuing education, it can be difficult to know whether to focus on the capacity of the division itself, or to ride on the larger name recognition of the university.

Recently, while giving a presentation at a continuing education conference, I received a great question from a colleague from a different region of the country, which I feel bears more discussion. The question came as a response to a show-and-tell of marketing items—and the question went something like this:

“Some of your marketing items have your university logo on them, while others have both the logo and your department name. Who are you marketing; your unit or your university?”

I think she wanted to add “Are you confused about who you are?” but she was polite and restrained herself. Yet my esteemed colleague is right; the marketing items sometimes had just the large logo of the university, while others had just the logo and university name, while yet others had the logo, university name, and finally the department name. Confusing!

The marketing message we send as continuing educators typically leverages the brand of our host institution, but also includes a department or unit name of continuing education as well. At times, it seems as if we do this to appease the academics who don’t want our offerings confused with the “true” university; but in many cases, we might feel we need to separate the identities to build brand loyalty.  I, however, look at it from the perspective of the student.

When the continuing education student says “I’m taking at a class at the university,” do they delineate which department, college, or organizational unit? Most likely not, unless pressed further as to “what class” or “what topic?” So why do we force our students to indicate they are continuing education students, and not traditional degree-seeking students? Either way they are taking classes with our overall institution, they are furthering their education, and hopefully giving back to the community. We should treat them the way they likely feel they are: as college students.

On the other hand, as a continuing education leader, I do believe it’s important to highlight that you are with the continuing education department when marketing your program within the wider institution. During discussions of internal units within the institution, the continuing education department name should be used—and embraced—as an enabler and perhaps a revenue generator for the institution.

For about two years, I worked within a continuing education unit that used its own logo, separate from the university’s, to brand itself. The unit is no more, not due to poor logo choice per se, but I don’t think using a separate brand identity helped the cause. The reincarnated unit, with mostly new staff, has wisely chosen to embrace the university logo as a whole, with their department name attached the logo when necessary. That’s the right decision.

The bottom line for my unit is to put the focus on the continuing education unit when communicating internally in our large, public university. When engaged with the community and external to the university stakeholders, we market the university as a whole while still mentioning our continuing education unit.

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