Insights — How Employee Experiences Strengthen University Brands

How Employee Experiences Strengthen University Brands

2023-2024 CMO Study / May 28, 2024
Corynn Myers
Corynn Myers

Editor's Note: We received a number of thought-provoking questions during The Changing Role of the CMO, the second webinar in our 2023-2024 Higher Ed CMO Study series. One of the questions, submitted by Kristen Knoerzer, Executive Director of Marketing at Valparaiso University, was, "As more campuses are facing budget cuts and program discontinuance reviews, how can we effectively influence the brand experiences of faculty and staff?"  We asked our AVP of Strategy Planning, Corynn Myers, to answer below.

In today’s highly competitive educational landscape, the integration of brand experience with employee engagement is more crucial than ever. According to McKinsey (2021), organizations that excel in customer and employee experience achieve revenue growth at 1.8 times the rate of those that don’t. For Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) at universities, this underscores the importance of crafting compelling brand experiences that resonate not only with students and alumni but also with faculty and staff. Viewing every interaction through an employee brand lens ensures that the university's mission, values, and culture are consistently reinforced, creating advocates out of faculty and staff who are proud to represent and promote their institution.

Recognition and Incentives: Rewarding Brand Advocacy 

Recognizing and rewarding faculty and staff who embody and promote the university’s brand values are foundational to enhancing engagement. A 2021 study by Qualtrics found that employees who feel recognized are five times more likely to feel valued at work and four times more likely to be engaged. Initiatives such as “Brand Champion of the Month” or “Excellence in Brand Advocacy” awards not only highlight these individuals’ contributions but also align their successes with broader institutional goals, fostering a deeper connection to the university. 

Employee Experiences as Brand Opportunities 

CMOs should consider all aspects of the employee experience as opportunities for reinforcing the brand. This includes: 

  • Onboarding: A 2022 report by BambooHR suggests that effective onboarding increases employee retention and productivity by aligning new staff with the cultural and operational objectives of the organization. Integrating brand education into the onboarding process ensures new hires understand and connect with the university's mission from day one. This sets the foundation for their long-term engagement and advocacy. 

  • Professional Development: Tailoring professional development to not only advance individual careers but also to emphasize alignment with the university’s brand values encourages staff to embody these principles in their roles and is key to maintaining engagement. The 2021 LinkedIn Learning Report highlights that employees who believe their skills are being developed are three times more likely to feel connected to the company. Tailoring professional development to reinforce the university's brand values encourages staff to incorporate these ideals into their roles. 

  • Internal Communications: Utilizing internal communications like newsletters, intranet updates, and digital signage to celebrate successes and disseminate brand-aligned messages keeps the brand at the forefront of staff's daily experiences. 

  • Staff Meetings: Transforming regular staff meetings into sessions that reinforce brand values and discuss brand-driven successes helps integrate the brand into regular operational discussions. 

  • Employee Feedback Systems: Implementing robust feedback mechanisms where staff can voice their thoughts on brand strategies ensures that the brand evolves in alignment with their needs and insights. The 2022 Workforce and Incremental Innovation Report by Adobe found that organizations that actively engage with employee feedback see a 15% increase in innovation outputs. 

Training and Collaboration: Strengthening Brand Alignment

Training and collaborative forums are vital for deepening brand understanding and alignment. Workshops and seminars should not only educate but also engage faculty and staff in dialogue about how brand values fit within their professional landscape. Participatory brand development processes, such as surveys and focus groups, further empower employees by involving them directly in shaping the brand narrative.  

Empowering Brand Ambassadors 

Developing a Brand Ambassadors Program where key faculty and staff are trained to represent the university effectively ensures consistent brand communication across different platforms and events. This program highlights the personal and professional benefits of being a brand advocate, such as networking opportunities and enhanced professional recognition. 

A Holistic Approach to Brand Engagement 

By focusing on creating brand experiences through an employee brand lens and considering every aspect of the employee journey—from onboarding to professional development and daily communications—CMOs can foster a culture of brand advocacy. These strategies ensure that brand engagement is not just an external marketing effort but a core part of the everyday experiences of faculty and staff, thus securing their commitment and enthusiasm for promoting the university brand in every interaction, both internally and externally. This holistic approach guarantees that the university’s brand is not only resilient but thrives, even in challenging times. 


As AVP of Strategy Planning, Corynn oversees the development of brand, positioning, experience, and content strategies. She has worked in marketing and communications for over ten years across multiple industries, including automotive and healthcare. In the past, she has consulted for national brands on multi-channel strategies and led digital strategy at the University of Michigan as the associate director of marketing. 

Learn more about our 2023-2024 Higher Ed CMO Study and, more specifically, on higher ed CMO job satisfaction and efficiency on the Higher Ed CMO Study website.