Insights — Managing the Intangible: Brand Trust

Managing the Intangible: Brand Trust

Thought leadership , Strategy , Branding / June 23, 2023
Corynn Myers
Corynn Myers

2023 is the year of brand management. A time to focus on aligning a brand's efforts with strategic priorities to ensure a solid and consistent message is managed across enterprises, channels, and platforms.

But how do you manage an intangible of an intangible?

Let me explain.

The first intangible I referenced is brand. All of those feelings, perceptions, attitudes, and associations you have when you see a logo or think about a company is brand. Our brand lives inside the heads of our audiences and can only be shaped or influenced through experiences. 

If you can think of three words to describe your favorite brand, it's not because you have a secret copy of their brand strategy—it's because of your experiences with them.

The second intangible in our "…manage an intangible of an intangible" challenge is higher education's "product." 

Higher education sells promises—like the promise of an education that will lead to a fulfilling career—and promises are intangible. The promise of an education cannot be touched, seen, lent, borrowed, tried out, or inspected in advance. Instead, prospective students and other audiences must rely heavily on brand trust, "the ultimate currency in relationships amid shifting expectations for organizations and people."

So, back to the original question—how do you manage an intangible of an intangible?

You should start with brand trust.

What is Brand Trust?

Simply put, "brand trust" is meeting audiences' needs in responsible ways.

Brand trust in higher ed is essential because we are in the business of promises. Audiences need to believe an institution will keep and deliver on its promises. Today's audiences also want to know and feel like the brands they choose contribute to the greater good.

What is the Current State of Brand Trust in Higher Ed?

SimpsonScarborough's 2023 Alumni Philanthropy Study shows that trust in colleges and universities amongst college-educated adults is low, even among alum with a positive or very positive opinion of higher ed. 50% rate a high level of trust in public institutions; only about 40% feel the same level of trust in private institutions.

Screenshot 2023-06-08 at 10.41.52 AM


How Do You Manage Brand Trust in Higher Ed?

Let's bring this all together.

Brand is intangible. Promises are intangible.

Managing your higher education brand is necessary for the success of an organization that is in the business of promises. How do you begin this process?

You can start by surveying your internal and external audiences to get a trust baseline. From there, you need to look hard at where you can improve.

In order to improve brand trust, higher ed institutions can look to the 2023 Education Experience Trends:

Ensure Trust Among All Community Groups

Ensuring trust among all community groups, including underrepresented students and people of color, and in all function areas, such as counseling, is essential. Audiences across all community groups contribute to top marketing channels like word-of-mouth, reviews, and rankings – all public trust indicators.

Treat Students, Families, and Alum More Like Customers

Putting your audiences at the center of institutional decision-making and ensuring they are supported, find value, and are satisfied with their experience is essential. The experiences you provide audiences are paramount. In fact, 88% of consumers say experience matters as much as products.

Improve Employee Satisfaction 

Employee satisfaction is foundational to institutional performance. Improve employee satisfaction by linking pay to performance, acting on feedback, rewarding innovation, and providing professional growth plans. An employee's experience "will impact how hard they work, how much they collaborate, or whether they are invested in improving operational performance."

Deploy an Intentional Listening Strategy

Social listening, campus surveys, and insights from advisors and other student-facing staff can provide real-time insights into experience issues across your institution. Real-time listening can help resolve small problems before they become bigger and address key experiences across touch points.

I urge you to prioritize brand management in 2023. Start with benchmarks and develop strategies to improve awareness of your institution's broader value, and build brand trust.


As Director of Strategy, 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 Corynn and the rest of our team here.

Related Insights