A Case Study: Brand Management for a University

This is a strategic case study written for a course in Brand-management in 2010. It was written together with Remo Herzog, Delia Pindei and Lisa van der Zweep.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Brand Audit
  • HLK comparison with JIBS
  • Brand Exploratory
  • Brand awareness and salience
  • Brand attitudes
  • Brand preference and loyalty
  • Brand equity evaluation
  • Tactical advice for positioning the HLK brand
  • Conclusions 

högskolan i jönköping


Jönköping University’s research and education strategy for the period 2009-2012 sets ambitious target points for the future of the school regarding its internationalization:

“Our vision is that Jönköping University by 2025 will be a recognised and leading alternative for young people from as far away as Stockholm, Strasbourg and Shanghai wishing to study economics, technology, health or education at an entrepreneurial and international university in a globally competitive region for small businesses.”

Today, Jönköping University already has a large inflow of foreign students: A research conducted in 2007 showed that 2.5 percents of all students studying in Sweden are enrolled at Jönköping University. Regarding only the international students, 5.3 percent are studying at Jönköping University. Nevertheless, the school has not achieved its ambitious targets yet. To become a recognized and leading alternative for international students doing their studies abroad it is crucial to build a strong brand. Having a strong brand can be an advantage in a market where the consumers impression of one school, providing a better education than the others, is what determines where they will go. A strong brand means high awareness in people’s mind as well as (positive) associations. The consumers will develop a strong preference for a certain brand that goes beyond any objective consideration of the product.

On the one hand, Jönköping International Business School (JIBS) has already managed to build a strong international brand: around 750 students (40 percent) of the students are from overseas. This means that Jönköping University has by far the most international economics program in Sweden compared to any other university here. On the other hand, the School of Education and Communication (HLK) attracts only 100 international students every semester. To attract more international students HLK needs to build a stronger brand. Therefore, this audit will focus on international students as a target group although HLK has several external and internal target groups. This audit identifies strengths and weaknesses of HLK’s current position and proposes some advices as to how the brand should be positioned strategically in the future. Moreover, it shows how this position should be tactically narrated in communication. Although the main focus lies on HLK, the image of Jönköping University as a whole unit is part of the audit too.

Brand Audit

Education for teachers in Jönköping started in 1947. Some years later, in 1968, the University of pedagogic was formed. The university as we know today was constituted in 1977, it all started with Information science (today Media Communication Science). In 1994 Jönköping University Foundation is formed and includes: the School of Education and Communication, Jönköping International Business School, School of Engineering and University Services. At this point, the School of health sciences had not joined the University group. Nowadays, Jönköping University Foundation is one of the three independent institutions of higher education in Sweden. Its brand is characterized by focused profiles, an international dimension in all activities, an entrepreneurial spirit and collaboration with surrounding society. Jönköping University defines itself as “one of the leading universities in Sweden in the scope of its international exchange”. Today, the campus is an international academic environment with 9500 students, of whom 1000 are international. Research and education is carried out in the four schools: Jonkoping International Business School, School of Education and Communication, School of Engineering and School of Health Sciences.

The School of Education and Communication, also known as HLK, is focused on innovative learning and communication to develop a career in a continuous changing world. The building is designed for learning and communication courses where 3500 students, of whom 100 are international students, get the chance to study and develop on a personal level. The study environment is modern and creative and contributes to a good interaction between teachers and students. The School of Education and Communication offers Bachelor’s programs and Master’s programs in Teacher Education, Media and Communication Science, International Work and Human Relations. Some of the courses in HLK are taught in English and open to international students.

In the period 2010-2013 HLK aims to continue to develop new knowledge and new perspectives on tomorrow’s challenges in teaching and communication. The school’s aim is to grow its high profile activities into national and international research environments and education programs. Thanks to its many partnerships, HLK remains an example for other schools regarding their internationalization, research and innovation. The vision at the School of Education and Communication is “Learning for tomorrow’s challenges”.

When conducting a brand audit about the HLK brand, it is beneficial to compare the HLK brand with Jönköping International Business School (JIBS). The comparison of the two brands is important as JIBS can be seen as a more developed brand than HLK, as we will show further on. The JIBS brand is focused on internationalization, business renewal and entrepreneurship. About 90 percent of the students studying at JIBS spend at least one semester abroad and about 750 international students from 75 countries study at JIBS each year. “International at heart. Entrepreneurial in mind.” is JIBS’ slogan.

HLK comparison with JIBS

We found the following Points of Parity (POP)

• Both are creating their brand under the Jonkoping University brand as a whole.

• Both schools can be considered as one of the most professional education institutions in Sweden

• Both schools are private institutions

We found the following Points of Difference (POD)

• The HLK vision regarding education and preparation for tomorrow challenges. HLK is building its brand on the idea of future changes in communication, while JIBS is more focused on the entrepreneurial aspect of the present.

• Although the University is a brand on its own, each school has its own logotype.

• JIBS can be considered as more international than HLK as the majority of international students at Jönköping University are studying at JIBS.

The HLK brand leans its current strengths from the reputation of the entire educational system in Sweden. The Swedish educational system is considered as one of the best in Europe and therefore HLK has numerous partner universities. As a result of this, HLK has the biggest number of students (2568 students) comparing with the others schools of Jönköping University. The School of Education and Communication is focused both on practical experience and theoretical knowledge. It has good academic infrastructure like the library, the studying rooms, the TV studio and the radio studio.

When performing a brand audit for a certain brand, in this case HLK, it is important to conduct a brand exploratory. The overall aim of a brand exploratory is to get more information about the brand associations and awareness within the target group. The information that is gathered from this stage is also at the base of a brand positioning analysis. In this way, the management of a certain brand can conclude whether the positioning of the brand has to be revised or not.

Brand Exploratory

When conducting a brand exploratory with the target group it is important to explore some aspects of brand equity. More specific, it is important to focus on the customers perspective of brand equity. This concept can be defined as a consumers awareness for the brand that triggers some associations in memory. This brand exploratory will focus on the associations that the brand ’Jönköping University’ in general and ’HLK’ in particular trigger in the memory of international students.

This brand exploratory will be conducted by using qualitative research, in particular interviews. This type of research is the most appropriate to answer our questions as the researcher is able to probe when the consumer does not give a sufficient answer. Interviewing international students of all four schools, the following points will be covered:

• Brand associations

• Strengths and weaknesses of the brand

• Reason for studying at Jönköping University / HLK

• Brand awareness and brand salience

• Partner universities

After conducting this interview with 10 international students there are some conclusions that can be drawn, beginning with the reasons mentioned for studying at Jönköping University. Firstly, students tend to assign the reputation of the entire school system in Sweden to the reputation of the University in Jönköping. This reputation of the school is an important motive for students. Secondly, the availability of courses in English also has an influence when choosing between universities. Finally, the visibility of the university throughout this process is enhanced by the fact that the school has many partner universities all over the world. In this way, they are very visible for international students and the university is able to construct a high brand awareness. The main brand associations that are mentioned within the target group are internationalization, professionalization and modernization. These characteristics and associations are positive when discussing the overall brand of the University. It can be said that the brand of the University has a good position within the category of international schools in Europe.

When analyzing the results of the interviews, there are some important implications for the brand awareness of the Jönköping University and for HLK. The brand awareness of HLK is rather weak in comparison to the brand awareness of the whole school. International students who are studying at one of the three other schools are hardly able to recognize the brand HLK. Therefore not many brand associations exist within the target group. After explaining what HLK is, students will tend to think about the school as a whole rather than about HLK as an independent unit. Consequently, the brand associations that are given concern Jönköping University as opposed to HLK.

Students studying at HLK give different answers to these questions as for them the brand has a very high awareness. Although HLK has a high brand awareness with its own students, it is important to mention that this students were not aware of the brand HLK before they started studying at Jönköping University . This can be explained by the fact that the information that students receive before arrival in Sweden concentrates on the Jönköping University as a whole, instead of HLK as an independent unit. This could be a possible point of improvement to raise awareness of HLK as an independent unit in the future. Another point of confusion is the difference between the English (School of Education and Communication) name and the Swedish (HLK) abbreviation of the school.

When it comes to the brand positioning and the brand awareness of the school and HLK in particular, the introduction week has to be mentioned. During this week, the university is able to raise the awareness of their brand by the activities that are undertaken by the students. These activities take place in the school itself but also in the town of Jönköping. When students are participating they each wear overalls in the color of their own school, the only exception being HLK who has two different colors for their school (blue and red). This enables the schools and programs to raise their brand awareness, not only for the students themselves but also for people outside the school. Another way to raise the brand awareness is the songs that the different school sing. It makes the students aware of the brand and also proud and willing to be a part of the brand. In that way, the school is even raising brand loyalty as students feel more connected to each other and the school.

Using the results from the rough brand inventory and brand exploratory we are able to list the HLK brand’s strengths and weaknesses. The presentation of the strengths and weaknesses is divided into the following components of brand equity:

• Brand awareness and salience

• Brand attitudes

• Brand preference and loyalty

Brand awareness and salience

In general, the HLK brand does not have a strong awareness. As the interviews showed most international students have never heard of the brand HLK. When analyzing the data for the HLK students in particular, the awareness of the brand is high, both recall and recognition. These results are the opposite of the data of the international students of the other three schools. The rates of these students are decreasing as the majority of these students could not name the brand by giving only the category (recall). This improved slightly as some could recognize the brand’s name after showing the name of the school (recognition). When comparing this trend to JIBS’ brand awareness a huge difference can be noticed as almost every student has heard of the brand JIBS. Considering these facts it can be said that the HLK’s brand salience is weak. This is a problem as brand salience is a prerequisite for a strong brand equity.

Brand attitudes

The Swedish educational system has a highly positive reputation all over the world and this can therefore be seen as a positive association. Jönköping University and HLK both benefit from this. When discussing these associations, a distinction between a brand association and a product category association has to be made. This distinction is important as it not the brand’s strength, but the product category’s strength that has an influence on the reputation of Jönköping University. Moreover, the school, as well as the brand, benefit from the fact that higher education in Sweden is tuition free but this will change for international students outside the EU starting in the fall. Once again this characteristic of Jönköping University is not a brand attitude but it is an advantage that the university inherits from the association with the Swedish educational system. This advantage is very important as it plays an important role in the decision making process when looking for a study place abroad. The associations discussed above fulfill the requirements of being strong, positive and unique.

When summarizing the interviews, it can be said that students who are studying at HLK relate the school to concepts such as modern, good equipment and infrastructure and professional teachers. Important to mention is that these positive attributes are only mentioned by HLK students and not by students from the three other schools. This is most likely a consequence of the weak brand awareness among the students of the university. Moreover, these associations with the school are strong and positive but not unique as they can also be attributed to other schools.

Overall, one of weaknesses of HLK is that school is not considered as international in comparison with JIBS. Therefore, one does not connect the brand HLK with the positive associations an international school provides. This can even be seen as a negative association. Although, international students are able to follow English courses at HLK, this offer has to be improved and expanded. As opposed to the English course offer at JIBS, the offer at HLK is rather limited. When aiming for international students, this is an important point of improvement.

Brand preference and loyalty

Brand preference and brand loyalty are consequences of brand equity. The brand preference and the brand loyalty are very important for a school as they have a great impact on student enrollment. In order to improve these, one has to start with the brand equity of the school. As we already concluded above, the brand equity of HLK is rather weak. This can be proved by the fact that there are not so many international students studying at HLK as there are at JIBS. The brand’s preference for HLK is therefore much weaker than the JIBS brand preference. To prove the student’s loyalty for the HLK brand, it would be necessary to analyze how many students who studied at HLK as an exchange student come back to accomplish a masters degree. However, currently there are no masters programs available in English at HLK.

Brand equity evaluation

When conducting a brand equity evaluation it important to know the strengths and weaknesses of the brand. These strengths and weaknesses have an influence on the brand awareness. In order to build a strong brand, the brand awareness has to be high within the target group. Brand awareness is also essential when customers are making an intentional brand purchase. When international students are choosing a school out of a list of schools to study as an exchange student, they are making an intentional purchase. Also, when making this decision it is beneficial for the brand that they have a high brand salience otherwise a student will not be likely to choose the brand HLK. As this brand will not come to their mind when making this decision.

Although there is a lack of a strong brand awareness, HLK manages to attract a certain amount of international students. The reason for this is that Jönköping University and HLK have many partner school in different parts of the world. It can be said that HLK manages to use this marketing instrument to reach out to international students. Nevertheless, the partner schools’ students are not aware of the brand HLK, but are more likely to be up to date with the reputation of the Swedish educational system and Jönköping University as a whole. The Swedish educational system is a positive association connected to the product category. As HLK does not have brand salience, the associations a student makes with the product category is crucial in the decision making process. In the end, students are not choosing for the brand HLK but make their decisions based upon the surrounding characteristics such as the university and JIBS. This effect is better known as the halo effect where students assign the meaning of the generic to the specific, in this case from the University to HLK.

To increase the rate of international students, a strong brand and brand salience would be essential. A good example is JIBS where 40% of the students come from outside Sweden. Moreover, it is important to offer more courses in English. Today international students at HLK are very limited in their choice of courses. This is not a good condition for acquiring new students abroad.

Tactical advice for positioning the HLK brand

When we look at the tactical part of where to position the HLK brand within the brand portfolio we come to a lot of strategic choices about the segmentation of the consumers. Our image that we want to portray depends highly on who we want to target. In this case we might have a hard time finding a certain segment to target with our branding.

One of the choices for the tactical communication, required in positioning the brand, is which part of our brand portfolio to place HLK in. Jönköping University is, as we mentioned before, a bit special since it has four separately run individual schools underneath that bigger “umbrella brand” called Jönköping University (instead of dividing into four faculties beneath one board as most schools have). The different schools in Jönköping focus on different parts. ’Jönköping International Business School’ (JIBS) focuses on international students doing business studies. ’The School of Engineering’ has all the engineers. ’The School of Health and Sciences’ work toward mainly hospital jobs. The School of Education and Communication (HLK) has both students studying teaching, communication, international relations as well as Human Resource studies.

In HLK it might be hard finding common denominators seeing the diverse programs being taught there. Traditionally it used to be students studying to become teachers and some studying information communication. Today that is no longer the case. Seeing that their has been a lot of changes in the specializations of the HLK program offering recently it might not be a good idea limiting the brand too much by focusing too much on a certain aspect of it.

One option is using a sub-branding strategy where Jönköping University acts as the parent and endorser of the HLK brand. Utilizing the stronger brand of Jönköping University is a good idea for the target group, international students that we have focused on throughout this essay. If a brand extension is carefully considered the brand position will strengthen but if not considered there might be some problems in the long-term.

Throughout our interviews with international students we found that they mostly came here and to HLK thanks to the partner programs the school has with other universities throughout the world. A good association to strengthen, regarding the brand, is the already good reputation that Jönköping University has in being a very international school with a lot of exchange students. This makes the students doubt less when considering to come to HLK seeing they will have a lot of exchange students around them in a similar situation. Another association to push and emphasize is the reputation of Sweden’s good education system.


Since the international students don’t know about HLK before they start their studies here, the HLK brand is of much less importance than the Jönköping University brand. The brand exploratory that was taken showed that the international students came here because of Sweden’s good education reputation, the international environment and the partner universities. This confirms that the HLK brand does not need a major revision in it’s positioning since it is in a good place underneath the much more well-known brand ’Jönköping University’.

In this essay we focused on the way to treat the brand related to international students. We need to combine this brand audit with one done focusing on Swedish student motivations and the image they have of studying here to get a complete view of the brand situation. After we have done this we are able to give more strategical suggestions on how the brand should be positioned. 

[pic: CC-BY-NC-SA, Andrea Resmini]

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Josef Ohlsson Collentine

A transparent and kind American/Swede who likes cultural patterns and Social Media. A creative early-adopter who sports, discusses and explores. More about me
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