A Name is Not a Brand

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” – William Shakespeare


There’s just something about name brands that have power over trends.

Gucci, Abercrombie, Nike…

But is it really the name?

“Nike” comes from the name of the Greek goddess of victory, and a series of missiles, but in 2022 – Nike is known as a running shoe because they’ve POURED dollars into creating a brand that people know and love.

Why can’t community colleges do the same thing?

Some community colleges have dropped the word “community” from their institutional names, attempting to avoid negative stereotypes.

However, the name means nothing without the power to market it.

Changing a name without making any effort to change the stale and outdated ways of doing business will only confuse people or make the issue worse.

Community colleges are a vital link in the chain of educating and growing a local workforce. ‘Community’ is at the essence of what they do, so why abandon that name? That could risk alienating key business partners that associate their local community college with talent development and employment needs.

An article published to Inside Higher Ed describes how Cape Fear Community College students recently started posting to TikTok to eliminate the stigma behind schools like theirs.

This alone offers up a few lessons. As we’ve mentioned before, while there’s certainly a stigma many community colleges are working to overcome, don’t forget that your students are PROUD of their experience. Not only that but what students in Cape Fear are demonstrating is that there is a desire among students to interact with their college community online and share their experiences with the digital world. All that to say, it’s also a wake-up call to how much community colleges are significantly underutilizing the power of brand ambassadors to change minds. One of two things is happening – they’re either not engaging the students they have in meaningful ways to warrant authentic testimonials, and/or they’re relying on the wrong channels.

Great stories are getting lost because marketers are sharing them with the wrong audience. There’s still a perception that using traditional media like newspapers and local broadcast is critical but reaching students and especially ALICE requires a digital and mobile-first approach. Realizing that you need to reach audiences where they are is a key strategic point for marketers. Tell your story loud and proud and that’s how the narrative begins to change.

Community colleges must pay more attention to how they are marketing the outcomes of their programs. Tracking how their alumni are using their degrees and sharing how others can succeed is what will stick with prospective students. That’s what students care about.

Not the credential, and not the name, but what can they do with it.


About the Author

Rachel Spencer

Rachel’s expertise in strategic planning, qualitative research, brand messaging, public relations, and crisis communications has proven integral to AccessU for over 16 years. She began her career at a health and government-focused PR agency in Washington, DC, where she mastered the art of media relations. She later became the primary...

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