Appendix B
Episode 048 -

Brand Equity Pyramid Part I: Brand Salience

Text reads: Appendix B. Brand Equity Pyramid Part One - Brand Salience

Does your college or university brand have a base level of recognizeability? How do you even start developing a brand strategy? This is the first in a series on the Brand Equity Pyramid and how to approach brand development in Higher Education. Connect with us on LinkedIn.


Joel Goodman
From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. My name is Joel Goodman. With me is Kristin Van Dorn. Hi, Kristin.

Kristin Van Dorn
Hi, Joel. How you doing?

Great. How are you? What do you wanna talk about today?

Well, so there’s been a lot of chatter about how successful brands are in the higher ed marketplace right now, and so I thought maybe we could go back to basics and talk a little bit about brand strategy, in particular, my favorite item, Kevin Lane Keller’s customer-based brand equity pyramid.


Yeah, I know, I know. Pyramids evoke pyramid schemes. But this is not a scheme, this is a way to plot out your brand strategy, and it’s something that I don’t think a lot of universities utilize effectively. So I thought maybe if we talked a little bit about it, it could clarify what your next steps are in building your university brand

I love it. Let’s go for it.

Okay, well, so Kevin Lane Keller is considered kind of the father of contemporary brand management, and it’s in part due to this pyramid. So the pyramid has four levels and think of the base level as where you wanna start. So the base level is brand salience. And salience just basically means your awareness.

So how much do people know about you? Do they know that you even exist? The second level is brand performance and imagery. So this is going to be looking at how well your brand performs in the marketplace and to what extent your customers have images in their minds of your products.

Got it.

And then the third level is talked about as brand response, but the idea behind it is not how the brand is responding to you but how you are responding to the brand. So after understanding what the performance mechanisms are and understanding the imagery that it creates in your mind, how do your customers then respond with judgments and feelings about your brand?

So I’m making all kinds of connections here; when you start from a branding perspective, is it accurate to say that you should? Sit down and think about like where you want to go, and then start at the bottom and say, okay, how do we build up to those different points?

Yeah, so the way that you wanna think about it. It is that after you’ve developed your idea of what a perfect brand is, so you know your position, you know your value, you know what kind of images you want to be associated with your brand, you know how well your product performs, and you have a sense of what you want your customer’s feelings and judgments to be about your brand. And ultimately, in the brand resonance case, what they want their relationship with your brand to be.

Once you have all that mapped out, the pyramid is a way to build towards that. So it’s not about using the pyramid as a mechanism for deciding what those things should be. It’s more of a strategy of, now that I know what those things are supposed to be, how do we get there with our customers?

So, it hits at one of the biggest mistakes I see in branding, which is skipping right to the resonance. Everyone wants a relationship with their customers. They want their customers to walk away and say, this brand represents me. When I carry items that feature this brand name around with me around town, I want people to look at me, see me in my University of Michigan sweatshirt and say, oh, that’s a Michigander.

Like, I get it. Like, I know who you are. I know what you’re about.

You know, it’s that association factor that you want to have socially. But oftentimes, unless you’re a very big, popular school, either known really well for your academics like Harvard or known really well for your athletics like Alabama, you might not have the salience that you think you do, so you can’t jump all the way up to the top and hope for resonance with your customers when your customers are still trying to figure out where your position is in the marketplace.

That makes a lot of sense, and there gotta be strategies around trying to build that right. Instead of just jumping to it and saying, like, wear my swag and tout my brand around.

Well, so we’re gonna start with salience, and that is exactly where marketing and branding come together.

So the marketing side of things, they understand who your customers are, what their segments are, where they’re likely to be, and where they’re likely to be the most open to hearing a pitch or hearing more about who you are.

So, that might be working on associations. And I mean that, like, when I think of Pepsi, I wanna think about the people that have the Pepsi brand with them. You know, like it’s about looking at those linkages between certain ideas out in the ether and how your university comes up and connects with those associations.

So basically, salience is all about, in terms of higher ed, when your customer or your prospective student is sitting there thinking, okay, I’m getting ready to apply to college. What colleges do I wanna apply to? You wanna be one of those colleges that pop up in their mind as an option.

Now, they’re going to use their ideas about your performance and your imagery, or their feelings and judgments to make that decision, but you just wanna be in the conversation. That’s what salience is getting for you.

So, ways to think about that are traditional marketing efforts. Trying to be where people would associate their college journey, like where they’re gonna kick that off. How do you get right to that table? So that might be college fairs, that might be different strategies on social. But what you’re trying to do is to make sure that you have this very clear value statement in your salience that will absolutely position you in the market in terms of what you do for your customers.

So this is one of those things I think about, from the perspective of how we treat our internal audiences at institutions because I think it’s a way that you can get some of that salience out in the marketplace. So if your students have a really, really good experience while they’re on your campus or while they’re in your programs, if they’re online or you know, whatever it is, they’re gonna go back, and they’re going to talk about it with, their younger cousin or maybe their younger sibling, or, you know, that that next generation that’s coming up, or, or even with, even with, you know, the parents of these people.

And that’s not a way that you’re necessarily out there trying to get a narrative in someone’s head. You’re sending people out just to talk about the fact that there was a good experience attached to your institution, to your product, right?

And then that gets into that spot where when that high school student is going and starting their research, they’re gonna hop on Google, and they’re gonna think about colleges. And if you pop up in the right place, they’re gonna, you know, they’re gonna click that link because they heard it from someone they trusted or they’ve had at least some exposure to your name. But this isn’t about getting something to just pop up out of the ether in someone’s head, right?

No, it’s not just about, like, hoping that divine intervention, deus ex machina, will come in and suddenly put into your customer’s brains the ideal university for them. What you’re talking about there is like a really great word-of-mouth campaign, that comes from really positive experiences on the customer side, and that can come like, you can treat a lot of different audiences as customers that could become your brand ambassador.

So that could be current students, that could be staff and faculty, that could be people that come to your campus for events, people that come to your campus for professional development, or actually looking at the fields of career opportunities. How do you make sure that if a prospective student in high school goes up to someone and says, “Hey, your job looks really cool. Do you know of any programs where, like, how, how do you become that?” You want the person responding to them to say, well, yeah, actually, I got my degree this way, but I’ve also heard that people have gone to this school for this very specific reason to get into this field.