Appendix B
Episode 051 -

Brand Equity Pyramid Part IV: Brand Resonance

Text reads: Appendix B. A Bravery Podcast. It's on top of a digital art space landscape with neon waves and grids representing resonance.

Part 4 in our series on the Customer Based Brand Equity Pyramid focuses on Brand Resonance — the top level of the pyramid. Kristin and Joel discuss the significance of applying Custom Experience methodology to the student experience in higher education to build genuine brand resonance.


Joel Goodman
From Bravery Media. This is Appendix B. I am Joel Goodman. With me is Kristin Van Dorn. We have been talking about.

Kristin Van Dorn
The customer-based brand equity pyramid.

We are finally at the top of the pyramid, and we are going to talk about Brand Resonance, which is where many people want to start. But you shouldn’t; you should go back three episodes and listen to the rest of this little mini-series. Um, but yes, Kristin, let’s briefly recap the first three levels of the pyramid and dive into Brand Resonance.

Your first level is Brand Salience, and that’s about awareness. So that’s about making sure that your prospective customers know who you are. When they’re deciding about, say, what university to apply to, your university pops up in their mind as one of several options. The next level is about, Brand Meaning, and that’s divided into two halves. One is imagery, and one is performance. But it’s all about capturing that abstract space we fit into in a consumer’s mind.

So what kinds of evaluations do they have about our products and services? Do they think that these are pretty good-performing products? Do they feel they fit into the marketplace exactly where they’re willing to pay? That’s kind of the level, right?

Then, the next level is going to be the brand response. And so you might think that this might have to do with our responses to our customers, but really, it’s about like. The response evoked inside our customers.

So that’s looking at their judgments and feelings. So if they have an abstract concept of who you are in the second level, the third level is when they make judgments about whether or not they like you, whether or not they trust you, whether or not they feel like this could be something that could work well in their lives.

And so, the prime example would be purchasing your product or applying to your institution or even accepting, uh, you know, depositing when they have been accepted to your institution.

Yeah. The last level is brand resonance. And brand resonance is when. A customer asks what my use of your product says about me.

So that’s when they’re willing to say, I want your brand on all my stuff. I want to look like I’m a walking ambassador for you. So that’s like when you know those in brand research classes, they always talk about Harley Davidson. That’s because Harley Davidson hits that resonance every time, whether you like motorcycles or not.


When people resonate with Harley, they’re Harley people, and you know, they’re wearing Harley Davidson T-shirts and jackets. You know, like they’re talking about their Harley Davidson.

You know, they’re going on weekend trips on their Harleys. You know, like it’s a lifestyle change. So that’s what that tippy top of the brand equity pyramid represents. It’s when you’re embedded in their lifestyle. And to some respect, when you think about how universities work, we achieve brand resonance just because of the very nature of our product, which is that we are interwoven with our customers’ lives.

Once they’re an a, an attending student, we are like a heavy feature in their day-to-day life. Now the question is, do they love us enough? Do they think highly enough of us that they want to make sure that their social circles know that about them? Or are we their best-kept secret?


So, this echoes something I said in the first episode of this series. Where you, you know, when you’re just trying to get salience out there, hearing from other people, the name of the school is nice, right? Like, that’s really beneficial in getting people who may have been unaware of you to remember it because there’s a little more power behind it.

But this is how you get to that point of people talking about you. They have decided that their life is worth being attached to your brand, to what you have out there in the world, for whatever those reasons are. And I think in higher education, one of the more powerful ones is just around the student experience.

And I think it’s one of those that there’s still so much opportunity that’s been untapped in our industry. In most cases, if every college or university was focused on the student experience being extremely, extremely good. We would have, well, I don’t know, probably competition would be way more, at least as fierce as it is now. But it would be a different sort of ferocity. You would be competing on the good things about the industry. And I think, in general, for higher ed, there would be a different image in the media in how people think about our industry and our work. In any case. But apart from that, what are some other examples of how this plays out?

Yeah. So, this can play out from day one of being accepted, where they’re so excited to wear a sweatshirt or a T-shirt with your name on it, all the way to alumni who come back year after year to volunteer or, students that go from being undergrads to being master students at your institution or taking post back certificates and like other professional development courses—or just being involved in their department. Keeping in touch mentoring future students.

Like all levels of this brand, resonance will percolate if you correct that student experience. Or at that prospective student experience, correct? Because again, this can happen right away for you if it’s something that your prospective student, your current, like your recently accepted student if they feel like it lends them some value in their social circle for them to be seen as affiliated with you.

So, this may be a hot take, Kristin. Or at least a hot take question. Um, I think our institutions will often focus on outcomes content. Will concentrate on touting, you know, the person that went on to do the thing at a big company and is, you know, booming, while ignoring any of the aspects of did they have a good experience, like were they talking about the school on their own?

Or, I think this is also similar to the trend that I don’t know, which is still as big as it was, but the trend of using paid influencers to market to our, you know, prospective students.

Um, to me, it feels forced. It feels ungenuine, and in some ways, I think it might work against all of the work done to build up a brand just by it not being. Real.

Yeah. Well, okay. So I love this hot take. I’m going to jump on it. Um, here’s what I think is happening. Unfortunately, the structure of higher education doesn’t lend itself to a really savvy brand resonance campaign because marketers and branding professionals don’t have a lot of influence on the product. So we can’t do anything about it. We don’t even hear about it if a student has a bad experience or if a student has a mediocre experience, or if a student is maybe sort of unhappy or just mildly happy, but not enough for them to say, I want my family and friends to know that I went here.

Right. And I think our industry’s a bit shortsighted to treat those students as having learning difficulties. They’re having challenges keeping up with classwork and homework and all that sort of stuff. I think a lot of times, the experience around living on campus and the relationships that you develop when you are, you know when you’re with a group of people, and I think this is the same for online students as well.

That affects how well you learn. It’s not just about whether they are smart enough; have they caught up enough? I think the early warning systems put in place on campuses tend not to address the social part of it. Um, I think marketing, branding, the work that we do on the creative side, on the messaging side, and on the care and hospitality side of what Higher Ed does could also help a lot of that stuff.

But those feedback loops aren’t put into place. The siloing and sectioning off of the various tasks don’t consider this more holistic vision of the entire experience.

So my secret dream is that a university would understand this at a leadership level and say, we’re going to do things that will fix this student experience, like take care of the whole student, not just the academic student. And we’re going to do that through selective hiring. We will hire people for the care and commitment they show to students, not just their research capability or How well they can pitch themselves in a conversation in front of a faculty job talk.

That we’re going to invest actual funding into a very strategic and aligned Student Affairs practice so that it’s not just these silos like, you go here if you have this problem, you go here if you have this identity, you go here if you want to get this process done.

Like that, it’s all this very integrated plan, where students have almost more of a concierge experience with their department. Like, I’m going to take care of that for you. I’m going to make sure that you have this, I’m going to think ahead and know that this is coming, and how do I make sure that your hand is held so it doesn’t feel like such an administrative burden to make it through every day of being a student.

Yeah, and I think the point here is that education is a lot more than just the strict academic side of it. You’re learning when, especially in undergrad, you’re learning to be a person in many ways. You know, you’re learning how to deal with other people, how to work within systems, and it’s not as helpful to just be shoved into something, especially something that’s broken or something that isn’t optimized and expected when every other experience you have in life is optimized for you.

And. I think it does so much damage to the kind of accidental brand of higher education that we see making its way out into the world these days. Because there isn’t enough leadership, they have decided to put that student experience first in what their institution does.​