Doctoral student writing

Exploring corporate branding strategies in Higher Education

  • School: Nottingham Business School
  • Starting: 2018
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


Branding strategy, often used synonymously with the term “brand architecture” (Kapferer, 2012), refers to an explicit relationship between the corporate brand, the organisation, and its various products and services (Balmer and Gray, 2003).  Branding strategies can be distinguished when an organisation either employs ‘a single umbrella image that casts one glow over a panopoly of products’ (Hatch and Schultz, 2001: 129) sometimes referred to as branded house; or a collection of individual brands are presented with different names and referred to as house of brands (Ollins, 1978). Keller (2015) claims that sub-branding is a strategy that sits between branded house and house of brands which facilitates access to attitudes and associations with both the corporate brand and the product brand. The term brand architecture is rarely seen in the higher education literature (Rahman and Areni, 2014) and yet empirical studies have shown that brand architecture has a strong impact on profitability, and marketing efficiency (Morgan and Rego, 2009).  However, despite the fact that ‘higher education and branding go back a long way’ (Temple, 2006: 15) few studies have explored the concept, or application of, branding strategies in universities and as a result universities tend to be more focused on such approaches as advertising and promotional material (Bunzel, 2007). What research has shown is that there are distinct pockets of specialisms which may provide the very source of competitive advantage required for a post-92 university seeking to hold a corporate brand with a distinct competitive edge (Abratt and Kleyn, 2012; Spry, 2014). These “sub-brands” in a university can make stronger connections to their students through the development of values which signal differences in specific products (Keller, 2015). Hsu et al (2015) maintain that sub-brands have the ability to control risks particularly in terms of negative feedback concerning the corporate brand (Muzellec and Lambkin, 2009). However if branding practices change in universities, and ‘corporatization’ (Hemsley-Brown and Gonnawardana, 2007: 945) is introduced, departments may have to align their identity with that of the university.  This could result in departments losing their ‘house-of-brands approach’ (Hemsley-Brown and Gonnawardana, 2007: 946) and hence their individual branding to different target markets particularly those departments operating in niche markets. This strengthens the calls for more research devoted to understanding how corporate branding strategies might work in universities as according to Uggla (2006) a coherent and effective brand architecture can effectively be created by sub brands. Indeed Chapleo (2015:159) maintains that brand architecture is an approach 'with which universities struggle’ and calls for more research into its applicability.


Abratt R and Kleyn N (2012).  Corporate identity, corporate branding and corporate reputations: reconciliation and integration.  European Journal of Marketing, 46, 7/8, 1048-1063.
Balmer J M T and Gray E R (2003).  Corporate brands: what are they?  What of them? European Journal of Marketing, 37, 7/8, 2003.
Bunzel, D L (2007).  Universities sell their brands.  Journal of Product & Brand Management, 16/2, 152-153.
Chapleo C (2015).  Brands in higher education: challenges and potential strategies.  International Studies of Management & Organisation, 45(2), 150-163.
Hemsley-Brown J and Goonawardana (2007).  Brand harmonization in the international higher education market.  Journal of Business Research, 60, 942-948.
Hatch M J, Schultz  M (2001). Are the strategic stars aligned for your corporate brand? Harvard Business Review, February, 129-134.
Hsu L, Fournier S, Srinivasan S (2015).  Brand architecture strategy and firm value: how everaging, separating and distancing the corporate brand affects risk and returns.  Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 44, 2, 261-280.
Kapferer J N (2012).  The New Strategic Brand Management: Advanced Insights & Strategic Thinking. Kogan Page Limited, London.
Keller K L (2015).  Designing and implementing brand architecture strategies.  Journal of Brand Management, 21, 9, 702-715.
Morgan M A and Rego L R (2009).  Brand portfolio strategy and firm performance.  Journal of Marketing, 73, 1, 59-74.Muzellec L and Lambkin M (2009). Corporate branding and brand architecture: a conceptual framework. Marketing Theory, 9, 1, 39–54
Rahman K, Areni C S (2014).  Marketing stregies for services: is brand architecture a viable way forward?  Journal of Strategic Marketing, 22, 4, 328-346
Ollin W (1978). The corporate personality: an inquiry into the nature of corporate identity.  Design Council, London.
Temple P (2006). Branding higher education: illusion or reality?  Perspectives: policy and practice in higher education 10, 1, 15-19.
Uggla H (2006). The corporate brand association base a conceptual model for the creation of inclusive brand architecture.  European Journal of Marketing, 40, 7/8, 785-802.


Louise Spry

Entry qualifications

An applicant for admission to read for a PhD should normally hold a first or upper second class honours degree of a UK university or an equivalent qualification, or a lower second class honours degree with a Master's degree at Merit level of a UK university or an equivalent qualification.

International students will also need to meet the English language requirements - IELTS 6.5 (with minimum sub-scores of 6.0). Applicants who have taken a higher degree at a UK university are normally exempt from the English language requirements. A research proposal (between 1,000 and a maximum of 2,000 words) must be submitted as part of the application.

For more information please visit the NTU Doctoral School – Research Degrees webpages.

How to apply

How to apply

Applications are accepted all year round.

Download an application form here.
Please make sure you take a look at our application guidance notes before making your application.

Further information on how to apply can be found on this page.

Fees and funding

This is a self-funded PhD opportunity.

Guidance and support

Further information on guidance and support can be found on this page.

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Louise Spry