The Role of Emotion in Educational Branding


Emotions influence our decisions—from the clothes we buy to the schools we choose.

Consider a time when you’ve bought something purely on emotion: a pair of shoes, concert tickets, a vacation. It’s not difficult to see how these buys appeal to our emotions. But does emotion sway our opinions on purchases as important as education? 

In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Peter Noel Murray states that “… emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions.” In the decision-making process, “… emotions from previous related experiences affix values to the options we are considering.”


This is where the power of branding delivers.

When presented with options for which we have no previous experiences, such as a college or independent school, branding efforts bridge the gap. It’s vital for institutional marketing efforts to present your brand’s authentic personality and to tell its story in a way which will appeal to your target’s emotions.

No one would suggest that people choose a school on a whim. Education is an investment—a large one—and most students and parents conduct extensive research. However, at the end of the day, it still comes down to the emotions they associate with a particular school. It comes down to a feeling.


In my experience, students and parents claim they choose an institution for any number of reasons: cost, location, academic interests, arts/athletics, etc. However, at every institution, I hear some iteration of the following: “I don’t know what it was. When I visited, it just felt right.” This is why schools will do almost anything to get prospective students and families on campus. And it’s why marketing firms like Creosote work to communicate a school’s feeling—its emotional appeal—through strategic creative expression.

In his book “Start With Why,” Simon Sinek discusses the connection between emotions, the brain and behavior. Sinek explains that the sections of the brain that dictate rational, analytical thought (neocortex) and feelings and emotions (limbic brain) do not coincide. Furthermore, the limbic brain has no capacity for language, which is why we have difficulty explaining our feelings. Yet, this same part of our brain drives our purchasing behavior. As a result, when consumers are presented with marketing that primarily uses facts and features, they have a difficult time making a decision. It sounds counter-intuitive, but, “Decisions made with the limbic brain… tend to be faster, higher-quality decisions.”

In short, schools that express their brand emotionally are far more likely to connect with their targets. 


Across all platforms and communications efforts, your brand must evoke a consistent, authentic emotional response—whether it’s a prospective student flipping through your viewbook or a donor watching your capital campaign video.

So how do you cultivate an emotionally accessible brand? Start with the heart of your institution. Identify your community’s core values and allow them to inform your creative expression. Because when your brand elicits a strong emotional connection, people can’t help but fall in love with your school.

Written by Jack d’Epagnier, Copywriter at Creosote Affects

Creosote conducts research, develops strategy and produces award-winning creative for institutions of all types and sizes.


Emily Hajjar