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It’s Time to Look Outside – Lessons from Brands Outside Higher Education

It’s Time to Look Outside – Lessons from Brands Outside Higher Education

In this article, we share some high-level insight into what brands are doing to differentiate themselves on an ever-overlapping landscape, and how higher ed brands can learn from them.

Successful brands are adapting to three important trends that influence the way they communicate:

  • Authenticity is the new gold standard.

Younger audiences want to know more about your brand, in a real-world context. Your communications compete with the communications of all other brands, regardless of medium. You’ve got to be authentic, while also standing out.

  • Multichannel brands are winning.

Brands are rethinking how to tell their story across a diverse channel mix. Winning brands set a strategy, created for their audience, and deliver on that audience’s channels.

  • Interests are the new demographics.

Culture is being redefined in many more personal ways that it has before. We have more in common when we compare our interests than when we compare our age. “It’s less about an age group or ‘millennials’ and more about a mindset and lifestyle.” – CultureTrack.com

 

Three ideas for higher education to respond to the trends above:

  1. Be the experts.

Major brands have used experts to build awareness and enthusiasm for their brand promises. Universities are the original sources of expertise and can use partnerships to extend their expertise for public influence and appeal.

There are a few key steps to being the expert:

  • Become an expert on your brand promise.
  • Cultivate a diverse team of advisors.
  • Seek channels and partners.  
  1. Data won’t save you.

This doesn’t mean data isn’t important. It is. It just means it is not going to be your silver bullet.

Most universities use familiar and undifferentiating data points to promote their institutions. The key is to find new ways of using this data, to support a story rather than be the story. External research should be used to inform decisions, but not drive them.

In order to use data wisely, and not over-rely on it, consider these three steps:

  • Tell stories, not facts.
  • Promote your vision of the future.
  • Identify unique metrics that matter.
  1. Expand the experience.

Researchers have reaffirmed the campus visit as the most important decision factor for prospective students, because it helps them see themselves on campus. Universities have many experiential opportunities: from athletics to alumni events, to on-campus celebrations, and community engagement and services.

As you consider how to better expose audiences to your brand experience, consider the following steps:

  • Develop a dimensional brand.
  • Create umbrella experiences.
  • Don’t be afraid to be important.

If Universities allow themselves to be the experts, take care not to over-rely on traditional data, and think about coordinated experiences rather than individual channels, they will benefit from the same successes that the world’s great brands have had. Commitment to these ideas will help Universities break from traditional and undifferentiated approaches, to establish their own valued space in the world.

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Brand Strategy for Mission Driven vs Profit Driven Brands

How to Develop Brand Strategy for Non Profit Brands

How to Develop Brand Strategy for Non Profit Brands

We recently received a question from the Board Chair of a prestigious non profit foundation that supports basic science research around the globe.

“Is brand strategy different for mission driven organizations than it is for commercial organizations?”

It’s an important question for a few reasons. Many education and research non profits consider brand strategy to be appropriate only to commercial entities. Because “branding” is so tightly tied to “marketing” in most people’s minds, and many researchers consider marketing to be beneath them, “branding” is seen as a bad word (see our recent post Branding vs Marketing).

Other non profit brands, such as cultural organizations and international aid organizations understand the power of brand, and many use it to their advantage. Here’s how the approach to brand strategy is different, and important, for mission driven organizations.

Non Profit Brands: Understand, Believe and Support

  • Understand: Everyone involved, from internal to external audiences must understand the mission. People are most enthusiastic about the things they understand best. If they don’t really understand it, and what makes the mission uniquely important, they will never support it. For the strongest and most sustainable brands, you must start with a common understanding. Read how we helped the UC System create clear understanding of their mission and promise. 
  • Believe: Next, audiences must believe in the mission. It must be compelling.  It must be personally relevant. The organization needs to be able to show progress toward that mission, no matter how small. There must be some “there” there for a non-profit to motivate the types of behaviors and investments that will make them successful. A clear brand position, based on a clear understanding of the mission and supported by some proof is necessary to build belief. We helped a program in San Diego that teaches coding to kids inspire community-wide belief in their mission. The result is the League of Amazing Programmers, an aspirational idea that kids and their families want to be a part of.
  • Support:  This is clearly important when raising funds.  If your potential funding sources don’t understand you, personally relate to your mission or believe that you can accomplish what you’ve set out to do, they are less likely to help.  Consistent internal stakeholder support is also critical. In the non-profit world, especially in larger organizations, people may apply their good intentions in misaligned or counterproductive ways. The better they understand and believe what it is they are there for, the more likely they are to align their efforts in the right direction. Our foundational work for the World Wildlife Fund still inspires incredible support for their efforts. 

For mission driven organizations, everything hinges on clarity of the idea that makes your mission unique, meaningful and special.  Your brand strategy must be clear and valuable in the minds of your critical audiences. We’ve enjoyed helping many of our clients in higher education, research, and culture achieve positive and sustainable brand results.

Learn More About our Identity and Brand Strategy Services

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brand strategy for a commodity

Using Brand Strategy to Differentiate a Commodity

Differentiation is critical for commodities to achieve any marketing advantage. With few exceptions, such as monopolies like the cable companies and one-of-a-kind products like Polaroid was years ago, differentiation is critical to creating a preference or commanding a premium price. If your product or service is not differentiated, there is no reason to choose yours over others, and you will wind up competing on price.

The good news is that there are many ways to differentiate commodity products and services. I used to be in the business of selling flour, shipped by trainloads from the Midwest to large, commercial bakeries on the East Coast. Trains can get delayed for a variety of reasons, so the bakeries needed to build expensive flour storage facilities on their premises for back-up. We built our own flour storage facilities in locations from which we could reach the bakeries by truck within a few hours. This gave the bakeries an assured supply on demand, and it eliminated the necessity of tying up their capital by building storage facilities. In this way, we created a preference and price advantage for our commodity.

There are many other ways to differentiate commodity, such as:

  • Risk – eliminate or reduce your customers’ potential risks.
  • Inventory – offer inventory management or convenience.
  • Financing – develop customer financing options, appeals and incentives.
  • Rewards – consider a rewards program to encourage loyalty.
  • Sustainability – appeals to customers, employees and communities.
  • Packaging – use packaging for convenience, or badging, to stand behind your commodity.
  • Ingredient – create a proprietary ingredient or concept available only in your commodity.
  • Bundle – or unbundle, your products and services.
  • Segment – your market, and tailor your marketing to the most profitable segments.
  • Experience – provide a superior purchase or usage experience: easier, faster, more flexible.
  • Consulting – become an expert in your customers’ industry and become a valued authority.
  • Facilities – showcase impressive facilities, operations and equipment as sales tools.
  • Safety – commitment to the health and safety of yours and your customers’ workforce.
  • Marketing – create appealing marketing materials and concepts.
  • Brand Strategy – build and support a compelling identity, story or promise.

Let’s talk about Brand Strategy: Gasoline is a commodity that relies on differentiated brand strategies. These strategies usually involve ingredient branding: Shell NiTRO gasoline (to protect your engine); Exxon/Mobil Synergy gasoline (Better for the environment); Chevron “With Techron” gasoline (to maximize your mileage).

Some of the most successful brand strategies have been created to differentiate a commodity. Think about Morton’s Salt, Gold Medal Flour, C&H Sugar, Sunkist Oranges. Water, once the ultimate commodity, is now a range of differentiated products aimed at different market segments and desires. Water is differentiated by its source (Fiji, Lake Geneva, Glacial Iceland, Artesian Springs) or by its character (Vitamin Water, Mineral Water, Smart Water).

With a clear brand strategy, good market data, strategic naming and design, creative communications, and resources aligned to support your goals, you can differentiate any commodity to create a preference or command a premium.

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branding_v_marketing

Branding vs. Marketing

Sometimes our clients ask us, “What is the difference between branding and marketing?” The question arises because most people and organizations use these terms interchangeably. Unlike Medicine, Law or Finance, practitioners in the field of brand and marketing don’t share a common professional language. When one doctor says a patient is suffering from nephritis, another doctor will understand that the patient has inflammation of the kidneys. When one lawyer says he has an affidavit, another lawyer will know he has a written statement made under oath.

Ask 20 marketers what branding is, and you may get 20 different answers. To some it may mean creating a logo, to others it may mean developing an advertising or public relations campaign, to others it may mean initiating social media conversations. Because the term “branding” is used to mean so many different things, it doesn’t have a specifically agreed upon meaning. For some clients, especially higher education, we sometimes have to avoid the word altogether, because it not only misunderstood, it is looked down upon as “beneath” academics.

We make a point of telling our clients at the outset of any assignment what we mean when we use particular words, so at least, they’ll know what we are talking about. We fully recognize that others may use these words differently. We use them in this way:

A Brand – is the promise you make to your audiences. Strong brands are valuable assets, because when the promise is fulfilled, it creates an emotional response. Strong brands can create a preference or command a premium and assure a future stream of revenue. The name and visual expression of that promise is called a brand identity, because it gives you a way to identify with the promise being made.

Branding – is about positioning the brand to fill a need, meet expectations, build trust and develop relationships. It’s about keeping your promise differentiated, relevant, compelling and true.

Brand Strategy – is about determining how many brands you need and can afford to support, what each brand should stand for, and what relationships should or should not exist between the brands and the parent organization.

Marketing – is about finding and growing a market for the brand that leads to profitable sales, or in the case of non-profits, that leads to appreciation and support among key audiences.

Marketing Strategy – is guided by business goals, and involves segmenting markets, selecting target audiences, determining pricing, packaging and distribution, integrating media, and executing creative campaigns.

Consider a stand out brand like Nike. The Nike brand promise is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. “If you have a body, you’re an athlete” says Nike. This brand promise demands a diverse, creative attitude-laden execution across the many customer touchpoints. That is branding. Nike’s innovative use of celebrity athletes and digital, social, mobile and retail channels to engage with existing and aspirational athletes, is marketing. Nike’s marketing strategy is highly influenced by the brand promise and expression – and the resulting ads, promotions, communications and offers feel like they could come from no other sports brand.

Bottom Line: We define branding as making, communicating and delivering a promise. Branding is a long-term commitment. We define marketing as finding and connecting with the audiences who will most benefit from that promise. By its nature, marketing tends to planned out with shorter term goals. Marketing strategies and campaigns will come and go, but brands should endure. While definitions of branding and marketing may differ, it is important that people use agreed upon definitions of terms, to ensure that you meet both short and long-term objectives for your business.

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