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How Identity Stays Constant in Changing Times

In some ways, the work to define and express brand identity has completely transformed over the past 30 years, and in some ways, it’s stayed exactly the same. The internet has been transformative in creating new distribution channels, like social media, and opening up access to audiences. Brand marketers and advertisers now have more tools, better information, and troves of data they can use to craft and hone their strategies. READ MORE

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Wayne Huezinga autonation marshall strategy

A Tribute to Wayne Huezinga

We first met Wayne Huezinga when he asked our help in creating the identity of a new venture he was starting. When we asked about the venture, he said he planned to consolidate the largest unconsolidated industry in America, used cars. He pointed out that the annual sales of used cars was equal to half the sales of new cars. He also said that the average family could no longer afford the average family new car, so they were leasing cars instead of buying them. This meant that there would be a lot of formerly leased cars on the market when the leases expired within 2-4 years, with low miles, that he could buy and sell at a great discount.

He planned very large lots, with a great range of selection. He was not going to have sales people. Instead, he would have consultants to help customers figure out what kind of car was best for their needs and what would be the best way to pay for it. He was going to have fixed prices, the same for everyone. He would give you a firm price for your trade-in whether you bought a car from him or not.

We said, “Wayne, a lot of used car lots are owned by local businessmen who you will put out of business.” He replied, “Used car dealers take advantage of buyers, especially women. They misrepresent their cars, manipulate their pricing and don’t stand behind their product. They are ranked below politicians in honesty. They deserve to be put out of business.”

We named the new business AutoNation and within four years it was the largest auto dealer in America.

So, when you go to any car dealer in the future, new or used, you can thank Wayne Huenziga for bringing transparency and integrity to the industry.

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higher ed brands

It’s Time to Look Outside

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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