Branding

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.

0
0
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

0
0
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.

0
1
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.

0
0
How to Turn Your Employees Into Brand Advocates

How to Turn Your Employees Into Brand Advocates

Your employees are your biggest marketing opportunity. Why? Because if they are engaged with your brand, they can be your number one marketers and boosters of brand equity. How do you convert this potential business-changing force into brand advocates? Achieving employee brand engagement was our topic at the last Silicon Valley Brand Forum.

Empowering employees as brand advocates is critical to successful brand evolution. When you change or evolve your brand identity, your internal audience is just as important as your external audience. Ideally, your employees are the engine driving brand transformation. For that reason, we ask every client to engage their employees when changing their brand identity.

Engaging your employees

To be effective, brand identity work must inspire employees as an idea they can rally behind. Quantitative research can give you data, but qualitative research helps you hear and feel culture from the key voices and the personalities who make it real. You can’t just change your logo and tell employees, “All right, everyone, fall in line and be part of this.” Your brand essence starts within your company, and employee brand advocacy requires investment, cultivation and authenticity. It also must capture your employees’ spirit and passion. If your employees are engaged, you will have a firm foundation for moving forward with change.

Four factors for empowering employees as brand advocates

A new brand identity should be both aspirational and authentic to employees. It’s essential that employees:

  1. See themselves in the new positioning
  2. Believe in the vision and aspiration behind the new identity
  3. Understand that the new brand has meaning and value
  4. Feel recognized for their part in adding value to the brand

READ MORE

0
0
Blizzard Entertainment, BlizzCon

Becoming a Beloved Brand

In 2017, when the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship for the second time in three years, the Bay Area exploded with excitement.  The victory parade drew more than one million fans in their blue and gold to cheer and bask in the glory of “our” victory. The Warriors are truly one of San Francisco’s few beloved brands. They are respected and adored by men and women, young and old, in winning and losing seasons.  People want to wear their colors, they know the players like neighbors, and they internalize the team’s struggles and celebrate its victories. This highly emotional connection is known as community branding, and is the envy of most brands.

Are there business benefits of community branding?  The W’s have sold out every home game for the last several seasons. The Warriors have become a major attraction for out of state and foreign tourists. Win or lose, W’s fans are behind their team in every way, emotionally and economically.

How does community branding work, and how do you become a beloved brand? If we think beyond sports teams, what other brands can truly say they carry this esteemed mantle?  Certainly many universities could make the claim – whether you are a Harvard Man or a Cal Woman, your alma mater is often a beloved brand worthy of your lifetime support. Other brands are a beloved part of their communities and even the world at large.  Blizzard Entertainment’s BlizzCon gathering is an epic celebration of their game universes and their communities. Some players spend months crafting elaborate costumes of their favorite characters. Coca-Cola energizes Atlanta GA; the NYFD has become one of New York’s most beloved and respected brands, (beyond its sports franchises); Disney is a beloved brand trusted by families and their children around the world; and Chevy and VW have captured our imaginations and elevated our pulses more consistently over time than other car brands have been able to manage.

What do these community brands all have in common? Each satisfies a universally human motivator.  Sports teams ignite the thrill of victory. The Fire Department embodies bravery and valor. Beloved consumer brands provide happiness and escape. These motivators are deeply and universally felt and part of our shared human experience. Brands that are successful enough to become and remain beloved are those that most consistently address, and fulfill, these instinctual needs. They become a part of how we define ourselves.

0
3
managing brand reputation

Managing Brand Reputation: Media Brands Live or Die by Their Integrity

The news of AT&Ts attempt to acquire Time Warner without shedding CNN brings the value of media brands back into the spotlight. CNN has seen its share of criticism over the last year –primarily from one powerful voice – but its position, and the debate over “fake news” raises an important issue for media brands everywhere. Embellishments and dramatizations may be acceptable in politics and in the corporate business world, but in journalism, they violate a universal standard: integrity. When a writer or editor runs afoul of that hard line, it reflects on the overall media brand. Inability to earn and sustain public trust can kill a brand, or forever damage a business. That balance, trust over mistrust, fact-based journalism over sensationalism, is harder to achieve than ever.

managing brand reputation

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal from a few years ago is a perfect example of how to mismanage brand reputation. Executives of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. covered up allegations and evidence of gross misconduct instead of exposing those responsible and holding them accountable. Now, with criminal investigations under way and News Corp. employees in jail, News of the World has folded and Rupert Murdoch’s personal and corporate brands are damaged beyond repair.

Some media brands have managed their brand reputation effectively under challenging circumstances. When Stephen Glass of The New Republic and Jayson Blair of The New York Times were exposed as frauds, their editors immediately made it known to the public and took steps to make it right. This American Life took the extraordinary step of retracting a story when it was discovered that a nonfiction storytelling piece on Apple supplier Foxconn was rife with falsehoods. Editor and host Ira Glass went on air to explain the failures in his and his team’s fact-checking that allowed the story to air. Oprah Winfrey confronted author James Frey for lying in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which she had promoted. Each of these media giants avoided long-term damage to their brands by being forthright about their errors in judgment.

Managing brand reputation is essential to any organization, but especially to media organizations. At the end of the day, it’s the brand that takes the biggest hit when credibility and integrity are questioned and restoring the integrity of the brand is most critical. How media editors, publishers, and executives respond in crisis can dictate their brand’s survival.

0
2

Brand Matters – The Power of Strategic Identity

The following content was presented at the AIRI 2017 Annual Meeting. Click here Marshall_AIRI_Presentation-2 to download a PDF of the slide presentation itself.

Brand has many definitions, and most of them line up within marketing and advertising.  In this presentation, I hope to shed some light on the power of strategic identity – being true and clear about who you are as an organization and why you matter. This should have influence over all an institute says and does, from who it hires, to how it fulfills its mission, and of course, how it engages, and inspires support from, its critical audiences.

Here’s one important reason brand matters to research institutes: The top ten federally funded institutes depend upon government funding for 71% of their budget on average. But our government appears to value research less and less.  In fact, according to AAAS, “The FY 2018 funding cycle has been rather mixed for Science and Technology on the whole, with many more agencies looking at reductions than increases.”

What this means is, a good portion of an institute’s budget is necessarily going to need to be replaced by other sources of funding.  Where is that going to come from?  Who is going to understand and value these institutes enough to participate in their future?  Why should they?

The challenge is even bigger than funding.  It is about awareness, relevance, and perceived value to multiple audiences, including new research talent, partners and collaborators, and the public who this research is intended to benefit. While in the past, your accomplishments may have spoken for themselves, now you’ve got to ensure that you are understood, appreciated and supported – in an environment that is more competitive than ever. You need to become a “preferred” place to invest in, to work for, and to rely upon for new knowledge.READ MORE

0
4

DACA is an Identity Issue.

DACA is as much an identity issue as it is an immigration one. The effects of decisions today may affect many people’s sense of who they are for much longer than its political news cycle.

We are faced with some 800,000 people who identify themselves as Americans – and why shouldn’t they?

  • Their parents are in America.
  • They grew up in America.
  • They were educated in America.
  • They work in America.
  • They pay taxes in America.
  • They serve in America’s armed forces.

America is the only home they have ever known. If they are returned to an unfamiliar country, they might not even speak the language.   

  • Will their identity no longer be American?
  • What will this do to America’s identity?
  • What will this do to America’s brand promise?

Britain recently went through an identity crisis with Brexit. The British brand cut off the European part of its identity. And the consequences for many Europeans and Brits alike has been a sense of broken promises. The DACA identity issue raises important questions about America’s identity and its own “brand” promise.

0
3

Creating Meaningful Messages

Meaningful Messages are Memorable Messages

We’re big fans of “Marketplace” on NPR. One reason we like the show so much is because its host, Kai Ryssdal, is an incredibly natural and entertaining communicator. In the middle of each program, Kai takes a moment to quickly rattle off a bunch of numbers about what’s been happening in the stock market. He provides these numbers with cute analogies, but without much commentary. We wonder how many of his listeners understand the meaning of these numbers, or care about them.READ MORE

0
2