Higher Education

Collaboration Drives Breakthrough Brand Strategy

Brand breakthroughs, like all breakthroughs, require collaboration. In our work with leading researchers at Caltech, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Rockefeller University, it is clear that examining today’s most important issues require not just brilliant people, but people who have the skills for working productively with others. The same collaboration principles hold true for breakthrough brand strategy in organizations. READ MORE

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Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Why One Identity is More Powerful than Many

Many organizations – whether corporations, non-profits, or educational institutions – develop broad stables of identities to segment their offerings to different audiences. Some of them succeed with this strategy, but many of them do not. Our client, The University at Buffalo (UB)’s recent success can help explain why a singular identity lends more collective strength to an institution than can a handful.

UB is an AAU institution, which means it has been carefully selected to sit among only 61 peers in the American Association of Universities. It is the largest and most comprehensive research university in the SUNY system, and has multiple nationally ranked departments. Over the years, however, UB has had multiple names, and adopted specialized identities for athletics and other departments. These changes had a dampening effect on awareness, appreciation and internal pride.

Now, the university is committing to a singular identity, backed by a strong and unifying brand strategy, and is already reaping huge rewards in local pride and national momentum.

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Global Teamwork Achieves Scientific Breakthrough

In Marshall Strategy’s work with leading researchers at Caltech, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara and Rockefeller University, it has become obvious that today’s most important issues require not just brilliant people, but people who have the skills for working with others productively.

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of space-time gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe, opening a new window on the cosmos, and confirming Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. This was only made possible by large groups of people working together and points out the importance for universities to not only impart knowledge, but to impart the skills required for working with others successfully. This applies to all significant areas of human endeavor.

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Why Large, Complex Organizations Need a Strong Brand Identity

If you read a lot of the branding and naming advice that’s out there on the Internet, it would be easy to think that the only time an organization should worry about its brand identity is when it is first getting started. What should you name your company? How should you position it against competitors? These are important questions for startups and new brands, but the truth is that large, complex organizations are just as often in need of identity strategy.

 

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Managing Brand Complexity: Staying Ahead of the Curve

Managing Brand Complexity: Staying Ahead of the CurveLarge companies—like GE, Google, Samsung and others—know this law of branding firsthand: As you grow in size, you will grow in complexity. Acquisitions, organic growth, market segmentation and product and service extensions all add complexity to brand portfolios. How should large successful brands such as these manage brand complexity?

Growing companies realize they need to support the strength and cohesiveness of their corporate identities, while also accommodating the needs of their individual brands and sub-brands. We call this “brand balance.” This balance gets harder to control as you grow; there is a very real complexity curve that gets steeper with a company’s size. To remain successful as you grow, it is important to learn how to stay ahead of this complexity curve.

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Focus First on Your Brand’s Message, Not Appearance

Focus First on Your Brand’s Message, Not AppearanceSeveral years ago I took a Harvard Business School course on business thinking for design leaders. Toward the end of the course, one professor told us that what we do as brand strategists and designers frightens some CEOs. Why? Because what we do, while vitally important to their success, is not always directly quantifiable. It’s hard to measure emotional connection with a number.

This unsurety and discomfort can cause business leaders to judge brand expression solely on its aesthetics, rather than on the idea the expression is meant to represent. Ironically, this can increase CEOs’ discomfort; what sits before them does not appear to be immediately satisfying. Without a clear understanding and appreciation for the meaning behind the brand expression, executives will miss out on the value brand thinking can create for their organizations.READ MORE

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Shifting Perceptions of Branding in Higher Education

Higher educationIn one of my colleague Jon’s recent posts, he wrote about one sign that you may need to reconsider your identity: your industry is changing. One industry we work in frequently—higher education—is currently going through significant change. Societal trends, shifts in funding priorities and emerging technologies are all contributing to increased competition: for the best students, for top faculty, for funding, for leadership and for reputation. Against this backdrop, branding and identity are increasingly important.

The Importance of Branding

“[A] properly constructed brand is essential for any university competing in the modern global education market,” wrote Ian Pearman, CEO of the UK’s largest ad agency, in a recent piece on the importance of higher ed branding (“Universities are brands whether they like it or not”) that accompanies a global study of the 100 most powerful global university brands.

But branding and higher ed have an often uneasy relationship. Research conducted at the University of San Francisco looked at the impact of branding on California institutions (including several of our clients) and found positive correlations between branding and campus identity, enrollment and foundation initiatives. In spite of this, many don’t see a role for branding and positioning in helping their schools achieve greater success.

Overcoming Reluctance

In our work with higher ed clients we’ve sometimes encountered a sense that academia should be above branding. For some, the word itself is synonymous with marketing or advertising, and there is the perception that this cheapens the important work that educators and researchers do. A development campaign created by our client UC Berkeley matched students’ portraits with quotes on what the school meant to them. The fact that “We are not a brand” was graffitied on a poster installation reveals strong opinions about brand in the context of higher education.

There are ways to navigate around this. When working with higher ed clients, we often refrain from using the word “brand” and instead talk about “identity.” This focuses the conversation on the key issues: who you are, what you do and why you matter. When put in those terms, we find that many in academia are comfortable with, even enthusiastic about what our work can help them to achieve.

Helping to Navigate a Complex Landscape

As the educational landscape becomes more and more complex, it’s increasingly important that higher ed institutions think hard about how they can frame their offerings for perspective audiences. I think back to my own experience as someone trying to decide where to attend graduate school. I was living in Southeast Asia at the time and ill-equipped to form a consideration set for what would be an incredibly important life decision. Institutions of higher learning may want to keep themselves above the fray of “marketing,” but by communicating a clear sense of identity, they can certainly help their audiences understand who they are and what they have to offer.

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University of California

The University of California has recently unveiled a statewide promotional and advertising campaign, to improve awareness and appreciation of its unique and critical value to the state of California, the nation and the world. The campaign, and the ideas it promotes, are all based on a positioning strategy we developed for the University’s Office of the President, to help internal and external audiences understand the University’s true scope and commitment to the future.

To counter the concerns and criticisms that have come with reduced state funding and attention-getting political controversy, we helped UC articulate a larger vision for California, and its role in the state’s future. Identifying UC as “Boldly Californian” and articulating its role as “embodying the spirit of California, and igniting the potential of its people”, we were able to focus attention on a largest idea that transcends short term concerns and puts difficult decisions in a grand context. This idea enables UC to continue to develop its role as both creation and catalyst ofCalifornia’s importance in the world. With its current investments in advertising and awareness building, we anticipate that its role in the world will be better understood, and appreciated as it adapts to new realities.

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