Higher Education

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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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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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

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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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