In retail marketing, effectively positioning a new product can be done unilaterally and seamlessly by the marketing team, with a glitzy marketing campaign rolled out to the marketplace quickly and efficiently.
But higher education is different.
We have a history of involving faculty in decision-making. At many institutions, this protocol extends to making sure staff, students, and alumni input is in the mix, too. Our heritage also honors a certain level of decentralized control over the implementation of each unit’s messaging, graphic identity, and creative framework.
We ignore these honored protocols at our peril: Witness the brouhahas that have surrounded several university campaign launches recently.
They are why a consensus-based brand platform needs to be an essential positioning tool for every college and university.
The brand platform is a strategic document that defines your market position and the essence of your brand. It identifies the niche leadership position that your organization occupies or wants to occupy in the competitive marketplace. It outlines your points of differentiation and how you want to be perceived by your most important audiences. It defines what you stand for and the outcomes you enable for graduates.
And it has to be developed with broad, meaningful campus input.
Done well, a brand platform energizes and mobilizes your most important marketing asset – faculty, staff, students, and alumni. It infuses the campus community with purpose. It galvanizes faculty and staff to improve their individual performance based on a set of core values. And it guides the application of human and economic resources to constantly improve on a shared expression of excellence.
The brand platform isn’t ad copy. It’s not a tagline, a campaign headline, or a marketing slogan. Like the framework of a building, it is the foundational support for your identity even though it may not yet reflect the institution’s full character or personality. It is a thorough and enduring brand strategy that changes glacially, if at all.
For those institutions that do have a brand platform, there is a surprising number of institutions that overlook the need to disseminate the brand platform across their organizations. Administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees are the ones who will be called upon to deliver and personify the brand promise and brand drivers. To do that, they have to know what it is. They have to understand and believe in the tenets expressed in it.
We’re talking about the actual brand platform itself, not the glitzy creative marketing materials and catchy headlines meant to grab public attention.
Internal stakeholders need to be able to personalize how they communicate the brand promise and drivers. While the essential attributes should stay the same, the emphasis, language, proof points, and benefits should be tailored according to each individual, each unit, and each audience being addressed. The brand promise and drivers are meant to be internalized, not memorized.
The platform should be on your intranet and should be the subject of articles in the faculty/staff and student newspapers and alumni magazine. It should become the center of an internal communications efforts using posters, tabletops, and banners.
The goal is to help all internal stakeholders “own” the brand platform in a personal and meaningful way, and to inculcate it into the institutional culture. That’s when you’ll finally have a brand.