“Can we take a look at your brand platform?” I asked recently of a new client who had hired us to assess and refresh their institutional identity.
Her answer wasn’t terribly unusual, but it was very telling: “Well, no, it’s not really written down like that. But we all know what the key messages are supposed to be.”
So I ask, “How?”
Many institutions have never bothered to develop a codified, officially sanctioned brand platform. But how can you expect stakeholders to know and internalize what you stand for unless you tell them?
How do new faculty members learn what differentiates your institution in the competitive marketplace? When are alumni reminded of what you stand for? Who conveys to division and unit leaders what brand attributes they need to reinforce among their constituencies? How do students understand your most compelling competitive advantages? What process is used to highlight your leadership market position among business and non-profit partners?
Answer: Brand platform. It makes your brand portable, reaching existing and new stakeholders across all boundaries and divisions, porting your brand across the entire organization.
This is the missing piece in so many brand initiatives. The lack of a deeply felt and broadly understood brand platform is the reason that so many institutions find it difficult to maintain consistent messaging and why so many brands lack power and endurance.
The brand platform is a one-sheeter – consensus based and leadership approved – that defines your overall brand strategy. It’s a quick read, powerfully conveying what you stand for, what sets you apart, what makes your brand special. It’s a vital brand communication tool for new employees, division heads, department chairs, faculty, staff, alumni, partners, donors, and all other stakeholders, for that matter.
The brand platform isn’t intended to be ad copy. It’s a straightforward strategy document akin to a mission or a vision statement. The difference is that a brand platform is marketing focused, going further and with much more hard-edged specificity than either of those two typically generic documents.
The platform first defines the category of educational institution in which you’d like to be perceived as the competitive leader. It identifies your primary target audience(s). It articulates your 3-4 top points of differentiation and distinction. And it answers the “So what?” question by describing the overall outcomes you are trying to achieve for your audiences.
One other crucial element: The platform also articulates your brand promise – what everyone in your organization believes in, and your brand’s fundamental reason for existence.
Here’s a schematic of the three elements of a strong brand platform:
A platform is like top soil – it helps your brand take root and grow strong, but it won’t do you any good until you spread it around.
Periodically distribute the brand platform to internal audiences, stakeholders, friends, and partners. Feature it prominently on your website, in your annual report, in packets for potential donors and partners, and in other major institutional publications. Include it as a prominent segment in new student and employee orientations.
And, of course, the brand platform should be a standard feature in every communicator’s office. A reminder of the foundation and guiding strategy for all of your marketing communications and public/media relations efforts.
If you’d like more information on brand platforms, or would like to see examples of effective and enduring platforms that other institutions have developed, contact us here.