Why Some Branding Investments Fail and How to Ensure Yours Doesn’t

Posted: January 23, 2014

Diane Kuehn Founder & CEO

How many times has your college rebranded with a new tagline or logo resulting in nothing beyond redesigning and reprinting all your marketing collateral?

I believe the failure of many rebranding investments comes from ignoring your internal audience and not making an institution-wide commitment to delivering on your brand promise.

Are you ignoring your faculty, staff and current students?

Many think of the audience for their branding campaign to be prospective students alone. While I do not dispute the importance of prospective students, I think that another primary audience that is often ignored is the university’s own faculty, staff and current students. Unfortunately, many rebranding investments by universities and colleges are focused on a brand launch event and a corresponding advertising campaign with the expectation that your faculty, staff and current students will begin to believe, advocate and deliver on that brand promise because they saw the ads too.

Can you deliver on your brand promise today?

A brand should not just be some tagline that your marketing department, agency or marketing research firm developed. A brand represents a promise that you are making to everyone involved with the institution – and that promise must be fulfilled by every contributor to your institution’s experience. Brand (or rebrand) investments fail when all of those contributors don’t fully understand, embrace and commit to delivering on the brand promise.

Complicating matters for many institutions, you need to not only figure out what you want your brand promise to be but oftentimes, elements of your brand promise are aspirational. In these situations, the institution must make university-wide changes in order to deliver on that brand promise. This requires unwavering leadership commitment and a process that will act as a change agent in your culture.

Branding To-Do’s

VisionPoint has built a process and best practices around addressing these special challenges in building higher education brands. Here are a few best practices that we implement in our branding projects that you may want to consider as well:

  • Before you sell the need to invest into branding internally, make sure your leadership understands that if they won’t commit to living the brand, you shouldn’t invest anything into branding your college. This commitment needs to span years not months.
  • Get input from representatives of all of your constituents on your college’s brand attributes (traits that help define your personality and culture) and pillars (what your institution actually delivers). Your constituent groups should include your faculty, staff, current and prospective students across all of your major academic offerings, graduate employers or corporate partners, parents of students, alumni, trustees and donors.
  • Include as many people as possible throughout the process not just at the beginning during the research phase. Some agencies feel that limiting the number of decision makers makes the process smoother and more efficient. We recommend the opposite. Inclusion and listening is key to achieving the level of buy-in and advocacy that is critical to real success.
  • Create a Marketing Advisory Board which includes leaders across the institution who will serve as advocates of the brand, engaged liaisons between marketing and faculty, and provide strategic input on marketing decisions. Note that you will likely need to bring all Marketing Advisory Board members up to speed on marketing strategy, plans and various initiatives like website governance, content strategy, etc.
  • Create a cross section of leaders across your institution to serve on a Brand Promise Task Force. The mission of this task force is to evaluate initiatives that your institution should test, monitor and then institutionalize to help ensure you fulfill your brand promise.

If you want to learn more about branding, check some of our blogs posts, or view some of our work and case studies. Of course, if you are interested in talking with us about your branding needs, we’d love to hear from you.