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How to Build Support for Brand Marketing

First, get the right people on the bus.
University Business, Jun 2005

Sooner or later on most brand marketing projects I am asked this question: How do we build support for the brand marketing process? Before I answer that, I first want to make an important clarification. The goal in the brand creation process, just like any change initiative, is to build enough support to make things happen. The goal is not total support. Like total consensus, total support, is illusive, and in almost all cases, all but impossible to achieve.

With that in mind, let me offer five steps that will help you win internal support.

The first step, borrowing from Jim Collins' Good to Great, is to get the right people on the bus. For our purposes, there are two kinds of right people: the guiding coalition and the actual planning team.

An ideal guiding coalition has eight to 10 people all of whom have an appreciation of what brand marketing can do for the institution. They may not all have technical understanding, but they have the larger vision. And importantly, they also have the ability and willingness to influence their peers. All are senior administrators and senior faculty. In all cases, it is better that this group be cohesive, rather than large. The purpose of this group is to get the project off the ground and to run interference for the day-to-day planning team. In this capacity, they:

Meet with other campus leaders and set the stage for the brand marketing process

Begin to address resource issues (time, talent, and dollars)

Help overcome territory problems

Develop the "need statement" for the brand plan

Develop the timeline for the plan's creation and implementation

Oversee the brand launch

Periodically evaluate progress

Importantly, the members of your guiding coalition also "talk up" the need for a strong brand and the brand development process among their formal and informal constituencies. If the president has a direct role in the brand creation process it is as a member of the guiding coalition.

The second group, the planning team, are the people who actually develop and, in most cases, implement the plan. They conduct the assessments, undertake the research, develop the initial brand promise, and oversee the plan's implementation. The planning team likely includes some individuals from the guiding coalition. The planning team reports to the guiding coalition. The guiding coalition provides approval at the key steps in the brand-building process (see below).

Most faculty, staff, and administrators know, intuitively, why strong brands are important. They may not be comfortable with the word "brand" but they are very comfortable with the idea of being known for something of value.

Without overstating the case, strong brands help you attract:

Better students and faculty

More full- and fuller-pay students (that's the whole rationale for brand equity)

More students who will persist

More donated dollars

More media attention (have you ever noticed that NPR, when interviewing people from a college, always chooses people from well-known colleges?)

We also know that strong brands generate more alumni support and more positive word-of-mouth. Furthermore, institutions with strong brands spend far less on direct marketing. Finally, recent research, including our annual Stamats ParentsTALK study, suggests that parents are very unlikely to send their child to a school with which they are not already familiar.

Strong brands increase the fl ow
of resources, such as publicity
and revenue , to an institution.

On the flip side, here are some indicators that you might have a brand problem on your campus:

Tuition revenue is flat or declining (there is an inverse relationship between a strong brand and your discount rate)

Prospective students and parents have undue price sensitivity

Alumni involvement and giving is flat or declining

First-year to second-year retention rate is below norms

Job ads fail to attract best candidates

A pronounced negative word-of-mouth

Strong brands, by definition, increase the flow of resources--prospective students, donated dollars, public and media attention, better faculty and staff--to an institution. The only purpose of a brand is to increase that flow of resources, and all measures of brand effectiveness must include a measure of that increased flow.

Now that you have made the case for brand marketing, it's time to begin building confidence in the brand-building process. This step involves addressing five issues:

Help the campus understand the process

Clarify their role in the process

Build confidence in the process

Give the campus community access to the process

Clarify the role of campus members in building and sustaining the brand

First, the campus must understand the process. While there are a number of processes, or models, for building a strong brand, the one outlined below is one of the most simple, yet powerful:

Make a brand promise that matters

Communicate your brand promise

Live your brand promise

Strengthen your brand promise

Your brand is less about what you say and more about what you do. It is not your wordmark, but the image and associations that come to mind when people see your wordmark. It is not a marketing thing, but a "who we are and how we act" thing.

A solid brand-creation process:

Should be reminiscent of your visioning and strategic planning process

Is inclusive, especially at the beginning, but manages input

Is open, but protects confidences

Is based on solid, defendable data

Creates a sense of concern, but offers a solution

Is thorough, but moves in a timely fashion

Answers the question: What's in it for me? (for everyone)

Now that the campus has a conceptual understanding of the process, it is time to clarify their role in that process. Even as faculty and staff understand their role--think futuristically, participate in focus groups and discussions, think "globally" and not just about their individual program or department--they must understand that their role is limited. While their input is sought, care must be taken not to convey that they are in control of the outcomes.

Second, you must build confidence in the process. If your brand is based on a couple of interviews, a focus group or two, and a dash of intuition and hope, it will likely fail. True initiatives, the initiatives that have the power to change a campus, must be built on solid, defendable, inferential research. This involves valid, representative samples and advanced analysis of such audiences as prospective students of all types, donors (current and prospective), community residents, and others. To build confidence in the process, you must invest time and money in the research.

Third, everyone must have the opportunity to participate in the process, though not all will. If they don't get that opportunity, they will have no confidence in the direction the campus takes.

Finally, take the time to clarify the role faculty and staff will play in implementing and sustaining the brand. This includes resources that are available to them, training on how the brand will impact their behavior, and even changes in how faculty and staff are evaluated, and rewarded, will also help build lasting change.

Next, you must implement your new brand strategy. At the very least this means:

Work from a comprehensive, integrated, fully-funded brand plan

Develop a complete brand portfolio that includes your brand promise, brand rationale, brand attributes, tag, and graphic identity

Launch the brand with a campus-wide initiative. Celebrate the fact that you have reached an important milestone

Provide the dollar and talent resources to support the plan

Conduct training on how to implement and fulfill the brand promise

Determine how the brand will be evaluated

Talk up the process and the emerging brand strategy among key administrative and faculty leaders

Finally, don't blink. When you launch your brand, you will meet resistance. Opposition will coalesce. Critics will find a voice. And when this happens, especially early in the implementation process, don't falter. Opponents will turn hesitation into complete obstruction. Don't give them a chance.

The final step is essential: You must show outcomes. You must show how the brand strategy moved important dashboard indicators:

Awareness is up

More students, better students, more students of a certain category, or more full-pay students are attending

Donated dollars have increased

Retention is up, discounts are down

One important point here: You must show outcomes and not merely output. I've seen too many brand success stories center solely around eye candy that was developed; pretty ads and publications, but little or no reference to whether those materials helped change and improve your position.

By gathering outcome data you are not only showing progress which will help defuse the nay-sayers, you are also laying the foundation for more resources in the future.

Bob Sevier is a senior VP of Stamats Communications. He explores the principles of successful branding in his book Building a Brand That Matters: Helping Colleges and Universities Capitalize on the Four Essential Elements of a Block-Buster Brand, available from Strategy Publishing (

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