Evolving from a tactical to strategic brand draws on every part of the institution. The new imperative for universities is therefore brand leadership, to shift the approach and develop the organisational structure, systems and culture to underpin the vision. Collaboration is at the heart of brand, and a strategically minded VC paired with a long-serving, tactically-geared CMO can work in tandem to make brand vision a reality. Having a designated brand manager to ensure a unified approach across the organisation, helps to embed brand within university culture. The brand strategy should be influenced by the university strategy and reflect the same strategic vision and culture, and the VC/CMO pairing means each can offer insight from their areas of expertise. The brand custodian must therefore be involved in creating the university strategy and empowered to follow through on the vision with the backing of their VC.
A study of how successful university brands were perceived, found that whilst most UK universities could be considered distinct, few were seen to have real fully formed brands. The institutions identified as having ‘successful’ brands were those considered to have a clear vision and purpose in place for some time. Historic institutions like Oxford and Cambridge offer brand images of gothic architecture and dim reading rooms through to notions of academic excellence and prestige; impressions even extend to the publishing world, with each having their own university presses. This underlines the need for more long term strategic brand management, with brand equity as the central focus. Put simply, brand equity is a measure of social value that derives from the audience’s perception of the brand. Impacting awareness, loyalty, association and perceived quality, strong brand equity is an asset driving deep-rooted results.
With an ever more discerning audience, the brand must not promise what the strategy cannot deliver. There is nothing more wasteful and damaging to perception, and therefore reputation, than developing a brand or vision based on a strategic imperative that will not get funded. An important ally in developing an authentic brand is the academic community. Qualities of instruction, competence and reputation influence students’ feelings of attachment.Whilst the ultimate goal of many professors is to inculcate lifelong learning, this worthy pursuit gains wings through their brand-building effort.
Whilst equity can be driven through individuals, this alludes to an underlying challenge in successfully implementing brand vision. As complex organisations, universities can be home to many sub-brands. With faculties, departments, business schools or even an overseas campus to align, getting it wrong can damage the parent brand equity. The challenge therefore lies in acknowledging aspects that individual elements contribute to the overall identity of the brand. Implementing a more complex brand architecture framework enables universities to manage and market programs and services more strategically, with the knowledge and acceptance of all its different and diverse parts.
A common barrier to investing the time and resource needed to successfully implement a global brand strategy is the notion that brand is intangible and cannot be tracked. However this is false. There are a range of tools available to measure and track brand equity signals. Customer-based brand equity (CBBE) models can be used to attribute brand success directly back to customers’ attitudes towards that brand. Keller’s CBBE four step process provides a holistic view focused on building an emotional response by building the right types of experiences around your brand. Starbucks have delivered this by aligning higher priced coffee with making their audience feel like aficionados and giving them a greater feeling of esteem. Aakers’s CBBE model also gives an integrated view on the internal and external understanding of the brand, but instead focuses on recognition and outlines the five components needed to separate a brand from its competition. Disney brings this to life with the nostalgia they inspire within all generations through storytelling and characters, like Mickey Mouse, who drive immediate recognition. Both theories can be used to ensure that the brand is upheld at every touchpoint within the customer journey.
Steps to achieving brand leadership:
- Create a brand-building university. (responsible for brand strategy, management processes)
- Develop comprehensive brand architecture that provides strategic guidance across central and sub-brands
- Develop a brand strategy for key brands that includes a motivating brand identity, as well as a position that differentiates the brand and resonates with customers
- Develop efficient and effective brand-building programs with a system to track results.
If you would like to explore how to move your institution’s brand from the merely tactical to one that is strategic and visionary, get in touch with us here at The Brand Education. We offer thought leadership and workshops and we’re always excited to hear from you.