How do you know if you have a strong brand strategy? When you achieve your marketing goals, of course! But there are other, more subtle ingredients for branding success. If you can give a firm “yes” to at least six of the 10 questions below, you are headed in the right direction.
- Is your brand strategy written down? A strong brand is not a vague sense of your institution’s identity. It must be documented carefully, vetted with key stakeholders, and shared widely.
- Did you conduct research before you wrote your brand strategy? And I’m not talking about two days of interviews with faculty and staff. Your brand strategy should be rooted in quantitative research with internal and, more importantly, external constituents.
- Were key internal stakeholders involved in the creation of your brand strategy? Brand strategy development must be a group effort. And it can take a long time to get it right. Engage, engage, engage … and be patient. Branding is a long-term endeavor. Getting it done quickly so you can share it at the next board meeting is likely to backfire.
- Is your marketing integrated? Across audiences? Across tools? The messaging and design of your website should parallel your print communications, digital advertising, environmentals, events, social strategy, and even your President’s speeches. And there should be a clear relationship between your marketing to your prospective students, guidance counselors, alumni, donors, business leaders, higher ed peers, and other key audiences.
- Does your hiring process include education on the brand? Your faculty and staff are the ones who have to live the brand promise on a daily basis — in their actions and in the decisions they make on behalf of the institution. They need to know not only what they are buying into but also the institutional expectations for operationalizing the brand at every level. So be sure to put brand on the agenda for job interviews and include it in new employee onboarding programs.
- Do all campus marketers understand the brand and know how to implement it? Let’s say you have 25 marketers on your centralized team and 150 marketers sprinkled across campus (adjust the numbers for your reality). One brand training before your brand launch doesn’t cover it. Regular brand trainings for all campus marketers are essential.
- Is your brand championed throughout your institution, from the President on down? Buy-in for your brand strategy is crucial. Otherwise, the marketing program you are developing based on your brand is just another campaign. Two or three years later, you will be back at the drawing board coming up with a new idea. A strong brand endures.
- Do you educate external partners on your brand? All third-party providers of services related to marketing and communications must receive guidelines on correct usage and implementation of your brand strategy.
- Is the brand viewed as more than just your visual identity or marketing platform? Your brand is not just the way your institution “spins” its marketing. It can’t be separated from the true identity of your college. (I can’t convince you I’m funny if I’m not.) Educate your campus to recognize that managing the brand is a mission-critical element of your institution’s success that reaches far beyond the marketing department.
- Is your brand integrated with your institution’s strategic plan? If so, then your brand strategy is a fundamental driver behind your institution’s long-term goals.
If you are a higher ed marketer, you probably know all of this. What may help is to pass along this list to your Dean, Provost, or President. Share it with your faculty and the marketers embedded in various offices throughout your campus. Brand is one of the most misunderstood concepts in higher education. Success will come when everyone on your campus recognizes that the marketing department doesn’t create the brand, it simply reflects the brand to internal and external audiences. The brand is what you do, not what you say.
(Note: This blog post was inspired by Tracy Syler-Jones, Vice Chancellor for Marketing & Communication at TCU. She is able to answer “yes” to #5, which is super rare.)