The last three years have been an incredible journey working together to develop and deploy Indiana University’s brand strategy. The process has included research (the largest quantitative brand study in the history of the university), creative development, many meetings and presentations to inform and involve, and, beginning last year, full media deployment. We have also enjoyed working with several schools and units to develop customized positioning strategies that build off the foundation of the IU master brand.
Whether it’s the university’s overall brand strategy or an academic unit’s brand positioning, brand strategy work must meet the following criteria.
1. Externally focused
A colleague once lamented that the higher ed sector is “great at talking to ourselves about ourselves.” We must be externally focused, both in terms of the audience and the competition. Simply put, we are not the target audience. Our thoughts (and those of our fellow administrators) about various creative executions, for example, may not align with what our target really thinks. Therefore, market research can play a critical role to understand your audience and arm you with the data to make informed, non-subjective decisions. And, as author and brand strategist Bernadette Jiwa states, “We are at our very best when we see the world through the eyes of the person we’re trying to matter to.”
A brand is based on who you really are. It’s the sum total of all experiences and associations that people have with the university. Furthermore, your brand strategy should flow directly from your mission, vision, and values. Branding is not about spin or slogans; rather, it’s an authentic expression of your organization. Make sure that authenticity—a requisite for communicating with audiences who are more brand savvy than ever before—rings true in everything you do.
This is the core of branding. True differentiation is hard, especially in higher education, and requires focus because you cannot be all things to all people. Points of differentiation reside where your organization is doing something different from (or better than) your competitors. What differentiates you from your competitors in ways that your target audience values?
To be effective, you must bring your brand to life in ways that stir emotions. We’ve all heard sayings such as “logic informs, stories persuade” or “stories not stats, people not programs.” A compelling brand creates the necessary emotional connection that will move audiences to action. One of my favorite recent executions is this year’s Little 500 video, an excellent example of how an IU brand promise (“Something bigger than yourself”) can come alive.
Your mission endures, and so should your brand strategy. Indiana University’s brand strategy is not a one- or two-year endeavor; it will take us through the Bicentennial. We can sometimes tire of our own messages too quickly because we see them all the time. However, a brand endures from disciplined consistency and clarity, which drives awareness and ultimately affinity. Whether you’re writing a formal speech for your dean or sending a tweet from your school’s account, each communication should reinforce your brand strategy.
I look forward to seeing you at the upcoming brand workshops for an introduction to the new brand book and brand website. We’ll take a deeper dive into the aforementioned strategies along with new tools and resources to help you both contribute to and leverage the Indiana University brand.