How do you build consensus and launch a brand into the world? Lipman Hearne’s Alexia Koelling and Libby Morse hosted a panel at the AMA Higher Ed Conference on that very topic, featuring three current or former clients at different stages of their branding projects: Jeff McClellan from Brigham Young University, Gabriel Welsch from Duquesne University, and Marina Cooper from Johns Hopkins, who spoke about her experience at her previous position with Towson University. Missed the session? Here are the 7 steps to making sure your new brand has all the support it needs.
Don’t Fight your Institutional Culture—Leverage It
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for getting buy-in: every institution’s culture is different. A clear-eyed evaluation of what makes your culture tick, and how you can make the most of it—while skillfully re-routing around possible trouble spots—can help you avoid stall outs and keep your eye on the prize.
“Our structure is super decentralized, meaning that everything has to happen with a groundswell of support. This meant holding a lot of meetings with deans, campus communicators, web designers, anyone who I could educate on the importance of branding. This helped them to understand what I wanted to do and buy into it.” – Jeff McClellan
“I talked about the project as ‘building better brand tools,’ not as a re-brand.” – Gabriel Welsch
Make Research your Wingman
Research can help you focus your branding efforts and shake internal audiences out of complacency. Data also shows that branding isn’t “another marketing thing” but rather a necessity driven by the sentiments of an institution’s core audiences.
“This had to be a research-based process for credibility. Research showed that nobody knew what the symbols were for our university or the meaning behind them.” – Marina Cooper
Get Leadership on Board
Securing support from the higher-ups at your institution is essential to getting a branding project off the ground. It may seem like a daunting task, but a key thing to remember is that you share a common interest: doing right by your school. If you can convince leadership of the benefits that come from a successful branding initiative, it will be much easier to secure their backing. One way to do this is a little counterintuitive: start having conversations with people outside the C-suite to create buzz.
“Having our cabinet there to give advice and feedback led to a very honest team effort.” – Marina Cooper
Craft a Representative Team
Branding projects are a team sport. In order to be successful, you need broad support from many different stakeholders in the organization. To assemble the right group, go beyond your marketing staff. Having colleagues from other departments join is going to bring incredible diversity in perspective, as well as broader support for the work being done.
“Our core team involved marketing, admissions, enrollment, and advancement. Having such a wide variety of expertise in that group built credibility.” – Gabriel Welsch
Build a Brand for your Branding Project
A huge part of building support for a branding project is how it is framed to key voices at the institution. To achieve their buy-in, it is crucial to brand your initiative effectively so you can follow through on helping to brand the institution more effectively. It’s up to you to get out in front of the naysayers, manage perceptions and expectations, and ensure that you and your entire team are focusing on the same reasons why this work is essential to moving forward and achieving the institution’s goals.
“The brand process has to have its own brand—you have to tell a story about why you’re doing this that is compelling.” – Libby Morse
Help Skeptics Feel Heard
Detractors, naysayers, critics: they may be your secret weapon when trying to get your branding project off the ground. What goes unnoticed about this type of person is that in a lot of cases, they are only speaking up because they care.
One powerful way to bring the skeptics to your side is to have a one-on-one sit-down with them and find out why this person was concerned in the first place. Then, you canwork to bring them in line with how you’re thinking. Another way is to make sure that any decision-making bodies or committees are balanced with supporters and skeptics—this will open a dialogue and bring about further consensus. Your branding initiative will be all the better for it.
“Be patient and persistent. Be very transparent and share everything.” – Jeff McClellan
“Bring people in and closer to the process; make them feel their concerns are validated.” – Marina Cooper
Finish the Job
Brand workshops—and not just for communicators—help colleagues become comfortable with the brand and build a sense of ambassadorship and solidarity. Tools that everyone can use—like Zoom backgrounds—can help people see how easy it is to integrate the brand into their daily work.
“The best way to keep a brand alive is to teach people how to use it.” – Marina Cooper