Blame my degree in Organizational Communication for this, but I essentially bullied my director into allowing me to lead a discussion about our department’s brand. It was a lengthy presentation that ended up being split into two parts, but I believe that our leadership team came out of that meeting with a better understanding of what differentiates us from other departments. Below is a “concise” version of what we covered:
Foundation – What you need to know about your department before getting to the good stuff.
- Brand Definition: “A name, term, sign, symbol, design, or combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competition.” – American Marketing Association.
- What services do/should the department offer?
- Who are our target audiences? This part of the discussion took nearly an hour. While it’s natural to want to target the entire university, is it realistic? We (eventually) narrowed it down to about seven segments, many of which overlapped. Doing this allows us to better serve and understand that population.
- Note: This does not mean we prohibit students in non-targeted segments from engaging with us.
- Who/What’s our competition? Now that we know who we’re targeting (and we know a little bit about them), who or what else relies on these same targets? A couple givens are class and work, maybe Athletics or the local bars if you do evening programming.
Positioning – Now that we’ve agreed about what we do, who we do it for, and who the competition is, we can position ourselves in a way that shows our target audiences why they will benefit from us. Think of it like this: consumers (in our case, students) have this bookcase in their brains, and there’s a shelf for everything. When they see a department on campus, they put it on one of the shelves. If we’re lucky, they’ll put our on the shelf we belong on. If not, we could end up in that miscellaneous shelf on the bottom. Positioning gives the book a definitive book cover.
- Creating your “Essence”: This is a three-word phrase (adjective, adjective, noun) that is the very core of what your brand is about. It shouldn’t change over time. My favorite example is Post-It: Fast, Friendly Communication. What this essence does is opens them up to do anything that involves Fast, Friendly Communication. Imagine if it was Sticky, Yellow Paper. There’s only so much they could do with that. In my office, we decided on Interactive Learning Experience. It’s a bit broad in my opinion, but this is something that we now consider with every program that we do.
- Creating your “Promise”: The brand’s promise is a one-liner that is unique to the department. As author Brad Van Auken says in “Brand Aid” (for the record, Brand Aid was my best friend during this time): The promise drives budgets and stops arguments. An example is “Only the [dept. name] delivers [benefit] to [target audiences]. This promise should be echoed in your mission, your services, the way you communicate, and everything else.
- Creating your “Personality”: This is a list of five to ten adjectives that describe the type of organization your department is. Why is this important? Because people relate to brands very similarly to the way they relate to people. If you’re conscious of this, it pays off.
Identity – This step makes the book cover we just created attractive through the use of sensory components. These allow you to project everything that you’ve created internally in a way that tells students what you are and how you’re different from your competitors.
- Department Name: typically, we don’t have too many opportunities to change this, but we know we want it to clearly state what we are about, and ensure that the acronym isn’t anything derogatory.
- Logo: Three Rules–easy to read from afar, recognizable in black and white, and meaningful.
- Slogan: This communicates your office’s position in a way that’s powerful, succinct and memorable.
- Note: Other things to consider are your hold music, any music played in the front office, the way your staff answers the phone, and your policy on email signatures and voicemails.
This discussion was eye-opening for us because it was nothing the department had considered, and on a large campus with a huge population of 1st Gen-ers, the more attractive we can be almost directly correlates with the number of students we can assist. Have any of your departments undergone any kind of branding discussions?