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University Sub-Brand Strategy


Brand Strategy University Branding Harvard

Branding Strategy Insider helps marketing oriented leaders and professionals like you build strong brands. To that end we’re happy to answer your marketing questions. Today we hear from Chris, a Vice President of Marketing and Communications in Louisville, Kentucky who asks this on brand architecture…

I am charged with helping a sub-brand of the college that I work for rename itself. The sub-brand has not correctly identified itself with the college which is part of the problem. The sub-brand currently operates with a name that has virtually no meaning (Externally Sponsored Programs) for internal or external audiences. To make matters worse they use a product brand for one of their services.

To get participants involved with the renaming, I am hosting a 1/2 day workshop. My thought was to help them understand what a brand is and does and then lead them in exercises to identify the emotional and functional benefits of their favorite brands and ultimately the sub-brand that employs them.

That portion of the exercise seems ok to me, although suggestions are always welcome, my next thought is to help them see how those benefits impact their “customers”. Thus creating a list of words that would resonate with their audiences. The ultimate deliverable is to use those words to create the name and tagline.

Could you offer insight on process or steps that you have used for renaming or minimally re-branding?

Thanks for your question Chris. Developing brand architecture for universities is particularly difficult, especially for large universities that have multiple schools, divisions, institutes, departments and programs.

For instance, I worked on a brand identity marketing research project for the University of Rochester. Just one of its schools, University of Rochester Medical School, has a medical school, a dental school, a nursing school, two hospitals, numerous outpatient clinics, adult care communities and a health system. The larger of the two hospitals has a children’s hospital, a cancer institute and many other named entities. Eastman School of Music is one of University of Rochester’s schools. It is an internationally known school in its own right and it owns the Eastman Theatre, which has the Kodak Hall, Kilbourn Hall and Hatch Recital Hall. Kodak Hall is the home of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. And the University of Rochester operates the community’s public art gallery, the Memorial Art Gallery. Talk about confusing. I believe the problem is even more complex for the university whose graduate school I attended, Harvard University. For instance, in addition to its many graduate schools and research centers that university has multiple museums on campus.

And, by the way, we recommend no more than two levels of branding.

Chris, the key thing is to figure out what the parent brand (the university) stands for and then to develop a brand architecture that integrates each of the university’s major entities as simply as possible. Then, each entity’s identity needs to fit into the overall university’s identity and its messaging has to at least complement the university’s messaging. It gets more difficult when a sub-entity has its own audience that is a public audience whose interest is not in higher education, but rather in the specific product or service delivered by the sub-entity (for instance, medical care or entertainment).

When we conduct a brand positioning, brand storytelling or brand architecture workshop, we always include educational components so that people understand why the identity or architecture or messaging needs to connect with, complement and support the overall identity/architecture/messaging and that of each of the components in the simplest way possible.

Rebranding starts with customer research across all of the key audiences to gain deep insight. It then proceeds to brand strategy and positioning formulation followed by brand architecture development. Only after that, do we develop the names, taglines and other identity elements.

Developing brand architecture and identities for universities is quite complex. I could devote an entire chapter of a book to this. Frankly, I would enlist the support of a brand consultant to help you with this task.

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