In our last blog post, we talked about what needs to change before you can rebrand your school. This time we hit upon a major consideration that could make or break your brand before it ever sees the light of day—the opinions of others.
One of the things that makes institutional branding unique is the many target markets you serve. Your brand not only needs to speak to prospective students and their parents, but it also needs to address faculty, prospective faculty, alumni, staff, donors, business partners, community members and local governments who fund programs—pretty much everyone. So there’s something important you need to know.
#3—No matter what you do, someone is going to take issue.
This point seems like a no-brainer. Some people just like to complain, right? But if this is the first time you’ve attempted to position your school with a unique differentiator, you’ll hear the complaints longer, louder and in greater quantity than ever before. Knowing this beforehand can help you weather the storm.
Consider that you’ve spent your entire life being advertised to. You see commercials on TV, you drive past billboards, you flip through ads in magazines—advertising is everywhere. So it’s no surprise that everyone thinks they understand marketing. They don’t.
For one thing, advertising is not marketing. Advertising is the strategic creative expression of marketing strategy. As an advertising copywriter, my job is to make the marketing strategy based on your objectives seem effortless and easily digestible. Most people see Nike’s “Just Do It” and think it’s a smart tagline that would be simple to come up with. It’s not. They have no idea what the marketing problem was, what the competitive landscape was or what the consumer mindset was when the creative staff first took on the project, to name just a few of the considerations.
It takes many years of education and training to understand the psychological and social implications of the words you put on paper. Even people who are naturally gifted need to hone their craft before they’re truly astute strategists. The same is true for art direction. The average consumer has no idea they habitually scan a page in a “Z” motion, for example, which is why headlines are placed where headlines are and logos are placed where logos are in most ads. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what creative people know outside of how to come up with fun ideas.
Marketing is also misunderstood. It involves research, number crunching and gut instinct as to what unique brand characteristics are, where to reach target markets and strategies for getting your message across. Neither advertising nor marketing are sciences, but both require education, experience, skill and finesse to pull off. Just like an ice skater makes a triple salchow look doable from your living room chair, effective advertising and marketing are much harder to create than they look.
Fact is, there are many people who bear professional marketing or advertising titles that don’t understand the complexity of strategy involved. So it’s unlikely that Ben Freeman, Class of 2016, understands it. It’s unlikely that Dr. Elizabeth Banks, Professor of Archaeology understands it. And it’s unlikely Patty Holloway in the Bursar’s office understands it. However, based on their lifelong connection to all things advertising and their strong attachment to the institution, they’re going to have strong opinions about it. And you’re going to need to be prepared for that.
Even the most beloved brands like “Fear the Turtle” met resistance from a handful of students, faculty, staff and others. There is no brand in the world—not even “Just Do It”—that has the support of everyone it’s meant to reach. And some brands are even built around annoying their target markets, just to get noticed. An example of this is the Quiznos Spongemonkey spot from 10 years ago. While these spots grated on the nerves of America and inexplicably used repulsive, rat-like creatures to advertise a food chain, they also put the name “Quiznos” on the tip of tongues overnight and fueled enormous growth and success for the brand. A decade later, the company is in trouble, but it’s not because of these ads. And the marketing and advertising strategies behind them were no mistake. They were purposely annoying to fuel controversy and brand awareness on a small budget.
It’s difficult to come up with a solution that pleases five key decision makers. It’s impossible to come up with one that pleases your entire faculty, staff, alumni, students, donors, parents and prospective students. Certainly you want your brand to please a majority. But the more of the majority you try to please, the more watered down your creative and your brand will be. And the less creative your brand is, the blander the position you take in the marketplace. It’s a risk/reward ratio you’re going to have to come to agreement on before the brand hits the marketplace.
That said, unless what is truly unique about your school is its lack of inspiration and interest, you’re going to have to accept that some people are going to be unhappy with what you come up with. Some prominent faculty member will feel that even the use of marketing devalues what your school offers. A trusted staff member will dislike one of the words in your new tagline. Some of your alumni will grumble because it’s no longer the school they remember. And your detractors will be louder and more in your face than the people who either love it or are OK with it, so things may seem worse than they actually are when opinions begin to roll in.
One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make in branding is to weigh too heavily on the opinions of people who don’t understand marketing, don’t know the objectives placed before the creative team and have no idea of what you’re trying to accomplish. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t hear the people out. Someone may have a salient point everyone else is too close to the creative to notice. But someone thinking “Just Do It” could come across as rude is not enough to kill the brand. You really have to weigh your risks. And there will always be risks.
Listening too much to the opinions of people who weren’t involved in the process is like asking your dentist whether to finish your new garage with siding or stone. Your dentist will probably prefer brick. And you will ultimately end up with stucco in an effort to please everyone. And stucco will not match your house. If you want your brand to match your school, do your research, focus on the strategic objectives, keep the opinions that matter to a minimum, trust your marketing and creative experts, trust your instincts and be prepared to stand your ground.
Once you’ve determined how you’re going to deal with the naysayers, then there’s only one thing left to consider on the road to creating a brand that sticks. And that will be covered in the final installment of “Four Things to Consider When You Rebrand Your School.”