When last we spoke, we were talking about the attitudes and opinions of others in regard to your branding campaign. The more creative you get with your campaign, the more inevitable naysayers are. Focus groups can help gauge response and spot serious issues before you go live, but trying to please everyone can not only be a fruitless effort, it can also water down your message.

Once you’ve got your brand look and messaging down, however, there’s one more thing to know in order to support the ultimate success of your campaign.

#4—Commitment and consistency are key.

The words “commitment” and “consistency” have a number of meanings when it comes to branding. But before we get into that, let’s step back a second and talk about how an integrated brand campaign works.

Your brand campaign, as said before, communicates your university’s unique stand in the marketplace. It is like an umbrella hovering over everything you put beneath it. In the example of the University of Maryland brand, the umbrella campaign or integrated brand concept is “Fear the Turtle” and the “fear” is meant to represent the growth and momentum of the school’s programs, the power of its faculty and curriculum, the impact of the school in the world and within various areas of specialization and the kind of outcomes a student can expect from going there. That one short message encompasses all the awesome you’ll find at UMD, as well as confidence and a bit of whimsy.

So Fear the Turtle is the brand campaign, the umbrella concept. And, most recently, the campaign has evolved into “Fearless Ideas”, which still sits under the Fear the Turtle umbrella. An umbrella concept is built to last for years and, sometimes, decades. Beneath that, evolutions or iterations of the campaign might run just a year or two, but should nonetheless fall under the brand umbrella. Since Fearless Ideas is about the innovative and inspiring work being done at the university by faculty and students, it directly supports the umbrella brand. The words “Fearless Ideas” might be big and bold on promotional pieces, but you’ll still find “Fear the Turtle” connected to the logo as a tagline on all pieces.

Usually, when introducing a new brand effort, you’ll create a “brand kickoff campaign” that introduces the new branding. In the case of Fear the Turtle, it was a couple of years of ads bearing headlines of “Fear the Turtle” and TV spots featuring turtles roaring, marching in formation and even piloting a rocket into outer space. This establishes the brand message so it becomes top of mind. Then after that, you can hone in on more specific aspects within the brand by changing the campaign, but retaining the brand messaging in, perhaps, a more subordinate role.

That said, let’s get back to commitment and consistency. Commitment is not just about committing to the brand concept as we’ve mentioned in previous articles, but it’s also about committing time and budget to the campaign:

  • Committing time. You have to put in the time it takes to establish your brand message and identity among your audience. Two years is a good rule of thumb for the kickoff and you probably want to invest AT LEAST five years in the overall brand before re-assessing its value, worthiness and appropriateness for your school. Brands take a long time to sink in, and when you consider it will be four years before your student body will have “grown up” with your brand, you should be prepared to commit. Generally speaking, the most successful brands are the ones that have been around the longest. DeBeers’ “A Diamond is Forever” turns 67 this year, Kit Kat’s “Gimme a Break” turns 28, Nike’s “Just Do It” turns 26 and “Got Milk?” is now legal to drink milk punch at the age of 21.
  • Committing budget. This is a hard one, because it’s not entirely in your control. But getting messages out costs money. And if you don’t have the money, you need to have smart ideas. The WONK campaign didn’t have a blockbuster budget, but it captured people’s attention and had huge ideas. T-shirt giveaways to students, a grassroots campaign featuring social media and unusual media buys like station domination presence at key Metro stations helped spread the word early on. Regardless of whether you have a little money or a lot, spend it wisely. Look for those unusual opportunities that might require a little risk, but could pay off big in terms of eyeballs on your campaign.

The other big consideration is consistency. If the overall university is doing brand advertising and your College of Arts and Sciences is not in brand, you’re putting out mixed messages and you’re working against yourself, not to mention wasting advertising dollars. The more consistent and tightly integrated your campaign, and the more it falls off the lips of all your spokespersons, appears everywhere your university’s logo appears and maintains a consistent look everywhere its seen, the more effective your efforts are going to be.

If you don’t have a centralized marketing department, then you need buy-in, cooperation and commitment from all marketing decision makers throughout the branding process. If you do have a centralized marketing department, you’ll have to develop an eagle eye to contain the rogue factions inside your school. Ideally, everything should reinforce your brand, including internal communications, flyers to promote campus events, bumper stickers, university vehicles…everything.

The goal is to connect the entire university under the one umbrella. Graduate education might require different messaging and marketing tactics than undergraduate education, but it’s still a part of your school. So while one might use the brand differently from the other, they should both be tied to the same overall branded look and feel. To use a Fear the Turtle reference, your impact is to be feared regardless of whether you’re an undergrad Terrapin, doctoral Terrapin, alumni Terrapin or Terrapin faculty member.

After all, if you can’t take a stand and stand strong together, you’re really just kind of loitering. And when most people see a loiterer, they close themselves off and/or cross the street. A branding campaign is an example of something where the needs and preferences of the whole should far outweigh the needs and preferences of the individual. So approach your initiative accordingly from the very beginning.

Of course there’s a lot more to branding and rebranding your institution than is contained in these four emails. But if you leverage your in-house talent, expand the boundaries of your comfort zones, put your critics in perspective and commit to your campaign, you’ll have the foundation you need to weather the slings and arrows of institutional branding successfully!