Four Tips for Managing the Brand Launch

June 9, 2011. Competition for visibility continues to pressure institutions of higher education to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. In order to stay competitive, maintain enrollment levels, and meet advancement goals, your institution needs a unique brand strategy that carefully defines who you are in the minds of stakeholders.

Often, though, marketing professionals and institutional leaders have questions concerning how to effectively roll out or communicate a change to the brand. Past examples of branding efforts gone wrong have taught us that a brand campaign carries considerable public relations risk. This week, we asked Bill Faust, senior partner and chief strategy officer for Ologie, for his advice; Faust offers these four tips for success in managing your brand launch.

Decide Whether You Need a Hard or Soft Launch

Faust suggests that a hard launch or "roll-out party" isn't always necessary: "some launches are very soft and are rolled out over time, applied to specific areas of the institution at a time." If your institution has been through a tumultuous time or needs to change its public image dramatically (the public thinks of you as X, but you need them to think of you as Y), then a hard launch may be the right approach. "In that case," Faust remarks, "you want to get people's attention. You want to get them to do a double-take."

However, if your institution's image is more stable and the branding effort is simply meant to keep the brand fresh, a hard launch may be unnecessary. The risk inherent in a roll-out party is that because it frames the brand update as a revolutionary rather than evolutionary step, it is more difficult to communicate how important it is that the brand remain a living thing. "You don't want your campus community to think that the brand is something we do every few years," Faust advises, "but something we do and develop each day, each month, each year. The reason there are so many brand launches is because there are so many neglected brands. Never let your brand become dusty; the brand should be refined in incremental changes from one year to the next, as you work to keep it relevant to today's students and today's stakeholders. Communicate that branding is an ongoing endeavor, not a periodical endeavor."

Do Not Make the Brand a Surprise

Faust advises: "Try to pre-sell the brand or pre-view it as much as possible with all of your key stakeholder audiences -- faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors -- with all those who will deliver or respond to the institution's brand experience. You need them 'in the know.'" Faust suggests holding small-group sessions and workshops across campus while you are developing the updated brand; this can help you spot any potentially negative feedback early, and give you the opportunity to build excitement before the actual launch.

Mobilize Supporters

"Don't let the brand just be rolled out by the marketing department alone. When you find internal supporters or champions of the brand, mobilize them."
Bill Faust, Ologie

For example:

  • Form a brand advocacy committee or a brand ambassador group, drawn from stakeholders whose input has been invited throughout the process and who have indicated excitement for the brand; "Recruit these individuals early," Faust suggests, "and draw from faculty, staff, and definitely students"
  • Arm student ambassadors with a tool kit and send them to classrooms, fraternities, sororities, and campus clubs; students can lead small workshops that introduce the brand and clarify what isn't going away, why the rebranding is being done, and what it means
  • Mobilize faculty champions to give brand workshops for their departments; "When the message comes from a respected faculty member, not from marketing staff or a consultant," Faust remarks, "there is far more credibility"
  • Use faculty in case studies and testimonials in the promotion of the brand; "Highlight the research of your Nobel-Prize winning chemist," Faust remarks, "and let your faculty be the stars of the show -- but also be sensitive to personal preferences; some faculty do not want the attention"

Involve Faculty in the Launch in Easy, Meaningful Ways

"Make it easy for your stakeholders, especially faculty (who may already feel overburdened); when you want to engage them in a brand launch, give them easy ways to get involved."
Bill Faust, Ologie

Here are examples:

  • Offer a micro-site where you collect input from stakeholders throughout the process; Faust suggests, "make it easy for faculty to log on, leave their two cents, and log off"
  • Create an FAQ guide for your faculty that covers how to respond when asked about the new brand, the new website, or the new brand message; "give them one page with all the talking points," Faust advises; "Just the fact that you've thought ahead that they might get a question, and that you've given them a one-pager, shows you are thinking about them. This is easy to do, but it's also easy to forget to do. Provide the same one-pagers for everyone, not just faculty -- facilities staff, admissions staff, staff across your campus. Make sure all your staff know what these new banners are all about!"

Keeping involvement easy is key; Faust cites the example of one institution that tried to do too much, asking faculty to design posters and decorations for their office doors. The faculty had to provide a photo for the poster and get it approved. There were so many steps involved that most faculty opted out. "Don't give them homework!" Faust warns. "Be respectful of their time."