Building Brand Momentum


Strategies for Achieving Critical Mass
A User’s Guide for Developing, Launching, and Sustaining a Strong Brand

Building Brand Momentum presents an intuitive four-step process for building an effective brand strategy for colleges and universities. The steps include: 1) Make a promise that matters; 2) Communicate your promise; 3) Live your brand promise; and 4) Strengthen your brand promise. Recognizing the tight budgets on many campuses, it then numerous examples for building long-term brand momentum with a special emphasis on unpaid media.

Product Description

Select an option below to browse sample content from Building Brand Momentum.

Table of Contents

Introduction Page 1
Chapter 1: What is a Brand and Why You Need One Page 3
Chapter 2: Key Terms and Relationships Page 12
Chapter 3: Demystifying Integrated Marketing Communication Page 16
Chapter 4: An Interview with Don Schultz Page 26
Chapter 5: Essential Brand Concepts Page 34
6 The Four Steps to an Effective Brand Strategy Page 44
Chapter 7 Key People, Key Roles Page 49
Chapter 8 Winning Internal Support for Your Brand Strategy Page 61
Chapter 9 Step 1: Make a Promise That Matters Page 66
Chapter 10: Options for Differentiating Your Institution from Your Competitors Page 82
Chapter 11: An Interview with Jack Trout Page 108
Chapter 12: Elements of the Brand Portfolio Page 117
Chapter 13: Developing an Effective Brand Architecture Page 126
Chapter 14: Step 2: Communication Your Brand Promise Page 131
Chapter 15: Developing Effective Brand Creative Page 149
Chapter 16: Step 3: Live Your Brand Promise Page 170
Chapter 17: Experience Marketing Page 181
Chapter 18: Using Research to Refine Your Brand Strategy Page 192
Chapter 19: Step 4: Strengthen Your Brand Promise Page 205
Chapter 20: Extending Your Brand Page 210
Chapter 21: Marketing the Complex College or University Page 233
Chapter 22: Measuring Brand ROI Page 241
Chapter 23: Brand Dollars and Sense Page 249
Chapter 24: What Will It Take? Page 256
Chapter 25: Hustle as Strategy Page 260
Appendix A Glossary Page 263
Appendix B Bibliography Page 269

Chapter 1 - What is a Brand? And Why You Need One

What is a brand?

Before we look at the elements of a brand marketing strategy, it is important to answer the question: what is a brand? As part of that discussion, let’s examine a handful of definitions drawn from the literature:

  • A brand is a promise that links a product or a service to a customer (Adamson)
  • A brand is a promise expressed as a benefit that your target audiences value (Forster)
  • A brand is the symbolic embodiment of all the information connected with a product or service
  • More than a name, logo, and other outward symbols that would distinguish a product or service from others in its category, a brand is an assortment of expectations established by a seller that, once fulfilled, forms a covenant with its buyers (Upshaw)
  • A brand is the sum of all the characteristics, tangible and intangible, that make the offer (organization) unique
  • A brand is the sum of all the experiences that an individual has with your organization
  • A brand is the sum total of all existing relationships
  • A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company (Neumeier)
  • Brands are spheres of influence…They get repeatedly chosen over the competition (Ragas & Bueno)
  • A brand is a promise made with the customer and built up over time through consistent communication and delivery of that promise. The very mention of the brand’s name should trigger a series of expectations not only about the product or the company—its quality, purpose, etc. —but any number of images and associations, which consumers can relate to, both emotionally and rationally (McGurk)

 Characteristics of brands

 Even a brief consideration of these definitions should reveal some constant themes:

  • A brand is more than a mark or symbol
  • A brand fills a need
  • A brand exists in minds and hearts and not marketplaces
  • A brand has both physical and emotional dimensions
  • A brand differentiates an organization from its competitors
  • A brand is synergistic and integrated
  • A brand attracts resources

We discover, too, that brand promises:

  • Focus on a specific people, a specific thing, or a specific geography; some of the best brands are focused on all three
  • Are often very personal
  • Generate genuine enthusiasm among internal stakeholders such as faculty, staff, and administrators
  • Are of value to the marketplace (remember, someone has to pay for the promise)

After looking at the definitions presented above, and making a few adjustments for our educational context, I want to settle on the following definition:

A brand is a valued and differentiating promise that a college, university, or school makes to its most important audiences to meet a need or fulfill an expectation.

 But don’t some college brand promises sound alike?

Even a quick look at college brand promises might cause the reader to ask a question: don’t some college brand promises sound alike. The answer is yes, perhaps, and no. Let me explain.

Like cars, colleges and universities often contain the same elements: their versions of tires, hoods, and engines. However, there is a vast difference between a Jaguar and an Oldsmobile Achieva. They may feature the same basic ingredients, yet these are vastly different cars. This difference, no doubt, is driven (sorry, couldn’t resist) by how artfully the components are melded together and the audience that it seeks to serve.

There is another factor to the “don’t they sound alike” issue. Remember, the purpose of the brand is not to differentiate your institution from the other 3,600 colleges and universities in America. Rather, its purpose is to differentiate your institution from your competitors. It is OK for two schools to cite a commitment to the liberal arts as a central tenant of their brand strategy as long as these two schools do not compete with one another.

Finally, while it matters what you say, it matters a great deal more what you do. The real power of a brand promise rests in how well it is executed. Many, perhaps all, schools promise academic excellence, but how many truly deliver? How many truly “Wow!” their students?

A brand communication strategy will not provide a lasting point of differentiation. How that promise is used to drive strategy, will.

Are brands passé?

Some believe that brands are passé. Like a child that tires of a new toy, some marketers seek the next new thing rather than understanding the full value and potential of the thing in hand. The fact is, in today’s increasingly hectic marketplace, an effective brand has more utility than ever. I make this statement for the simple reason that the competition for students, donated dollars, and public and media attention, will become even more critical in the years ahead. A well-branded institution, in an era of contested resources, will be first at the table.

Why brands matter to people

It is clear that brands are of great value to the “seller.” What is sometimes less obvious, however, is that brands serve the “buyer” as well. For example, we know that brands:

  • Save time in decision-making
  • Provide clarity in the midst of marketplace confusion
  • Project a clear message
  • Provide an identity
  • Give permission
  • Instill confidence

Why brands matter to colleges and universities

Brands matter to institutions as well. Based on both empirical and anecdotal evidence, for example, we can make the case that strong brands attract:

  • The best students and faculty
  • More full- and fuller-pay students
  • More students who will persist
  • Talented administrators and staff
  • More media attention
  • More research dollars
  • Strategic partners including foundations and organizations supplying internships
  • Greater alumni support
  • More positive word-of-mouth
  • Greater loyalty among such external stakeholders as alumni and donors

Finally, strong brands require less direct marketing expenditures.

Indicators that you may have a brand problem

There are a number of indicators that your institution may have a brand problem. Some of them include:

You can’t describe in one sentence how you are different from your competitors

  • Tuition revenue is flat or declining
  • Your discount rate is increasing or is higher than the discount rate at key overlap schools
  • Prospective students and parents have undue price sensitivity
  • Your institution is increasingly seen as a commodity
  • First-year to second-year retention rate is below norms
  • Lesser quality competitors are gaining ground
  • The percent of key audiences who rate you “excellent” on important metrics is declining
  • The factors rated “important” by customers is inconsistent from your core values
  • Donors and foundations outside your immediate “community” do not respond to your overtures
  • Alumni involvement and giving is flat or declining
  • Job ads fail to attract best candidates
  • Pronounced negative word-of-mouth

What great brands do

Merging some comments and insights from Scott Bedbury, author of A Brand New World: Eight Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the Twenty-First Century and Alan Bergstrom of The Brand Consultancy, we discover that great brands accomplish a number of very important things:

  • Great brands are in it for the long haul. If you take a long-term approach, a great brand can travel worldwide, transcend cultural barriers, speak to multiple customer segments simultaneously, create economies of scale, and let you operate at the higher end of the positioning spectrum where you can earn solid margins over the long term.
  • A great brand knows itself. Anyone who wants to build a great brand first has to understand who they are. The real starting point is to go out to customers and find out what they like or dislike about the brand and what they associate as the very core of the brand concept. Now that’s a fairly conventional formula and it does have a risk. If you follow that approach all the way, you’ll end up with a narrowly focused brand. To keep a brand alive over the long haul, to keep it vital, you’ve got to do something new, something unexpected. It has to be related to the brand’s core position. But every once in a while you have to strike out in a new direction, surprise the buyer, add a new dimension to the brand, and reenergize it. Of course, the other side of the coin is true as well: A great brand that knows itself also uses that knowledge to decide what not to do.
  • A great brand invents or reinvents an entire category. The common ground that you find among brands like Disney, Apple, Nike, and Starbucks is that these companies made it an explicit goal to be the protagonists for each of their entire categories. Disney is the protagonist for family entertainment and family values. Not Touchstone Pictures, but Disney. Apple wasn’t just a protagonist for the computer revolution. Apple was a protagonist for the individual—anyone could be more productive, informed, and contemporary.
  • A great brand raises the bar. It adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it’s the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you’re drinking really matters.
  • Brands have a personality and a style, and are expressed through emotional attributes. The common ground among companies that have built great brands is not just performance. They recognize that customers live in an emotional world. Emotions drive most, if not all, of our decisions. A brand reaches out with that kind of powerful connecting experience. It’s an emotional connection point that transcends the product. And transcending the product is the brand.
  • A great brand is a story that’s never completely told. They are timeless. A brand is a metaphorical story that’s evolving all the time. This connects with something very deep—a fundamental human appreciation of mythology. People have always needed to make sense of things at a higher level. We all want to think that we’re a piece of something bigger than ourselves. Companies that manifest that sensibility in their employees and consumers invoke something very powerful.
  • A great brand is relevant. Brands are about meaningful and valued relationships with customers. They convey strong images and expectations. A lot of brands are trying to position themselves as “cool.” More often than not, brands that try to be cool fail. They’re trying to find a way to throw off the right cues—they know the current vernacular, they know the current music. But very quickly they find themselves in trouble. It’s dangerous if your only goal is to be cool. There’s not enough there to sustain a brand.
  • Brands are experienced by customers through many different encounters. Each represents an opportunity to influence and shape the overall brand image.
  • Brands are everybody’s business. They can be the glue that ties the organization together toward a common identity and purpose.
  • Brands rarely succeed when they try to be everything to everyone. Focus is everything.

What I believe about brands

At this point, I want to briefly mention my seven core beliefs about brands:

  • Strong brands are built on three sturdy legs: 1) current and comprehensive market research; 2) respect for your institution’s heritage; and 3) a clear and shared vision for its future.
  • A brand strategy will more likely involve the clarification of your institution’s current core values rather than the creation of new values.
  • The goal of a brand strategy is to establish and hold a position of perceived and real value in the minds of your most important internal and external audiences.
  • Brands return value to the institution. They have utility. They are less about art and more about commerce.
  • An effective brand strategy should engage, equip, and energize the campus community.
  • Strong brands generate excitement in the marketplace.

We will explore many of these themes in the chapters that follow.

Additional Information


Dr. Robert A. Sevier