Digital maturity needs brand coherence

By Max du Bois of brand design experts, Spencer du Bois

In last months article we talked about universities having the courage to hand over the reins by using digital to converse rather than broadcast. Shifting away from siloed executions of a particular platform and focusing instead on involving and gathering insight, spells out true digital maturity. 

Yet going from chaos to coherence to achieve a new identity will only be effective if we match who the university is with what it is trying to achieve in the world. 

If a brand is used in a dogmatically dominant way any opportunity to extend a universitys reach and relevance will be stifled as it fails to appeal to its audiences in the right way. University Schools and Faculties tend to provide the vital touch point that academics as well as under and post graduates buy into. Yet their magic is often missing in any meaningful way. 

Imperial College Business School asserted its position ‘driving business advances through the fusion of business and technology’. In so doing they carved out a differentiating space both in the market and one that gave the School it’s own distinct identity within the Imperial College brand, one ‘forged from Imperials steel. This helped draw on and amplify the relevance and value of both the school and parent institution. 

Conversely if a university is awash with random sub brands the overall result will sap the core brands power and dilute its impact. There is always the need to give a core brand the collective strength of all its activities and focus the essence of its identity in the right way to support each individual activity.

If a university is awash with random sub brands the overall result will sap the core brands power and dilute its impact

An example of this that sits close to the university sectors heart is NUS. NUS ensures students thrive, through its lobbying, its campaigns, its social activities and through its personal support services for individual students. Over the years, with so much to offer and with so much going on, the core NUS brand got lost. And with it, the understanding of the value NUS brought to every aspect of a students life and its collective power to represent the student movement.

Mending this fragmented identity required taking a step back to redefine what NUS was out to achieve. This exercise required asking some searching questions, such as whether the whole portfolio was greater than the sum of its parts and whether their current branding provided clarity and relevance to its audiences. Did it provide a sense of order, purpose and direction to the organisation as a whole?

In the case of NUS their current identity suggested ad hoc decision making that was leading to strategic drift and an incoherent brand. Now, three years on, the new NUS brand architecture has created coherence out of what was once chaos. Clear brand links draw together the most diverse activities, providing straightforward signposting or space to shine, according to each specific need. It took the logic of a good audience, focused brand positioning, good cases for support and product propositions meshed with the vision to see how they can all work together, to bring it all to life.

According to Toni Pearce, NUS President, their new identity has made a massive difference to the way NUS is now viewed by their audiences (Facebook engagement up 90% and 640,000 NUS Extra cards sold in the first year).

As they shifted from an ill-defined, incoherent, invisible and ineffective brand  to re-establish themselves as a student welfare organisation that truly champions students, the internal changes were just as impactful. 

The lessons learnt from NUS are particularly relevant to universities. By regularly asking themselves and their audiences what their core brand gives to all their activities, how it can gain from the activities to how these activities relate to each other, they can define their true identity. An identity as unique and tailor-made as the organisation itself.

W: spencerdubois.co.uk