The Brand Launch: Don’t Let It Sneak Up on You

When you were reading our newsletter last month, you may have been surprised to read that in our 2014 study with The Chronicle of Higher Education, almost a third of higher ed marketers said their institutions had not yet defined their brand strategies. If your institution is one of those still working on it, you know that the process is a significant undertaking. There’s a lot of educating, selling, and negotiating involved—and that’s just to get the RFP issued!

One aspect of brand development that often gets lost in the shuffle is the launch itself. You’re so busy conducting research, synthesizing data into strategy, and managing the naysayers (did we just say that?), you forget to plan for the day when it’s time to introduce the new brand to the world. If you’re just starting out, it may seem far off; but trust us, the brand launch will sneak up on you. To avoid an all-nighter hanging banners on the quad the day before your launch, here are a few tips we’ve learned over the years for planning a smooth and stress-free brand launch.

  1. Start early. Really early. Like when you’re writing the RFP. (Yes, we’re serious.) For all of the effort that goes into brand development, you’re going to want to make sure you have sufficient funding secured to produce a launch that will have an impact. We don’t necessarily mean hot-air balloons and a Blue Angels flyover (though those would be pretty awesome); we’re talking more about enough saturation to actually move the needle when you measure before-and-after awareness. You’ll want to cover multiple audiences, both internal and external, and provide reinforcement over a period of time. And if your institution is like most, budget approval doesn’t happen overnight. So while you’re waiting for the RFP responses to start flowing in, start sketching out your brand launch Plan A (who you need to convince to approve additional funding), Plan B (where you might be able to reallocate existing funds), and Plan C (how to get by with volunteer labor and owned media)—or most likely, a combination of all three—so that you won’t be scrambling for resources or watering down your plan when it’s time to go live.
  2. Assess your internal capabilities. It may be an understatement to say that many college and university marketing and communications staffs are severely pressed for time and resources. The introduction of a high-profile brand, especially one developed by an outside firm, has the potential to either really invigorate or really frustrate your staff. To help make it the former, first, involve your writers and designers with your consulting partner’s creative team early and often so they can establish ownership of the brand. Second, build in supports to help ease the transition, such as moving lower-profile activities to the back burner during the initial launch period and contracting with your consulting partner to develop a set of core brand elements—say, your brand website, guidelines, video, and campus environmentals—that can serve as working models for your writers and designers. You may even want to include a “maintenance” agreement that gives them access to your partner’s creative team for a certain period of time to provide hands-on consulting on real projects.
  3. Assemble your extended brand launch ground team. It really does take a village to launch a brand—especially if you’re envisioning a high-energy launch that the campus community will not only see all around them but also engage with. We’ve worked with schools that had cheerleaders unfurling a brand banner at Homecoming, a president tweeting out photos from an all faculty/staff brand launch breakfast, and students plastering the campus with temporary sidewalk tattoos and posing for pictures in brand photo booths. From the day you hold your first campus focus group, start identifying the folks in admissions, athletics, and student government who will be your feet on the ground for the launch and the brand’s front-line ambassadors as it makes its way out into the world.
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