The Marketing Equivalent of “What Ails?”

students learning at CU Denver

We’re big believers in brand workshops—getting communicators and other brand ambassadors together in a room (or on Zoom) and walking through the brand together. It’s a way to gain a deeper understanding of the brand and possibilities it offers that can’t be gleaned from reading the brand guide alone. Workshops build buy-in, taking the brand from something abstract (or the generic “they” did) to something that’s collectively understood, owned, and celebrated.

Our workshops have included everyone from marketing interns to deans and provosts—we’ve welcomed anyone who thinks of themselves as a communicator, whether it’s in their job description or not. While each person may have different responsibilities for implementing the brand, the shared hands-on experience of using the brand as a storytelling lens has proved . . . well, let’s say that there are a lot of “Aha!” moments. The stories that emerge from workshops are always eye-opening for people beyond the particular unit or department where the events originally unfolded. Participants leave our workshops not only more confident in building the brand, but with a renewed sense of their institution’s purpose and impact.

But when staffing isn’t robust, or people have very specific or urgent needs, we’ve taken an approach that supplements the brand workshop: We call it the Brand Clinic. And it works just like the proverbial “doc in the box”: we spend about an hour with one or two people—often it’s a program or initiative director and a communicator rather than a marketing person looking through representative items they’ve produced, and ask the marketing equivalent of “What ails?” Like the best clinical encounters in medical settings, this opportunity is for personal attention and intense focus on a problem.

Alexia Koelling and I recently held Brand Clinic hours at the University of Colorado Denver Business School—two one-and-one-half-day sessions over the course of the summer. We had already led one group brand workshop via Zoom, but based on where people were in the cycle of creating materials, and the difficulties in gathering all the essential people at one time, our client was looking for the kind of experience a brand clinic could provide.

In these brand clinics, we were able to pinpoint how and where the brand could be infused into communications and point to new possibilities for using the brand to highlight program offerings and raise the profile of the entire school. We realized, for example, that the business school’s entrepreneurial competition, The Climb, could become an important calling card for the entire enterprise, and that a study abroad program, generously funded by a donor, could become an important statement of a commitment to experiential equity in a school with a majority first-generation undergraduate population.

We uncovered gaps between the highly persuasive sales pitches program directors had been using at recruiting events and how the programs talked about themselves on the web or in print. And we helped program directors and communicators make maximum use of their audience’s “eyeball time”: we found a surfeit of information or content that was unnecessarily repetitive (especially around convenient location), a parity promise (“Be a leader!”) or highly transactional. Some smart pruning here and there made way for the emotional—and distinctive—language of the brand.

We were so happy to have Scott Dawson, business school dean, Malena Brohm, chief of staff, and Will Kubie, director of marketing strategy and analysis, sit in on almost every one of our clinical appointments. We know it was invaluable for program directors to get face time with school leadership, speak to marketing needs and obstacles, highlight innovative plans in the works, and feel empowered to be more assertive in promoting their programs. It was also valuable to the leadership to hear what is most important to each program director and the challenges of the staff.

“Now there’s no doubt that our new brand is the truth,” says Malena Brohm. “Now our community knows how to put it to work.”

Countdown to Giving Day

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Whether you plan to participate in Giving Tuesday or choose a different day in what’s left of the calendar year, …