Data + Buy-in = Brand Success

people putting together puzzle pieces

Wasn’t it Jane Austen who wrote, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that securing internal buy-in for the brand process is essential to the brand’s ultimate success.” No? Well, she should have. At any rate, it makes all the sense in the world, but how do you actually do it? At the CASE’s Annual Conference on Marketing and Branding, EVP Alexia Koelling garnered insights from a panel of three experts: Marina Cooper, AVP of Integrated Marketing and Brand at Johns Hopkins University, Jeff McClellan, Director of Brand and Creative at BYU, and Gabriel Welsch, VP for Marketing and Communications at Duquesne University.

Five key takeaways from the session:

  1. Recruit allies. If you have a leadership council or committee you can tap into, they can lend credibility to the project. If not, you can create a new branding committee from diverse areas of campus, and they will be your ambassadors as you move through the process. And, you can encourage them to incorporate key talking points into their communications. Also, engage your biggest critics early and often. If you can win them over, they may be the brand project’s greatest supporters.
  2. Speak their language. If your community doesn’t understand—or is skeptical of—“branding,” use terms they do understand: identity, reputation, visibility, messaging, etc. If they can’t understand brand research, compare it a political poll to assess public opinion, or an awareness and perception survey.
  3. Use Data (do your homeworkresearch!). Research findings can provide an unbiased assessment of perceptions, and will validate or dispel internal opinion. The data will help create alignment on objectives of the branding project, and the problems you are trying to solve. And, it will likely uncover insights that can both guide brand development and make it more compelling to your internal audiences (this is why faculty must be one of the audiences you conduct research with). If you understand internal perceptions, you can then identify the perception gaps between internal and external audiences—leading you to frame the brand so it resonates.
  4. Sequencing matters. People can get passionate about logos or distracted by creative executions and photography. Establish a shared understanding with your internal community by sharing the data first. This can then be shaped into the messaging that should help everyone understand the brand. Save anything visual—“the fun part”—until you are sure you have agreement on the brand foundations. 
  5. Don’t forget the emotion. Data provides your building blocks, but you still need an emotional offer to move audiences—including faculty and leadership! To be successful, the brand must be based on (and supported by) data AND the authentic lived experience.

Lipman Hearne has led the way on higher education rebranding initiatives for over 30 years, working with scores of renowned institutions. If you would like more information about executing a successful branding initiative for your university, drop us a line at

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