Jun 23, 2011

From Values to Vision: Building a Brand from the Inside Out

Everyone is talking about building a brand, but how do you do it?  Is this simply a creative exercise?  Or, is it more about finding a niche that no school occupies? Could it be about developing a set of program offerings that demonstrate potential demand in the future?  Maybe it is about adjusting pricing strategies to claim a unique position in a competitive landscape. 

Or, just maybe, creating a brand is an art that is really misunderstood.           

Branding is not just about creating clever taglines or slogans, though they sure are necessary to live out a great brand.  Creating an effective brand is not just about finding a specific niche in the marketplace, though all schools would be well served to identify and exploit the intersection between their natural strengths and market opportunity.  And, for certain, creating a great brand is not about chasing the latest, greatest opportunities in the marketplace which an institution really is not equipped to pull-off.

No, creating a great brand means setting a vision for the future derived from the real truth – the essence – of an institution.  Call it a novel idea, but we think that brand-building starts with a sizeable understanding of the real attributes and lifeblood of an institution.  So, when we talk about building a brand that matters, we really mean creating an identity out of core values and building an institutional vision around them.

We have worked with literally scores of schools in developing a brand out of a core values process.  Two schools – The College of Idaho and Carolina Day School – are among these schools exciting brand-building projects we have completed using this process.  With each of these learning communities, we promoted a highly transparent core values process, ensuring that the voices of internal and external constituencies not only got heard, but contributed mightily.  And, we asked the tough questions and forced the clients to really reckon with their deepest truths.  Finally, we distilled what we heard, finding the cross-constituency themes that were the truest essence of their respective institutions.  

Among the greatest benefits to clients of core values work is the opportunity to learn and clarify that which is the real essence of a school.  For both The College of Idaho and Carolina Day School, these values did not represent just the foundation for a brand, but a foundation for an operating culture of an institution into the future.  Both institutions now had become well-versed on who they were and where they were going.  A combination of values and vision shared from all constituencies is a powerful start to building a brand.

But, that’s just the foundation to brand development.  We then needed to see if these values were on the right path with core audiences.  So, we tested them and good news emerged – in both cases, the audiences loved them.  We also had to see how these values might position the institution into the future, given the projected demands in the marketplace.  Our research component allowed us to test these values against future trends and competitors.  In both cases, we found we were on the right track. 

Finally, the time had come to add the creative juice to the mix.  Robert Rytter and Associates went to work, creating a communication program for each school that not only grabbed the spotlight, but spoke to the essence of culture of the institution.  We blended into the discovered and distilled values and themes effective positioning statements, creative key messages, and a powerful graphics program that spoke directly to the values of an institution. 

Creating a brand is so much more than creating institutional propaganda to disseminate to audiences – it has to be true and add value not just to the marketing efforts of an institution, but to the operating culture of the school and the vision for the future.  And, in our minds, it relies on core values to set the tone.  Leading our clients through a core values process helped unearth both the essence and vision of these institutions, which created a platform for creative communications and message development.  And, equally important, it helped link the values and vision of the institution to internal audiences so that everyone is on the same page. 

That’s building a brand from the inside out.