The product – the forgotten dimension of University branding

I have been involved with many conversations about branding with different Universities, most of which revolve around Institutional values and mission and brand architecture/sub-brands. Where the “product” is mentioned, it tends to be at a faculty or course level in a recruitment context rather than as an integral part of the University brand offering – why are we here, what do we offer and why do we offer it?
Kotler’s model of the dimensions of the product is well known and consists of:
Core Benefit – This is the basic level that represents the heart of the product. Here, the focus is on the purpose for which the product is intended. It answers the question ‘What is the buyer really buying?
Tangible Product – The tangible product is the physical product or service offered to consumers. This represents all the characteristics of the product like quality, features, design, brand name, packaging, etc.
Expected Product – Following on from the tangible product, this is a set of attributes and conditions buyers would normally expect when purchasing the product.
Augmented Product – These are additional customer services and benefits such as warranty’s etc. and are very important for a firm operating in a competitive market.
Potential product – finally, this represents how the product could evolve in response to technological changes or changing consumer requirements.
Looking at Universities with this model in mind can help illuminate the nature of the product they offer and how it should underpin any discussions about brand and positioning.
For instance, up until the 1992 education act which transformed the former polytechnics into “New” Universities, Kotler’s model as applied to a University would have said:
The core benefit was about getting a degree as a marker of having achieved a certain level of education, but without necessarily having an expectation or link to getting a specific job (outside areas such as medicine or the Law)
The tangible product was therefore a teaching and learning process leading to a certificate of having achieved that degree, along with the grade achieved. At a time when only about 10% of the population went to University, this was enough to take graduates into good positions with large companies via the so called “milk-round”
The expected product was all about teaching and learning and the facilities to do so. There was relatively little expectation about career content or skills development.
In terms of augmented product, Universities attempted to enhance their offer through sports and learning facilities, access to distinguished academics and networks of alumni.
Finally, the potential product took into account changes to technology in terms of teaching and research, but did not anticipate fundamental changes to the academic model i.e. a three year degree and a follow-on post-graduate qualification.
In this environment “brand” related to Institutional reputation as a whole – a “degree from Oxford” or whatever – was as important as reputation for a specific area of study.
This product model has fundamentally changed over the last 15 years under the impact of fees and needs to be explored within the context of developing an institutional brand strategy.
If we look at Kotler again:
Core benefit – not only about getting a degree as a marker of having achieved a certain level of education, but now also expectations around the degree leading to a specific job or employment opportunities. This has changed the dynamic around what a degree (and therefore the University) is for – it’s about employability
Tangible product – similarly, the tangible product is still about a teaching and learning process leading to a certificate of having achieved a degree, but now also includes a requirement for employer contact, some kind of work experience, and projects
Expected product – Now includes not only Teaching and learning facilities, but work experience built into the course, and academics with experience of industry etc. and links to major employers
Augmented product – under the impact of fees, Universities are looking at ways to augment the product with facilities, new buildings, improved accommodation and also the opportunity to work with employers
Finally, in terms of the potential product, there are discussions about virtual learning, shorter degree courses, degree apprenticeships etc. but the fundamental product has not really changed and is very robust.
What does all this tell us?
It is clear that aspects of the expected and augmented product have moved into the core product. It is not just about the degree but also the need to include work experience, connections to employers and degree courses which meet their needs along with those of the student.
It also brings into question who is the customer for University degrees? There are a number of stakeholders including students who are paying for the product, organisations who are employing graduates and government who are focusing on the skills agenda.
Indeed, the “product” of today’s Universities could be said to be employable graduates, not the degree course per se.
The key issue is that the dynamic of Higher Education has changed such that Universities are now seen as engines of economic development, growth and employability. In many ways, we have gone “back to the future” where Universities are being encouraged by the market and government to adopt a model not dissimilar form the polytechnics i.e. practical degrees and supporting skills and employer engagement leading to graduates well-equipped to enter the world of work.
The post-92 Universities have a remarkable consistency with that vision and they need to recognise that heritage and strength.
Given the potential product now has to include economic, wealth and societal benefits as well as academic achievement, it is clear the delivery of Higher Education has to adapt. The three year degree and post-graduate qualification has been very resilient and resistant to change.
But the future product must take account of employer needs and involvement in content; shorter more focused degrees; virtual learning and the role of technology; a real commitment to degree apprenticeships and different modes of study including sandwich courses.
Should we be talking about 21st century polytechnics?

5 step brand strategy template

“Brands exist because they make choice easier, more certain and more rewarding.”

Naomi Klein No Logo

 A brand is the most important asset to any company. A good brand strategy template not only articulates what the company offers and allows clear and consistent messages, it also acts as a rallying point for staff and improves engagement.

The best definition I have seen of a brand  is:

A brand is far more than a logo – it is a promise kept.

Any successful branding process will take a “deep dive” into the organisation and ask some searching questions about what it is and what it does.

There are many different models for developing a brand strategy – my preference is to structure it around the following topics and questions:

Brand Vision

What type of organisation do we want to be? What are we in business for? This is perhaps the most difficult part of the process and is about the “Why”

Why should customers want to engage with you?

In today’s market place, some of the most successful companies are those with a clear value proposition, a raison d’etre. Whether it is Apple with its core values of we want to think differently, challenge convention and work for consumers or Nike everyone can be a hero and achieve their goals, offering customers the  “why” is the most powerful part of your brand strategy

Brand Values

It’s about how we behave and what we hold dear

This is important both to your customers and staff: following on from your vision, the values reflect how you will do things and the way the organisation (and staff) responds to customers.

To go back to the Nike example, their values are about exercise being fun and about everyone reaching their potential or Apple thinking differently and challenging convention.

Virgin values are about fun, Value for Money, challenging convention

So what are the core values in the business which will help deliver your vision?

Brand Positioning

At this stage, we are looking at how we would like customers to feel about us and how can we benefit them. So the next step is to articulate the brand in two parts – brand essence and proposition.

The brand essence takes all the work done so far and articulates in a few words the core of who you are and how you benefit customers.

Think of Nike “everyone can be a hero and achieve their goals” or Virgin “challenge perception”.

This leads to a proposition which is the offer you are making to customers. Think of it as the corner of their mind you want to occupy. When they think of your brand, what immediately comes to mind?

Nike’s proposition is “if you have a body, you’re an athlete”

Virgin’s Proposition is “Don’t just play the game, change it for good”

These simple statements can be given to communications agencies to develop powerful brand messages. Tesco’s proposition “no one tries harder for their customers” led to the incredibly successful “Every little helps”

Brand Strengths

What are the strengths the brand has or will need to deliver the vision?

Here we need to carry out SWOT analysis, look at customer perceptions, carry out competitor audits and examine our operations.

Are we in a position to deliver the brand and the promise we have articulated? What do we need to change or improve in order to do so?

Brand Personality

Only after we have done the previous steps can we turn our attention to the visible brand identity – the feel, tone of voice and corporate identity.

The brand personality concerns the overall image of a business in the minds of its stakeholders and has three  components: Design (logos, colours); Communication (advertising, Public Relations) and behaviours (Personality, Values, Mission )

These need to be based on the proposition and values and presented coherently and consistently.

To sum it all up, I have a simple formula which is credibility+visibility= profitability.

This is the essence of a good brand strategy.

Good luck!

SPQR

spqr_502I had just finished reading Mary Beard’s excellent history of Rome – SPQR – when I went to a workshop recently about making presentations.

There was a certain amount of synchronicity, therefore, when we were given an acronym to remember for structuring a presentation where you want support for a proposal, which was SPQR!

Making such a presentation starts with a story, a situation, which you want your audience to understand and support your conclusions.

SPQR helps structure that story as follows:

S – Situation. What is the back ground leading up to the presentation, Where are we and why?

P – Problem. What is the problem we need to address? What are the wider issues around the problem?

Q – Question. What is the proposal you want to make? Use “what if…?” Get the audience to think about solutions.

R – Response. What do you need from the audience? How will it help the situation?

Stories are a powerful way of getting your message across, so it’s important to get the balance right between information and narrative.

And, like all good stories, there needs to be a beginning, middle and an end with a narrative flow to take people with you.

In ancient Rome, SPQR stood for Senatus Populusque Romanus, which translates to “The Senate and People of Rome”.

Some of the best orators ever known appeared in the Roman senate, and its fun to think of their motto being applied in this modern context.

Rudyard Kipling and the art of marketing

Kiplingcropped

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest

The Elephant’s Child – just so stories

Kipling’s poem has been used as a basis for structuring writing projects and by journalists, but it also has much to tell us about the ancient art of common sense marketing.

Marketing is becoming more and more detailed and technically sophisticated, particularly as social media and other internet tools enable us to get closer to customers and amass a welter of detail about them and the impact of our marketing activities.

The ancient art of common sense marketing reminds us that – whatever the complexities of our market or the technical sophistication of our marketing tools – six simple strategic questions should underpin our thinking:

Who are we talking to?

Who is our customer? What do we know about them? What are their motivations and behaviours? How is the market segmented?

What are we trying to say?

What is our USP/proposition? How is it supported? What’s the benefit?

Why should they believe us?

What are competitors offering? How do we compare? What evidence do we have to support our product or service features?

How do we reach them?

Where do they get their information? What are the routes to market? What media do they consume and who do they turn to for advice?

Where do we engage with them?

What are the touch points? How does our customer service support the brand? How well trained are our staff?

When are they in the market?

What is the customer journey and the decision making cycle? What prompts the decision to buy and what are the criteria?

And so the six honest men continue to be the basis of our thinking as we go below the surface into increasing levels of sophistication, always seeking to answer who, what, when, why, how and where.

If we can do that we will get better targeted, more integrated, more effective marketing across all our platforms.

Kipling had it right.