Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A lesson learned?

Somewhere, in the midst of this public relations debacle, is a lesson. I'm still trying to sort out what it is.

1. Think, really think, before you click "send."
2. Test your brilliant idea with at least one other person before going public with it.
3. Don’t go to war with the Shockers. Don’t start no stuff, won’t be no stuff.
4. All of the above.

Read more here:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I beg your pardon, Goshen College

My alma mater, Goshen College, issued a news release yesterday that points to a classic misunderstanding about brand identity.  Here's an excerpt:
Goshen College Set To Rebrand Maple Leaf Athletics Logo
Tue, Mar 04, 2014 - [Leafs]

GOSHEN, Ind. - The Goshen College Athletics Department is excited to announce its plans to re-brand its Maple Leaf logo this Spring.
Known as the "Maple Leafs" since the late 1950's, Goshen will continue the tradition that comes with the moniker. Plans also call for the re-branding to stick with the traditional purple and white as primary color marks of the program.
A new brand identity, though, will be created to help better tell the story of Maple Leaf student-athletes. Additional goals include creating a system of logos which will provide options for multiple uses, more uniformly representing all athletic programs, modernizing the program's look, and increasing brand recognition for Goshen Athletics and the college as a whole.
Here's where Goshen College starts down the slippery slope of really not understanding branding: "The Goshen College Athletics Department is excited to announce its plans to re-brand its Maple Leaf logo..." Okay, some basics here. First, a logo is not a brand. Second, you don't "brand a logo," you introduce one.

GC continues: "Plans also call for the re-branding to stick with the traditional purple and white as primary color..." Really, what the college is trying to say is that they are sticking with the same colors currently used in their visual identity program.  Again, visual identity is not a brand.

But then, GC really shows they don't get it: "A new brand identity, though, will be created to help better tell the story of Maple Leaf student-athletes."  Every good marketer knows you don't "create" a brand identity. Brand identity is determined by your customers and constituents. The only thing you really control is consistency, and GC is at least trying to create a program that does that, although having "a system of logos which will provide options for multiple uses, more uniformly representing all athletic programs" will likely work against building a tight, consistent system. Further, if GC marketers think that a new logo will "better tell the story of Maple Leaf student-athletes," they've got another think coming.

What my beloved Goshen College should have said in their news release is that the college is excited to introduce a new logo for its athletics program that will further enhance the school's existing visual identity program.  After all, with a maple leaf for a mascot, you need all the good karma you can muster.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The land of giant egos

Like most internal marketing offices, my team is very focused on building and maintaining the organization's brand. From visual identity to written communication, customer service to elevator speeches, we know that when it comes to building a quality brand, the only thing any organization really controls is consistency.

For a lot of organizations, this means alignment from the CEO to management to staff. The trouble for higher education institutions, including mine, is that organizational hierarchy is typically flat. The president or chancellor only has so much power to affect work behavior, especially among tenured faculty who, except for (certain cases of) illegal or immoral activity, can pretty much do whatever they want to do. No one had better tell them otherwise. It's the land of giant egos.

My shop manages our university's website. We've done a great job of building a seamless user experience for our website users, even though our site involves hundreds of thousands of pages and more than 300 web administrators.  But there are always holdouts: departments that despite clear policies, best marketing practices and exhaustive usability testing, defy the organization and build their own website somewhere else. For whatever reason, they don't want to be part of the university's proven web experience and instead go their own direction: different format, different color scheme, different navigation system. We call it "going off the reservation."

Of course, people like this would never survive in a corporate setting, where most business people know that bottom-line results depend on expert marketing and strong brand reputation. But these rebels, more often than not, are tenured faculty who are simply exempt from being told what they can or cannot do. The system essentially allows their egos to drive their actions.

Over the past eight years I've dealt with a number of such cases that involve both website work and creation of other marketing material. Frequently, this has involved circular arguments with faculty who attempt to justify what they're doing. What I've learned is that despite the arguments, it all boils down to ego.

Here are the common reasons I hear for "going off the reservation" and what they really mean:
"We want a different aesthetic."
Translation: I don't like the university's visual standards and I think my own creative ideas are better than anything you alleged professionals have dreamed up.
"Our audience is unique."
Translation: The university's primary audiences (students, prospective students, donors, supporters) are unimportant to me and I actually have convinced myself that my part of the organization serves a unique group of people.
"We need more and stronger visuals on our website."
Translation: I refuse to come to training to learn how I can use the university's website system to create more and stronger visuals, so I'll just do it with WordPress.
"It's the nature of universities to allow expression of individual creative freedom."
Translation: I want what I want. I'm tenured. You can't stop me.
"Visual identity and web design standards stifle creativity."
Translation: I don't understand how brands work and I don't really care about the university. I care only about myself and my department.
"All university websites have varied approaches to layout, color and other visual elements."
Translation: I do not know bad marketing from good marketing, but if everybody is doing bad marketing, that must surely be good.
I wonder what the reaction would be if, instead of maintaining our own department of biology, let's say, the university decided instead to just purchase services from another university to train our biology students? We could just argue that, "Hey, we wanted a different aesthetic."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

News flash: One more trademark violation bites the dust

Anyone who manages a company's visual identity program will tell you, it's like playing a game of corporate whack-a-mole. Every time you settle one case of logo misuse, another two pop up.

I'm pleased to report that one such violator of the identity program I manage has decided to actually pay for their own image design, rather than steal one. (It didn't help that this particular violator happened to be a major financial donor to our athletic program!)

Here's my organization's logo:

Here's how the violator has been misusing it (on cows, no less!) for the last few years:

Thankfully, the ranch has developed a new sign and logo and no longer needs to steal, er, borrow, ours in order to sell their products.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Sad news on the brand marketing front

The Wichita higher ed marketing community is reeling over news about Butler County Community College.
In a bold move that reminds me of my early days in non-profit marketing, the college eliminated its brand marketing unit. My friend, Ryan Entz, who served as marketing director, had informed me some time ago that this was in the works, starting immediately after the departure of Butler's president.

While there are all sorts of issues surrounding this decision, one of the key ones was a struggle on that team's part to help administrators understand the connection of brand marketing work to bottom-line measures, like enrollment and revenue growth. There's a hard lesson in this for all of us who work in this craft: You've got to demonstrate bottom-line value! This is true for internal agencies, like the one I lead, just as it is for external ones.

Someday, a CEO, CFO or big client is going to ask, "How does what you're doing grow our business?" You'd better be ready at all times to answer that question.  Better, you should be demonstrating it constantly without being asked.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The reports of traditional media's death are greatly exaggerated

While many marketers are still fixated on the "bright, shiny object" that is social media and mobile technology, here comes yet another study that shows those old fashioned, clunky, traditional media remain very relevant. In research conducted by McKinsey and Company, it turns out that television, newspapers, magazines and radio win out over Web and mobile delivery channels when it comes to news consumption - big time.

Okay, everybody. Go back to being mesmerized by the bright, shiny object.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Getting beyond the USP

In an excellent article in Marketing News, professor Don Schultz cites economist Daniel Kahneman in questioning the relevance of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Shultz points out the USP concept – that successful advertising must be based on a single, specific advantage – has been drilled into marketers’ heads since the 1960s.

Kahneman, Schultz points out, introduced the idea that people normally don’t make rational purchase decisions. Instead, they base decisions on subconscious emotions and feelings, what Kahneman calls System 1 thinking. System 2 thinking – decision-making that is effortful, logical and conscious – comes into play less frequently than we might think. After all, it’s hard work.

Schultz argues that most marketers assume System 2 thinking when developing marketing and advertising strategies. We conduct research, search for the top three benefits consumers want, then shape our marketing to speak to those benefits, all the while missing the fact that for most consumers, they’re making gut-level decisions NOT based on perceived benefits.

Schultz observes that new media (read, Web and social media) are really System 2 delivery systems while traditional media are largely System 1 environments.  Schultz aptly asks, “How can the two modes of thinking be addressed in one integrated marketing strategy?”

What do you think?