Branding strategies are only as good as their execution. You might have the most effective and potentially high-impact strategy in the world. It will be worth nothing, however, if it is not championed and lived at every level of an organisation.

We might compare it with the tactics of a high-level sports side. The strategic vision of a top manager hinges on the adherence to its tenets by players. Even one weak link can deeply compromise the success of the whole.

In the university sector, this can be a pronounced challenge. Universities are complex and multivariate by definition.

Members of the academic community will be (quite rightly) pursuing their own agendas. As in many complex public sector organisations, administrative functions can be change averse. And the student body – making up by far the largest constituency at any given institution – is in a state of perpetual flux.

Bringing a strategic vision to bear in such an environment can be a challenge. So, how do we bring these disparate elements together, with a view to enacting your branding strategy? Each institution will be different, but broadly speaking, here are some ways in which we might start.

Consult with team members

A branding strategy that is drawn up in sterile isolation, then enforced top-down, is doomed to failure. From the beginning, key stakeholders must be involved: the academic community, administrators, and – yes – students and alumni. This way you will be able to understand what these key actors value, where they desire change, and to what they are opposed. Vision is important, but a solid brand is built from the bottom up.

Get the facts straight

In order to get the highly intelligent people that work at universities on side, you will need the weight of facts behind you. You must be able to substantiate choices you make around branding with empirical evidence. This can range from wider reading, to proprietary research, to the findings of external consultants. This will be crucial when it comes to bringing doubters on-board. If you can’t prove it, then maybe they have a point…

Be realistic

Branding goals must be realistic – particularly in relation to resource allocation. Ask recruitment staff to make the university more international without providing adequate resources to the international team, or seek to become the country’s leading biochemistry department without injecting research funding, and you’ll have a problem. Implausible goals will alienate your teams, potentially damaging their mental health. Better to set realistic targets, and build on areas of strength.

Make people feel heard

The ability to listen is key in keeping your people on side. We said above that the initial branding strategy must be a consultative process. This doesn’t end after the wheels have been put in motion. It’s important that doors remain clearly open, concerns are heard, and new ideas duly considered. If ideas or concerns are not acted upon, it needs to be clear why. Diktats imposed from the top will see work carried out only grudgingly.

Foster an entrepreneurial mindset

There’s more than one way to skin a cat – so the expression goes. The same applies to branding. You will perhaps have a firm idea of the brand you are aiming to build. Less fixed is how you might get there. It’s important to create space for different ideas to come to the fore (provided they’re rigorous), and for people to try different things. Fostering an entrepreneurial culture can be inspiring to staff members who might be jaded or suffocated by rigid old processes. It can help those previously restricted to functional roles become leaders. And it can help to displace the influence of change-averse holders of positions of authority. To effect this, it’s important that there is space to fail. This is absolutely central to the encouragement of entrepreneurship.

Build the right team

This relates somewhat to the above point. In executing a brand strategy, it’s essential to ensure the right people are in the right roles. When it comes to existing staff members, this can be an intricate balancing act. Those with the competence and belief to help put a strategy into place must be moved towards influential positions. This, however, must not become a purge of non-believers. Nothing will be more alienating and demotivating, even to those who profit from it. When it comes to hiring new people, perhaps things are a little simpler. Hiring visionaries with experience in what you’re trying to do can certainly help the cause. Where new functions are required, it will be a toss-up between training staff or hiring the necessary people.

Never lose sight of students

The role of students and alumni in executing a successful brand strategy is an interesting one. These are the people over whom we arguably have the least control. Yet out in the world, these will be by far your most influential – not to mention numerous – brand representatives. It’s crucial, then, at every step to consider how branding imperatives can be trickled down to those who will be using the name of the institution as theirpersonal brand. How you do this very much depends on the particulars of your brand strategy: the variants are endless. What we can safely say is, each of the above points is as relevant in relation to the student body as it is to your staff.

We can help bring your institution together in pursuit of branding goals – just get in touch!