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Why Repositioning Your Brand Is Like Pushing Water Uphill


Why Repositioning Your Brand Is Like Pushing Water Uphill

May 21, 2014By mStoner Staff

Corporations spend a tremendous amount of time and money on brand repositioning efforts. Many brand managers are unhappy with the brand they have, and want to upgrade to a better one. A bright, shiny brand that will make customers flock to them. So they embark on a brand repositioning project to become something different. I know. I’ve been through several.

And they usually fail.

Higher ed institutions, too, often yearn for a “better” brand.

For evidence, see this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education from September, 2012. The Chronicle analyzed “comparison groups” of 1,600 four-year colleges, based on the competitors each college submitted for tabulation in the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The typical college selected a comparison group of 16 colleges with a higher average SAT score and graduation rate than its own (lower) acceptance rate, and with larger endowments, budgets, and enrollments. (The article is fascinating in itself, and I encourage you to play with the interactive map, if you haven’t done so already.)

In other words: Most colleges want to be something better than they actually are.

But whether you’re a shampoo or a college, brand repositioning is extremely difficult. Why? Because you’re not starting with a blank slate. First, you have to erase the old positioning, undoing the brand that already exists in people’s minds. Then you have to embed the new one. It’s very costly and it takes a long time — longer than most institutional leaders (and trustees) have patience for.

My belief is that the easier way forward for most institutions is to stop wishing they were someone else and embrace what they are. My advice: know what your brand is, and be the best you can be at being that. (As the old saying goes, “You’ve gotta dance with the one that brung you.”) It’s a whole lot easier, and in the end, will have a much higher likelihood of success.

How do you do this? Four steps:

  1. Know what you are, as defined by your external audience. This involves market research. Ask people what they perceive as the strengths and weaknesses of your institution, and what words they associate with it.
  2. Evolve your brand. This means looking at your current brand perceptions, your mission, and a goal for where you want to be, which should be a slightly shinier version of what you already are. How do you know how much aspiration is right? You should read the brand positioning and be excited to be part of the institution. It should make you proud. But it should also feel familiar.
  3. Identify the gaps. Figure out what you need to do differently as an institution to close the gaps between your current brand and your aspirational brand.
  4. Tell your story. Find a simple, yet unique and compelling, way to communicate the brand positioning.

We all have dreams of being someone else. It seems like life would be so much simpler. But better to understand and own what you truly are.

Kick start your summer by learning more about these four steps in my June webinar. Details here: http://www.mstoner.com/services/brand-strategy/brand-strategy-webinars/


Higher education branding doesn’t have to be difficult. By understanding the unique dynamics — and the potential pitfalls that can arise – you can create a process that ensures that you get buy-in for a compelling brand positioning that will capture the unique story of your institution.

Want to learn more? We recently published a white paper that explores the specific challenges of higher education branding and gives you strategies for clearing the most common hurdles.