In the early stages of building a brand, just about every institution we encounter has the same questions and concerns: How will we engage all constituent groups? How much more work will it be for the marketing team? Will it stick for the long-term?

Experience tells us that these concerns are most easily addressed at schools where team members share a collaborative spirit, are creative and open to a range of ideas, and bring good humor to the tasks at hand.

Collaborative Spirit

It tends to be obvious, even as early as the RFP stage, if a potential client institution is remotely collaborative. Those that are provide reasonable timelines for proposal submission and are open to questions at any point. Once the brand work is underway, they arrange early-on for we consultants to meet with people who represent every level of the institution. Meetings are well managed with opportunities for all to contribute. Notes are taken and made available to all in a shared workspace.

Creativity & Openness to Ideas

Effective brand development teams represent the best of a liberal arts education, bringing together writers, artists, social scientists, researchers, and others to sift through a mountain of input, interpret findings, and craft a set of tools for a school to use to build a library of compelling, brand stories. But none of this sticks if the people of the school aren’t willing to adopt new ideas, processes, and ways of thinking about how to communicate more effectively. Pro Tip: Ask five people outside of the marketing department if they can remember who was featured in the last issue of the alumni magazine. If they can’t, it’s a big hint that stories, as written thus far, aren’t strong enough.

Good Humor

Still, the going can get tough at times for the brand-building team that has to field questions from skeptical faculty, from loyal yet opinionated alumni, the board, and students eager to contribute in some way. This is where a positive attitude, empathy, and a sense of humor can go a long way.

My business partner is especially good at this. He can size up a room full of faculty, administrators, or alumni and find ways for them to appreciate aspects of the brand and get them to lend their input and support. He’s joked about braggadocious Lutherans, debated why being unusual is a positive trait, and caused a retired faculty member to express chagrin that by being retired, he couldn’t be part of the brand work. (We assured him that he did have a role to play and he, in turn, advocated for adoption of the brand by his departmental colleagues.)

Embarking upon a brand study requires a significant commitment of time and effort. So does maintaining a brand already in place. With the right team of partners — in and outside of the institution’s community — success happens.