Political Brands: Can Parties Be Distinguished by their Online Brand Personality?

This paper was in response to a call for greater exploratory research into brand personality in politics and a collaboration with Fiona Lettice and Chris Hanretty. The paper uses Aaker’s model of brand personality along with multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) to plot the relative personalities of five UK political parties.

Rutter, R.N., C. Hanretty, and F. Lettice, Political Brands: Can Parties Be Distinguished by Their Online Brand Personality? Journal of Political Marketing, 2015: p. 1-20.

Download PDF

 Introduction – The UK political structure has expanded from what was once a two-horse race into a complex multi-party system. This is evidenced by the election of a coalition government in 2010 and the seven-party representation in recent pre-election debates. There have been, however, some suggestions that the electorate have little choice due to the homogeneous nature of a number of the parties. This raises the question of whether there is sufficient differentiation between parties and their policies, leading to increased attention paid towards the ‘brand images’ of the main five parties: Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, the Green Party and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

faces

Online presence – Parties represent themselves through a variety of media, including television and radio, advertising hoardings, newspapers and personal appearances, such as hustings; all of these contribute to the overall impression that is formed. However, when people are looking for a summary of a party’s position on a particular issue, they are likely to turn to the internet, reading both online articles and the contents of the parties’ websites. It is from the five main party websites that this research was able to glean a large amount of analysable data, which could be used to analyse the brand personality each appeared to present.

Spatial politics: Brand characteristics – Although branding usually refers to a commercial product, the same principles have been applied to the presentation of political parties. The research utilised Aaker’s model of brand personality and five dimensions were analysed: competence, excitement, ruggedness, sincerity and sophistication. Using a system of categorising words and phrases that relate to these dimensions, known as Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, it was then possible to perform a statistical analysis of the frequency of key words and, consequently, determine the dominant characteristics of each party. The findings showed that: competence and sincerity were considered primary dimensions, and sophistication, ruggedness and excitement took a secondary role.

map

The brand ‘personalities’ of the parties – Using the method described, a clear picture emerged of the characteristics demonstrated through the online presentations of each party, as well as how strongly each characteristic was represented.

  • The Conservative Party demonstrated competence very strongly, through use of such words as ‘responsible’ and ‘guarantee’, particularly in relation to economics. The frequency of words such as ‘rigorous’ and ‘tough’, on the one hand and ‘charismatic’ and ‘distinguished’ on the other, show a balance between ruggedness and sophistication.
  • Labour showed a bias towards ruggedness and competence, although the latter was less clearly defined than the Conservative position. Their perceived level of ruggedness reflects a position more strongly espoused by the party after losing ground in the areas of sincerity and sophistication due to the electorate’s adverse reaction to decisions made by the Blair government.
  • Having strongly communicated excitement and sophistication during their 2010 election campaign, the Liberal Democrats have been reduced to demonstrating weak residues of competence and sophistication. They are now unable to convince the public of their sincerity after failing to keep some prominent pre-election promises.
  • Relative newcomers, UKIP, have the strongest brand differentiation of the five main parties, positioned in a unique space in comparison to the other four. They communicate a moderate air of excitement and, through their use of words including ‘realistic’ and ‘heartfelt’, a much stronger sense of sincerity.
  • Of the five parties that operate throughout the United Kingdom, only the Green Party is failing to distinguish itself sufficiently from the others. Its data set shares space with both the Conservative and Labour parties, although it is generally considered to be more closely related to Labour. Unsurprisingly, since its chief area of concern is the environment, the Green Party most strongly communicates ruggedness, but fails to do the same for sincerity or sophistication.

In summary, the study showed that the online brand personalities of four of the five main parties are clearly differentiated, with just the Green Party failing to achieve a unique position. With the results of the 2015 general election now a matter of record, it is entirely possible that those responsible for projecting the images of the parties will turn more heavily towards commercial branding practices.

Incoming search terms:

  • brand personality excitement example
  • competence brand personality example
  • excitement brand personality examples
  • Political Brands: Can Parties be Distinguished by their Online Brand Personality?
  • Sincerity brand example

Bitcoin, Brands and Brand Positioning

Bitcoin started out as a fringe movement among crypto-anarchists in the open-source community, but has rapidly gained acceptance as a legitimate alternative to fiat money as it pertains to digital transactions. Accordingly, the volume and value of mined Bitcoin has seen exponential growth since this crypto-currency was first launched in 2009. As per available data, nearly 13.28 million Bitcoins have been mined so far [1]. Meanwhile, the value of a single Bitcoin has increased from £4.25 in July 2012 to a high of £753 in November 2013 – an increase of roughly 17600% [2].

Bitcoin was originally developed as a fast, safe and cost-effective currency for digital transactions. Consequently, its earlier adopters were tech-forward users in the open-source community. Despite its growing clout in the mainstream, Bitcoin’s most aggressive proponents remain largely entrenched in this community.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that brand Bitcoin, as it exists today, has come to be associated with words like “underground”, “alternative”, and even “anarchic”. This lends it considerable weight as a branding tool for certain businesses. For others, the negative connotations of Bitcoin, along with its proliferation through underground marketplaces, can be largely detrimental to the business’ brand image. Adopting and accepting Bitcoin through online channels, therefore, is something a brand must consider carefully before making a decision.

Bitcoin as the “maverick”

virgin-bitcoin

There are some obvious business arguments in favour of using Bitcoin, namely, the low transaction costs associated with the currency, emphasis on privacy, storage of coins in digital wallets, and speed of transactions. This has made the currency especially useful for digital-only transactions (i.e. purchasing digital products) where user privacy is important. For example, the popular website Reddit, which emphasises anonymity, accepts Bitcoin as a transactional medium largely because of its privacy features (Reddit’s community is also tech-oriented, which helps in higher adoption). Since Bitcoin is also decentralised and unregulated, it has earned the image of being a “pro-internet freedom” currency.

Integrating Bitcoin gives a brand the added advantage of aligning itself with Bitcoin’s brand associations. As noted earlier, Bitcoin has come to be associated with the “alternative”. In some ways, this is not dissimilar to the debate between open-source and closed-source software in the 1990’s, when some brands adopted open-source solutions such as Linux to position themselves as the “mavericks” who care about “community” and “digital freedom”.

Consider the example of the popular domain registrar, Namecheap. Namecheap has consistently positioned itself as the alternative to the more mainstream registrars (chiefly, Enom.com and GoDaddy.com). To this effect, it has aligned itself with pro-internet movements such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal fight against the SOPA (“Stop Online Piracy Act”) in the United States in 2011 [3]. Namecheap later started accepting Bitcoin in 2013, noting in its release statement that the company considers itself the “pioneers in the space of innovation and online freedom” [4].

Bitcoin-Brands

In fact, the top websites that accept Bitcoins is almost entirely composed of brands that identify themselves as the “alternative” [5]. This includes Virgin Galaxy (space flights), OkCupid (the free alternative to Match.com), PirateBay.org (free, pirate alternative to file sharing), WordPress.com (free alternative to paid Content Management Systems), Reddit.com (alternative to Digg), Mega.com (alternative, restriction-free file sharing), and Overstock.com (online-only alternative retailer).

When a business adopts Bitcoin, it is signalling to its users that it is a “maverick” that cares about issues such as internet-freedom, user privacy and being tech-forward. Brands that self-identify with these qualities would benefit the most from adopting Bitcoin – at least in the form that it exists today.

… Bitcoin as the “criminal”

website-seized

However, the privacy and anonymity of Bitcoin has also made it the favoured transaction medium in underground marketplaces known for trading illegal drugs and contraband. The volume of this trade is immense, although given the secretive nature of these marketplaces, the exact figure is hard to ascertain. By one estimate, roughly half of all Bitcoin transactions are to buy drugs online [6].

The large volume of these transactions, coupled with the recent closure of Silk Road [7] (the largest underground marketplace) and massive security breaches at popular exchanges like Mt. Gox [8] have affected Bitcoin’s image in the mainstream. Besides “alternative”, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that some have also started associating words like “illegal”, “scam” and “unsafe” with the currency (howsoever factually untrue it may be) [9]. Naturally, this association rubs off on brands who choose to adopt the currency. For mainstream brands that don’t have tech-forward audiences that understand Bitcoin, this may even backfire.

The keyword, thus, is “alternative”.

Given the current state of Bitcoin, every brand should make careful considerations before aligning itself with the currency. While on the one hand, it can amplify the “maverick” image of a brand that identifies itself as tech-forward, pro-internet freedom and “alternative”, it can also harm the image of a brand with customers who don’t fully understand Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.

Further Reading

[1] https://blockchain.info/charts/total-bitcoins?timespan=1year&showDataPoints=false&daysAverageString=1&show_header=true&scale=0&address=

[2] http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2013/11/29/bitcoin-hits-record-1242-as-it-nears-value-of-ounce-of-gold/

[3] http://venturebeat.com/2011/12/27/namecheap-offers-discount-for-domain-transfers/

[4] https://www.namecheap.com/support/payment/bitcoin.aspx

[5] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonmatonis/2013/05/24/top-10-bitcoin-merchant-sites/

[6] http://lsvp.com/2013/08/15/about-half-a-percent-of-bitcoin-transactions-are-to-buy-drugs/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/silk-road-closed/

[8] http://www.wired.com/2014/03/bitcoin-exchange/

[9] http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-bitcoin-a-scam

Incoming search terms:

  • brand bitcoin
  • utter branding
  • virgin accepts bitcoins
  • www mainstreamregistrars com
  • \*@lsvp com\

University Brands: The Importance of MOOCs

Whether we accept it or not, all of us are in the business of information these days. From the coffee shop to the fashion boutique to the largest of multinational brands, it cannot have escaped many people’s attention that both prominence and profile are the fundamental marketing objectives of our time. And, as the points of contact between the organisation and the consumer continue to proliferate horizontally, rather than hierarchically, it is the shared experience and the common interest which will always dominate the marketplace of this newly levelled playing field.

But how does our current information revolution relate to the spheres of higher education and to the brand identities that many institutions have carefully cultivated for themselves over the years? Will distance learning across the web ultimately prove itself to be an evolutionary leap in how we approach the sharing of knowledge and our understanding of how it is taught? And is the online model a financially viable one: that will generate not only sufficient revenues to sustain itself, but to also attract the leading institutes and the brightest students into participating? These are the key challenges facing the first generation of massive open online courses (“MOOCs”), as we see them today.

moocs-future

There is something of a strange irony when considering the length of time it has taken for the first massive open online courses to find their way into the public domain. Because the technology of the internet was originally developed with the specific purpose of allowing academic bodies to communicate and to share knowledge across the globe. It is a particularly harsh reality then that the vast majority of learning institutions have, until now, proven themselves as slow to adapt to, or to even recognise, the central role that the online world will play in the future of education.

From a technical standpoint, there is no reason why this should be the case. Both text documents and streaming media content are amongst the most basic of web content to manage. So the slow exploration of the digital realm by academia is more likely a result of factors beyond either the technical or the logistical. Instead, it should be assumed that the most frequently aired doubts raised about MOOCs by higher education institutions (“HEIs”) – those of financing, and a perceived undermining of reputations – have been the primary deterrents up until this point.

empty-lecture-theatre

In this regard, HEIs have positioned themselves alongside the corporate media, which has been equally slow in finding new ways to exploit the online environment as a method of securing global audiences. Both media and academia fear a loss of income that this may entail, but history has taught us that we cannot shout at the waves of change. Only this week, the writer and social commentator Will Self wrote of the “irrevocable severing” of media and information from an assured revenue stream. MOOCs are the way that institutions will remain active and responsive to the demands of an online, global marketplace for learning.

In this regard, the success of MOOCs will be a self-realising one. The institutions which break new ground online will achieve a greater global prominence for their brand, and as their popularity inevitably grows with a broader uptake of courses, so too will it attract the previously sceptical competitors into the market. With this added degree of competition, the quality of the MOOCs on offer will, in turn, reach new heights, and so the prestige of offering a respected MOOC will feed back to the institution itself. As with any form of online social media, success is governed by participation.

mooc-word-cloud

This is not to suggest that institutions will immediately offer a full degree through the MOOC platform, but insight and background into the subject, which will capture the imagination and whet the appetites of new students. Indeed, there are many benefits from creating an identity for MOOCs which is distinct from on-campus learning. In the USA, for instance, Ivy League universities such as Stanford provide online students with a Statement of Accomplishment carrying the Stanford brand, but not certificates or course credits. Far from being a limitation of the MOOC system, it is just such an innovative approach that benefits every party, from the student, to the HEI, to the MOOC platform itself. A Statement of Accomplishment will be an invaluable addition to any student’s CV. To the institution, it will make their brand a prominent and highly recognised one and – most importantly of all – one that is increasingly in demand.

The first MOOCs are about to go live in the UK and, tellingly, the most notable participants are those institutions which are well known for championing innovation over tradition. The University of Southampton offers students from across the globe the opportunity to learn “How the Web is Changing the World”, whilst the University of East Anglia will investigate “The Secret Power of Brands” in partnership with brand agency Wolff Olins, cementing its reputation as a world leading institution for brand leadership studies. If any one course is emblematic of the entire MOOC experience, it is this.

university-brands-online-learning

So, can universities turn a lively, open and online learning experience into a viable and self-sustaining revenue stream: one which attracts the brightest and best students in high numbers? It is still early days in the MOOC life cycle, but anecdotal evidence from across the globe is positive. In Asia, where online learning is an established part of education, individual tutors are already earning substantial fortunes by making their courses available across the web for a small fee which is still a tiny fraction of the cost for on-campus education. At this preliminary stage, it would be damaging to promote the inclusion of paywalled course content for domestic MOOCs. But their popularity would suggest that the concept of online learning is attractive to the general public and that it is, indeed, a growth market.

We are still very much at the dawning of this social media age. Although there are lessons to be learned from the early pioneers of our new digital frontier, it would be naïve to presume that we have already seen the high water mark of this new approach to the sharing of information and marketing strategy. As the online environment evolves, every organisation – from the corporate to the academic – will need to respond and reposition itself to maximise the full potential of its own brand.

Further Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303759604579093400834738972.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-23069542

http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2012080915084470

http://elitedaily.com/news/business/english-teacher-makes-4-million-per-year-in-south-korea-yes-you-read-that-correctly/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/09/hatchet-job-mark-kermode-review

Incoming search terms:

  • crowd cheering
  • images of crowds cheering
  • cheering crowd
  • full form of imagination
  • us university logos
  • crowd of people cheering
  • lots of people cheering
  • photos of cheering crowds
  • american universities logos
  • people respond to branding in mooc

University Brand Experience

The academic and practitioner literature which surrounds branding would seem exhaustively to have discussed all of the possible ways in which the brand experience can be crafted within businesses. In contrast, however, the literature on the ways in which higher education institutions (“HEIs”) formulate and think about their brands is sparse. Whilst some of the principles which apply to universities are similar to those within the business sector, such institutions actually think somewhat differently about themselves, and the way in which their brand experience operates.

Of course, the first thing to realise about most HEIs within the UK is that they do not think very much about the brand experience at all. The majority of branding work within universities is still relegated to the marketing department, rather than being treated as an integral part of the academic sector. Many academics view branding as a dirty word, not wanting their work to be packaged and sold in the same way as a chocolate bar might be. As one might expect, this attitude leads to most HEIs within the UK presenting a disparate and confused brand to their potential ‘customers’.

loughborough-university-poles

Those HEIs which have crafted a successful branding experience have usually explicitly realised the necessity of defining their own brand, and of identifying their unique selling point. In the academic sector, the ‘customers’ to whom the brand experience is important can be seen as the students whom the HEI is attempting to recruit, and the academics whom it is attempting to employ. If a university wishes to differentiate itself from the herd, then a unique brand experience is key. An example of this can be found at Loughborough University, which has been highly successful in leveraging its initial investment into sports infrastructure and technology into a world-wide brand around sports excellence. In order to do this, Loughborough identified its existing strengths, and made an active decision to focus its marketing and branding efforts around them. Simply put, it has been more successful than most in promoting its unique selling point. This is so much the case that students in other subject at Loughborough often complain that people assume they are studying for a sports science degree!

inspector-morse-itv

The numerous undifferentiated HEIs across the UK could learn more from Loughborough’s experience than the simple importance of defining one’s unique selling point. The university has also been adept at making use of free and/or cheap publicity, both by hosting high profile sporting events such as the Loughborough International athletics meeting, and leveraging the profile of famous and successful alumni. Other HEIs have not had to make such a proactive effort to achieve the same level of publicity, with already famous institutions such as Oxford attracting it as a matter of course. Oxford’s brand recognition, for example, cannot have been harmed by being the weekly subject of the TV programme Lewis (and before it, Inspector Morse). The suggestion that the city is a hotbed of murder and intrigue, of course, might have been less useful!

All joking aside, smart organisations align themselves not only with their existing strengths, but with the appeal of their geographical location. Whilst the University of Oxford is a special case given its existing brand strength, the same effect can be seen through an examination of the city’s other university, Oxford Brookes. That organisation has made a point of playing up the refined atmosphere of the dreaming spires, even though it is actually situated to the east of the historical Oxford city centre. Those managing Oxford Brookes’ brand experience know that the reputation of its sister university can be used to their advantage, and have not been slow to do so.

oxford-brookes-vs-oxford-university

Rugby match between Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University

Whatever the unique selling point and free publicity which is leveraged for it, however, no brand experience can substitute for the reality of an institution’s advantages and disadvantages. Too often, brand managers seem to believe that they can weave a story which will eliminate the actual weaknesses of their organisation and the courses it offers. Such a strategy cannot last for long. Again, Oxford Brookes can be used as an example. Its postgraduate legal offering ran into trouble this year, suffering as a result of the downturn in the economy and the resulting lack of demand for the vocational training required to become a solicitor. Whilst it attempted to sell its course using the traditional attractions of its location, and its unique selling point of partnership with the University of Oxford, the best brand experience techniques were no match for the blunt economic realities of the legal market. Above all, brands must be aligned with reality, if they are to survive. If HEIs manage this, identify their unique selling point correctly, and take advantage of free publicity, they will be well on their way to successful differentiation.

Sources

Loughborough Image http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/olympicsvideo/9222125/London-2012-Olympics-Team-GBs-training-camp-is-best-kept-secret-of-sport-in-Britain.html

Inspector Morse Image (Copyright ITV) http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2009/jun/07/morse-oxford-walking-guide1

Oxford Rugby Match Image http://www.sport.ox.ac.uk/student-sport/clubs-colleges/

Incoming search terms:

  • University of Oxford brand experience

Research Excellence Framework: The Role of Higher Education Employment Branding

Anyone who has ever had a discussion with someone who has bought products from either Apple or John Lewis will recognise the signs. The slightly fanatical stare and almost religious language, the identification with the product or service not just in terms of its efficiency or quality, but also in terms of the values it promotes. Both organisations are prime examples of successful brands, and of the ways in which organisations can become anthropomorphised in the imaginations of consumers and other stakeholders.There is no doubt that companies, driven by the incentives of the marketplace, have been in the forefront of such branding exercises. Nonetheless, organisations in other fields have also been branding themselves for years, often in unconscious but extremely powerful ways.

“Think Different”.

“Never Knowingly Undersold”.

The higher education sector is no different to other areas of the economy in this regard. The University of Oxford, for example, can boast a complex and highly effective brand, which operates around its traditions, history, reputation for academic excellence and place in the wider cultural context of the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the University of Sussex continues to benefit (and, in some ways, suffer) from its reputation as a left-wing and progressive institution.

REF-2014-image

With the advent of the Research Excellence Framework, many universities have been engaged in a near frenzy of offers and counter-offers to so-called ‘research stars’. The quality and quantity of research produced by higher education institutions will now dictate, in large part, the funding provided to them. As a result, salaries for the top end of the academic scale are increasing, whilst those academics who are committed to teaching or whose publication history is less than stellar find themselves near the scrapheap. Clearly, such a bidding war disadvantages smaller and poorer institutions. It is here that branding within higher education can come into its own.

The business sector has long recognised that salary is only one indicator of job satisfaction and that, indeed, it is often not the most important factor when considering both recruitment and retention of top quality employees. After a certain point, salary functions largely as an indicator of status, as well as a sign that the company values the work done by an employee. Many innovative businesses have found that a supportive working environment, non-financial ‘perks’, and an institutional value system which aligns with those of the employee, are actually significantly more important when considering retention than salary alone.

Clearly, as well as being potentially able to offer larger salaries to academic ‘stars’, the top universities in the country are also able to call upon established branding in order to persuade the best of the best to become their employees. Smaller institutions can also develop effective brands, however, which will allow them to compete in the new, research-led climate. For example, whilst the University of Oxford may well be attractive to a top academic due to both the financial security of an offered post and the intellectual excitement of becoming part of a tradition of academic excellence, such a job also has its downsides. A savvy, smaller institution may not be able to offer the tradition of Oxford, but it can provide a top academic with the opportunity to take a leading role in helping to catalyse a rise up the institutional rankings. It can, also, offer the kind of status and importance within the organisation which even the most prominent academic in Oxford is unlikely to possess.

In other words, universities need to play to their strengths when branding, and need to recognise that their brand is vital when potential academic employees make job related decisions. If an institution does not already have an established brand, no time should be lost in planning a branding strategy, and then executing it. Due to the relative cheapness of online communication channels, this does not have to be an expensive exercise. When done properly, it can form part of a positive feedback loop which rapidly alters and enhances the recruitment and retention of employee talent.

david-and-goliath

When facing the institutional Goliaths of the academic world, small higher education institutions can feel like David, overwhelmed and overmatched by organisations with more resources and more established reputations. If Apple had reacted to such a situation by simply maintaining their existing brand, it is likely that they would have gone out of business many years ago. Instead, they proactively chose to fashion their weakness into a strength, and to set themselves up as a brand which appealed to a certain type of person. Similarly, if a university does not have centuries of tradition or hordes of Nobel Prize winning alumni, it is still possible to establish a reputation for academic innovation, a friendly atmosphere, beautiful surroundings, or even excellent perks such as fantastic food and drink!

In essence, then, it can be seen that financial resources are not the be-all and end-all of recruitment and retention, either in the corporate or higher education sectors. As the REF era begins, and ever increasing salaries are mooted for academic stars, universities would do well to consider their branding before simply adding another few thousand pounds to their financial offers. Not only will it pay off in terms of recruitment, but it can help to forge an identity for the institution which will drive positive change for years to come.

Further Reading

Academic recruitment: beware, predators at large
How can universities keep their star academics happy to stop them succumbing to a rival’s advances?

Incoming search terms:

  • david and goliath

Brand vs Reputation Within The Higher Education Sector

Over the past few decades, league tables have become part and parcel of the education sector in the United Kingdom. Whether academics like it or not, this includes higher education institutions, which are increasingly driven by their performance in various university rankings. This focus on reputation, however, can marginalise the equally vital imperative to work on the university’s overall brand.

Distinguishing Between Brand And Reputation

The concept of ‘branding’ is now so endemic within society that it has come to mean many different things to those who use the term. When understood from a professional viewpoint, however, it has a very specific meaning. A successful brand is one that communicates a set of overriding values from the institution to the consumer or customer. One of those values may well be ‘continued excellence’, but they may equally include ‘links with the business community’, or ‘superb social scene’. A brand is a complicated and interconnected nexus of messages, and cannot be reduced simply to academic performance.

In contrast, reputation can be viewed in the context of a higher education institution as reflecting continued performance on the academic stage. Regardless of their branding – which are equally successful in their various ways – Oxford’s academic reputation is clearly greater than University of East Anglia’s, for example. In other words, a university’s brand is not necessarily the same as its reputation, and is certainly not synonymous with its academic reputation. A careful branding strategy will not rest simply on reputation, but will be sculpted to the institution’s own strengths and weaknesses.

Performance Is Important…

Of course, it cannot be denied that academic reputation, symbolised by an institution’s position in league tables and similar rankings, is important. Many universities will have dedicated at least part of their branding efforts into communicating a message about their areas of academic strength, and a poor showing over an extended period of time will certainly undermine that message. HEFCE themselves, however, acknowledge that league table position tends to confirm institutional reputation, rather than forging it from scratch (cf Locke, Verbik et al, 2008).

Performance in league tables and other such rankings will, therefore, be significantly more important for those institutions which have invested much of their brand effort into their academic strengths. This is not always about strong reputation across the board, however, as many institutions will have identified an academic USP into which they will pour most of their reputation enhancing efforts. An institution which promotes itself as a significant leader in the area of legal studies, for example, may not be as concerned by a low rating in the sciences as it would be by a poor ranking in law.

…But It Isn’t Everything

Many academic studies have confirmed the finding that successful branding performs a role which affects the popular view of an institution over and above league table positions (cf Chapleo, 2011, for an example). This should hardly be surprising, as no prospective student or academic chooses an institution solely using the criteria of academic performance. If this were so, Cambridge would boast all of the best academics and students in the UK, to the detriment of every other institution. Whilst it cannot be denied that Cambridge’s reputation has had a significant impact on its recruitment and retention, the branding efforts of other universities have succeeded in attracting some talent away from the institution which, on the face of it, should surely be the obvious first choice for anyone making an academically orientated decision.

A strong brand communicates far more than a simple league table position can when it comes to a university’s strengths and USP, and a strong branding strategy can compensate for significant weaknesses in academic rankings. Indeed, Locke et al (2008) have found that league table position is predominantly used to ‘confirm a decision already made’ when it comes to students deliberating over whether to attend a specific university.

Effective Branding Improves Performance

That ‘decision already made’ is informed and guided largely by the success or failure of an institution’s branding strategy. Whilst academic reputation may be one plank of that strategy, the most successful universities weave in a host of different values to form a strong and coherent brand which attracts both students and academics, as well as research funding and benefactors. As covered in previous articles, this can create a ‘virtuous circle’, in which a strong brand feeds into academic reputation. Performance can be improved by a strong branding effort, whilst strong performance cannot make up for a weak brand.

This is clearly evident if one imagines a high achieving student, choosing between universities. Whilst clearly academic reputation will be a factor, it will not be the only influence on the ultimate decision. Certainly, if the reputation of the two institutions is finely balanced, the student will be making the decision based on the branding of the two universities, and what that says about the kind of institution to which they wish to belong. The university which ‘wins’ this branding competition will secure an excellent student, whilst the university which loses will miss out on the best talent. This will have repercussions for decades to come, particularly if such a decision is repeated over multiple years by multiple students. Before long, the reputation of the ‘losing’ university will be dipping, and the reputation of the ‘winning’ university will be rising – and all because of an emphasis, or lack of it, on branding.

Further Reading

Chapleo, C. (2011). Exploring rationales for branding a university: Should we be seeking to measure branding in UK universities&quest. Journal of Brand Management, 18(6), 411-422.

Locke, W. (2011). The Institutionalization of Rankings: Managing Status Anxiety in an Increasingly Marketized Environment. University Rankings, 201-228.

Locke, W., Verbik, L., Richardson, J. T., & King, R. (2008). Counting what is measured or measuring what counts? League tables and their impact on higher education institutions in England.

Incoming search terms:

  • reputation among education industry

University Branding Within The Higher Education Sector

Over the last few decades, the formerly cloistered environment of the university has been forced to adapt to a more commercialised world. With an increasing number of institutions competing for student and faculty talent, every potential advantage counts. This is particularly true as the effects of globalisation are felt in the academic sector, with UK universities no longer competing simply with one another, but with higher education institutions from across the world.

Given this context, it might appear obvious that effective, clear and coherent branding is vital for any university wishing to prosper in the modern world. The only way in which an academic institution can attract sufficient research funding to succeed in comparison to its competition, as well as persuading the best students and academics in the field to take advantage of that funding, is to build a reputation which differentiates it from other universities. Rather than relying on chance, those universities with an effective brand can be confident of continued recruitment and funding success.

Despite this, many academics are extremely resistant to the concept of branding. It is often viewed as seeking to reduce a complex institution, built on the interplay of many differing ideologies and viewpoints, into a few trite words. The ‘smoke and mirrors’ of branding, it is argued, cannot possibly encapsulate the multi-layered reality of any academic institution. For many academics, who are understandably not familiar with the theory of branding or its complexities, the concept is only applicable to soft drinks or trainers. An intellectual ‘product’, in their view, cannot be appropriately branded without reducing academic freedom and closing off avenues of thought.

Rejecting branding as a viable approach for the university sector, however, is actually to ignore the history of academic institutions in the Western world, and particularly within the United Kingdom. It is simply not correct to assert that, until recently, universities did not have to worry about branding themselves or appealing to prospective students and faculty members. It is true, of course, that historically there have been less players within the academic marketplace, but this certainly does not mean that competition was not fierce in previous decades. Differentiation of academic institutions has a long and proud history, and is precisely the method by which the primacy of today’s premier universities was established.

Perhaps the best example of branding within the university sector has been the University of Oxford. The name of the institution conjures up images of the dreaming spires, the Bodleian Library, and rowing on the Isis. The association of particular images and values with an institution is precisely what is meant by branding, and the achievement of Oxford over the centuries has been to integrate its name with ideals of academic excellence, independence of thought, and top quality research. Of course, this has not been done simply by adopting a ‘brand’ in the simplest sense of the term. Until recently, there has been no concerted effort to encapsulate the values which Oxford represents into a comprehensive strategy. Nonetheless, the university has long recognised that the best way in which it can promote itself and maintain primacy in the sector is to offer a particular experience, and to associate itself with particular ideals held by its students and academics.

Across the Atlantic, Harvard University has achieved a similar primacy through branding, although its strategy has been more conscious and more overt than Oxford’s. As with many American universities, the design of specific merchandise, the integration of logos into products and the promotion of particular values within all aspects of the university experience has transformed Harvard into a globally recognised brand. As with Oxford and other world renowned university brands, this has had the effect of forming a virtuous circle. The success of Harvard’s brand has allowed it to attract the best academics, students and research funding, which in turn has allowed it to reinforce its reputation for excellence and further promote its brand.

As can be seen, the process of designing and promoting a university’s brand is significantly more complex than that involved with a simple product. It cannot, and should not, simply involve a few focus group meetings which attempt to encapsulate the essence of the university in a pithy phrase. Instead, it needs to be a long-term project, which orientates itself to the wider strategy of the academic institution which it seeks to serve. An excellent recent example is that of Loughborough University. Its brand in the popular consciousness is now firmly established, with the institution being viewed as one of the best sports science universities in the world. The establishment of this brand, given a foundation by strategic decisions over a number of years, has allowed Loughborough to attract substantial funding for its work in this area. In a similar experience to that of Oxford and Harvard, it has created a virtuous circle, in which an established brand helps to increase the institution’s real excellence in an area of research.

It is that virtuous circle which explains the very real importance of an effective branding strategy for any higher education institution which intends to preserve academic freedom and independence of thought in the 21st century. Far from being a threat to high quality research and the traditions of university life, the construction of an effective brand can become a vital part of preserving those things. Universities which make no effort to market themselves will soon find the best students and staff going elsewhere, and will begin to see their funding being reduced as a result. A failure to adequately explain the work going on within an academic institution is not simply a betrayal of the purpose of the work, but also puts at risk its continued existence. Branding does not have to be a simplistic or reductive exercise, but it is absolutely necessary to any university that wishes to remain relevant in the globalised economy. Far from consisting of ‘smoke and mirrors’, effective branding seeks to present a coherent picture of academic research to the wider world.

Incoming search terms:

  • harvard university
  • university branding
  • higher education branding
  • pictures of harvard university
  • Havard University
  • university of harvard
  • university brand
  • pictures of havard university
  • education brand
  • images of havard university

Increase Customer Retention in an Economy Defined by Customer Attrition

October 22, 2012 |  by  |  Strategic Brand Management  |  No Comments

Perhaps it simply goes without saying that improving customer retention is critical to succeeding in an economy where customers are always looking for the cheapest available option. Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times. Companies need to save money and sometimes the simplest solution is to award business to the lowest competitive bid. Customer attrition is commonplace in today’s markets, one marked by increased competition, lower demand for finished goods, fewer opportunities and even fewer customers to sell to. Your company doesn’t just need to retain more customers because it’s good for business; you need to retain more customers in order to stay in business.

So, what does it take to improve customer retention in this economy? What must your enterprise focus on so you can position it as the incumbent supplier? First, it’s important to understand that customers need to have a reason to stay with your business. Second, appealing to the lowest common denominator is no guarantee of success. Lowering prices to win business may work once or twice, but eventually you’ll lead your enterprise down the path of engaging in a never-ending price war, one where nobody wins and your company erodes its own gross profit margins. Third, your customers are looking for more than just a vendor. They are looking for a solutions provider, one who will distinguish their offering by bringing more to the table than its competition. Therefore, our plan to increase customer retention will focus on these three aforementioned critical areas. We’ll build customer loyalty, defend price and help your enterprise become a solutions provider.

1. Build Loyalty: Focus on increasing customer loyalty. Give your customers a reason to see your company as their only option. Give them a proposition that clearly distinguishes your company’s value.

2. Defend Price: Ignore the temptation to immediately drop pricing without having a solid reason to. Ultimately, the decision to drop prices should come from a position of power and our plan will help you secure that position with your customer base.

3. Become a Solutions Provider: Granted, this is often much easier said than done. However, every industry is defined by market leaders, ones who raise the bar by providing more than just a product. Our plan will allow your company to become that solutions provider, and it will ensure that your sales team has more time to spend working directly with customers.

What your company must focus on is a strategy that increases customer retention, protects your pricing and gross profit margins, all the while positioning your company as your customers’ most important vendor. Does all this sound impossible? Well, it isn’t. The approach that makes this all a reality is to come up with your own reward program, one that literally compensates your customers for loyalty, forces them to provide you with up-to-the-minute market data, and one that positions your company as the dominant solutions provider in your market.

Building Your Own Loyalty Schedule

The following table outlines how your company can come up with its own customer loyalty schedule. The loyalty schedule is based on the following premise: Your company agrees to provide your customer a discount for each unit they purchase on a monthly basis. In our example, that discount is £0.20 for each unit. Your customer must purchase a minimum monthly amount and continue to make that same monthly purchase for one calendar year in order to secure their discount. The more they purchase each month, the higher their discount. However, that discount is only given to your customer at the end of the year. The benefit of building a loyalty schedule is that it is not a contract and therefore, not binding. If your customer leaves the schedule, they lose their discount, and your enterprise has effectively protected its gross profit margins.

Month

Price

Quantity Purchased (Minimum Amount)

Loyalty Schedule Unit Discount

 Discount on Each Purchase Order

Accrued Discount

Jan

£20.00

25

£0.20

£5.00

£5.00

Feb

£20.00

25

£0.20

£5.00

£10.00

Mar

£20.00

25

£0.20

£5.00

£15.00

Apr

£20.00

25

£0.20

£5.00

£20.00

May

£20.00

25

£0.20

£5.00

£25.00

June

£19.50

25

£0.20

£5.00

£30.00

July

£19.50

25

£0.20

£5.00

£35.00

Aug

£19.50

25

£0.20

£5.00

£40.00

Sept

£19.50

25

£0.20

£5.00

£45.00

Oct

£19.00

25

£0.20

£5.00

£50.00

Nov

£19.00

25

£0.20

£5.00

£55.00

Dec

£19.00

25

£0.20

£5.00

£60.00

Looking at the table above, it’s important to understand what happens in the months of June and October. In both months, your customer hears of better pricing in the market. However, rather than just take those offers, your customer immediately reflects upon the loyalty schedule you’ve put in place for them. This is because of the discount they have built within the schedule. If you customer abandons the schedule in June, they will effectively lose out on their £30.00 discount. If they decide to stay within the schedule, but leave in October, then they’ll lose out on the £50.00 discount they’ve built up.  In this case, your customer becomes an active participant in their loyalty schedule.

Does Our Loyalty Schedule Address our Three Essential Criteria?

The overall goal was to accomplish the following. First, we wanted to increase customer loyalty. Second we wanted to protect or defend pricing. Third, we wanted to position the company as a solutions provider, one willing to bring new strategies to help the customer reduce their costs. Have we addressed all three criteria? We have. We have increased customer loyalty by giving customers a reason to return for more business. We have protected pricing by putting your company in the position of deciding whether to match the pricing within your market, or hold firm and keep the scheduled discount on your own. Finally, we have positioned your company as a solutions provider by increasing the amount of time your people spend working with customers. This allows your sales team to provide a number of other proactive solutions to help your customers.

Despite the current economic climate, your company can increase customer retention. It’s simply a matter of giving your customer a reason to buy into your company’s value proposition. Ultimately, it includes getting your customer on a loyalty schedule and helping them to build their discount over time. Gradually, that discount will put your company in a position of power, one it can use to decide whether to match lower pricing or hold price as is. Finally, the schedule itself is a proactive solution to reducing your customer’s costs. In addition, it increases the number of times your sales team speaks with customers, allowing your company to build upon its reward schedule with additional solutions.

Social Media Management – A Task for One Person?

Social media management is a hot topic amongst marketing managers and in general organisations typically have specialised departments dealing with specific tasks and concerns.

Human Resources handle people issues, the IT department handles system concerns, and Legal handles matters of the law. Social media concerns and tools usually fall under the jurisdiction of the Marketing department because they involve promotions and press releases.

Announcements and responses that come from a single source tend to be more streamlined and consistent to the core vision of the company.  But are companies that rely on a single person or department missing out on the full potential of social media?

Having a single person or department dedicated solely to social media functions may have its advantages, but a bigger group of people can certainly produce a more impressive output. You can either have a single person or group do 100% of the social media tasks, or have the majority of your employees spend 5% of their time attending to these tasks. In theory, having dozens or even hundreds of employees representing the company in social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook will result to a wider audience reach.

Here are some of the advantages of having multiple social media outlets:

1. More people create more noise.

Having multiple employees sending out positive Tweets or writing blogs about the company says a lot about employee satisfaction and improves the branding of the company. The message also reaches a wider audience.

2. Employees will keep up with technology and will be adept on using social media tools.

It is essential to train the employees on the proper usage of social media tools for this system to work. They need to know how to properly represent the company, and how to increase the number of followers or subscribers. This training will not only be beneficial for work but is also applicable to personal endeavors.

3. Different employees have different strengths and interests.

They will produce blogs, Tweets, or Facebook updates that relate to them personally but are relevant to the nature of your business. Your company will benefit from this because of the diversity of content that will be available online. You will reach a wider and more diverse market. Interest in your products or services will also increase. Employees can also experiment with these tools and can potentially come up with an innovative approach to promotions.

4. The feedback system will also improve when you have a large number of people checking the web vigilantly.

It is possible to report important updates and news flashes that can affect operations in the soonest possible time. You can also detect customer complaints easily and address them immediately. Generally, about 60 to 80 percent of customer complaints made via social media channels are ignored because of lack of manpower.

This results to customer dissatisfaction and a missed opportunity for improvement.

5. Employees will be empowered. Social media exposure is a huge responsibility. Your employees will feel valued and trusted.

In order for a business model like this to work, it is essential to invest in social media training and corporate awareness. The employees need to be adept with how to utilise the tools to further the interest of the business.

They need to understand that social media will be an essential part of their daily tasks. They also need to realise that they will become the front liners of the business. They will be representing the company and any post that they make will be a reflection of the company’s mission and vision.

Incoming search terms:

  • specific social media tasks
  • social media manager detailed tasks
  • title for person who handles social media for a company
  • title for the person who handles social media
  • title of someone who handles social media

Blog Frequency – How Often Should I Blog?

September 24, 2012 |  by  |  Strategic Brand Management  |  1 Comment

When you decide to publish a blog, you first have to determine what your goals are and what type of content you want to publish. You need to focus on a specific niche or subject that you are an expert on. Focus on providing content that is both compelling and informative. Choose topics that are current or provide a fresh perspective on established ideas. Know your target market and understand what will keep them interested. While bearing in mind that in order to gain an increasing number of loyal followers, you need to plan well on how often you should post new entries.

The frequency of blog posting could make or break your site and should be given enough thought.

Why it is a Good Idea to have More Frequent Posts?

The best way to illustrate the need for frequent entries is to compare your website to a newspaper. People subscribe to the daily news, because they expect to read new things every single day. If the paper featured the same articles repeatedly then the readership will obviously decline. Similarly, if you do not update your blog regularly with fresh posts, then there will be no reason for people to visit your site.

Here are some of the main reasons why it will be beneficial for you to increase the frequency of your posts:

1. New Visitors

New posts aid your site in terms of SEO or Search Engine Optimisation. Posting new entries provides a gateway for new readers to find your blog when they use search engines such as Google or Yahoo. Think of it as spreading leaflets or business cards around. The more of these you distribute, the bigger the chances of people finding your business. More site visits can equate to a higher revenue.

2. Retention of Existing Readers

Having great content will not only attract readers to your site, it will also make them want to come back for more. A lot of satisfied online readers are willing to subscribe to your RSS feeds or email distribution list if they find your content interesting enough. Subscriptions provide alerts to readers every time a new post is made to the site. This means a steady source of online traffic and increased revenue for the blogger.

3. Maintain a Strong Online Presence

Your website is only as interesting as your last post. The page loses its appeal if the last entry was made weeks or months ago. Updating your blog on a more frequent basis helps establish your site as an active blog, propelling it to success.

Why it is a Good Idea to have Less Frequent Posts?

While a high majority of bloggers believe that success comes with frequency, a growing number of writers have started to believe that “less is more.” A lot of well-known bloggers have gone away with the habit of posting new articles on a daily basis. They understand that their readers’ behaviours have evolved, and what worked well two years ago does not necessarily apply today.

Here are some of the reasons why it can sometimes be better to spread out your blog posts:

1. Reading Takes Time

Readers love to look for great articles to devour online, but they may not necessarily have the time to go through a lot of articles. They will tend to visit your site a few times a month and only read the last two or three entries. This means that no matter how great a specific post may be, there is a high probability of it being drowned by a sea of other blog entries.

2. Quality Over Quantity

Most of the time, bloggers who aim to provide a good number of regular posts focus more on quantity and neglect quality. They have the tendency to post repetitive topics or ill-researched articles. Posting on a less frequent basis will allow the writer more time to contemplate, research, structure and edit their articles prior to posting.

3. Reader Burnout

No matter how interesting your blog may be, your readers may reach a saturation point. Instead of craving more from you, they will feel that you are posting too much. In a social situation, nobody likes a person who talks a lot. Applied to the blogosphere, readers may get irritated if you get “too noisy”.

How should I Choose the Right Tactic?

With these conflicting schools of thought, it would be tempting to just throw in the towel and choose the more convenient strategy. Both options, after all, have great strengths and advantages. Choosing the best approach can take a lot of strategic thinking, bringing you back to the main objective of your blog and the appeal to your target audience.

As you start your blog, it may be better to have more frequent posts. The objective, after all, is to disseminate information to as many readers as possible. Having more frequent posts combined with an excellent social media strategy will still provide you with the best chance of gaining a mass of followers. Attract new readers, through being more visible within the search engines. Keep existing readers interested, by providing them with fresh and compelling information.

Once you have gained an audience, you should decide on the frequency level that will work best for your target market. If you are operating a blog that provides information on news, current events, or gossip, then it would be best to post as many entries as possible. Sites focusing on advice, instructions, and specialised topics, on the other hand, can survive with having fewer quality posts. Know what your readers want by getting their opinions through polls or your comments section and once this is established, you need to be consistent in terms of delivery.