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Inclusive, yearlong process led to new brand strategy

Here is How UB developed its new identity and brand initiative.

By KATE MCKENNA

Published April 12, 2016

During the 12-month, four-phase identity and branding strategy, UB embarked upon an inclusive, university-wide initiative to answer the questions of who and what is the University at Buffalo.

In essence, we took a deep dive into discovering what makes the university distinctive as experienced and defined by those who know us best — our students, past and present, and their parents; faculty and staff; those who support us philanthropically; and those with whom we partner in our communities.

We also asked those who didn’t really know us well — prospective students. They confirmed that when we tell the story of the unique experiences of being at the university and in Buffalo, they feel inspired and compelled to consider UB.

A team of 64 academic and administrative leaders, faculty, staff and students led the creation of our brand and identity strategy, and will continue to drive it forward.

Thousands of interviews and surveys, and hundreds of hours of training and testing revealed UB’s true story.

Here is How it happened.

We asked six questions during the discovery and definition phase:

Definition – What is the University at Buffalo?

Awareness – What is the external understanding of the UB?

Image – How is UB thought of by external audiences?

Place – What is the role of Buffalo in the university’s image?

Identity – What is the reality of UB as opposed to its image?

Messaging – How does UB community its key messages?

The answers to these questions were revealed through 150 “discovery stakeholder” interviews, along with the results of surveys and focus groups with faculty, staff, alumni, students, and community and higher education influencers. A record response rate of 4,500 exceeded the quantitative research goal by 270 percent and that research revealed the strengths of the university, as well as opportunities for distinction. This helped to establish UB’s meaning in the eyes of our stakeholders and served as the basis for discovering who we are, what we do and, most importantly, why it matters.

Our research found that our brand, much like a person, is made up of key attributes and specific characteristics. The research helped identify distinctive strengths that are the building blocks for a comprehensive brand strategy. UB is pragmatic, tenacious, inclusive, ambitions, proud and dynamic. We uncovered our core attributes — purposeful ambition, global perspective, radical empathy and bold participation. Our brand represents who we are, what we do and why it matters. It’s authentic to UB.

A recurring theme heard throughout the discovery-and-definition phase was the different way the university has been named over time. Equally challenging is the use of different names for different audiences.

The research signaled a strong preference for using University at Buffalo as the formal academic name and UB as the informal reference. UB has defined its academic logo — the interlocking UB — and created an athletics identity that celebrates the university name and its strong relationship with the Buffalo community.

Additionally, UB has introduced a new athletics spirit mark and tagline to build pride and connect it to UB’s position as the state’s largest and most comprehensive public university.

Armed with these insights, the brand strategy — the way UB distinguishes itself from other colleges and universities — was established and provided the foundation to frame UB’s story in a way in which all stakeholders can participate. The brand strategy defined UB’s differentiators, brand attributes and brand personality, and led to development of an authentic positioning statement, brand platform and nomenclature system.

With strong positioning, a solid platform and a message that resonated positively with the UB community, the next step was to bring it all to life through a storytelling framework that is inspirational and aspirational.

UB’s brand narrative, “Here is How,” is a substantial and sustainable platform from which we’ll tell our stories that will permeate through the entire university, creating consistency in messaging and showing UB’s impact.

Additional research — including nine focus groups comprised of nearly 100 faculty, staff, students and alumni, and a quantitative survey with more than 3,500 respondents — confirmed this framework would resonate. An overwhelming majority agreed the new positioning statement captured the essence of UB, and many identified personally with the key words in the statement. The creative concept elicited an overwhelmingly positive response from all groups and even prospective students and UB parents found the narrative to be compelling and inspiring.

Before the brand and identity strategy was introduced campus-wide, training took place to build confidence, empowerment and excitement among internal audiences, who built messaging to celebrate their individual decanal and administrative impacts that were integrated into the overall university message.

Each of UB’s schools, units and departments will tell its unique story through its own platform that is aligned with the university, creating a collective and powerful story through student, faculty and alumni engagement, media channels, events and physical spaces. UB’s brand strength will be measured using quantitative and qualitative benchmarks, and continuous assessment will ensure we can adapt to audience demands and market trends.

This historic and long-term strategy to build a powerful reputation and long-term success will mean a strengthened UB. We’ll see an ascending global reputation and heightened pride and engagement among students, faculty, staff and alumni.  We’ll attract and retain talented students and world-class faculty, enabling the university to secure more research grants, increase fundraising and create a destination for the best and brightest.