Why did UB undergo an identity and brand strategy initiative?

Higher education has been undergoing a period of significant change. Societal trends, shifts in funding priorities and emerging technologies are creating increased competition for the best students, top faculty, funding, leadership and reputation. Against this backdrop, branding and identity are increasingly important to our success. UB must differentiate itself from other institutions. To do this, we need to tell our collective story in a way that’s exciting, inspirational and distinctive.

The successful development and implementation of an identity and brand strategy will clearly articulate UB’s meaning and promise, and will enhance the university’s reputation—a reputation that is built on a strong foundation of academic excellence—for outstanding research and scholarship, transformative student experiences and engaging public service.

What are the goals of this initiative?

The primary objective is to establish a distinctive, compelling and relevant position in the minds of members of the university community and the public. We will accomplish this by defining the university’s strategic identity—who we are, what we do and why it matters—and telling UB’s story in a compelling way worldwide.

What was UB doing before and why is this different?

Never before has UB embarked upon a strategic and university-wide approach to distinctively communicate with clarity and consistency its mission and impact on the world.

Our new strategy features two key components, both of which resulted from a yearlong process involving the expertise and input of thousands of alumni, students, faculty, staff, prospective students and community members.

The first component is a brand framework that conveys UB’s distinctiveness: “Here is How” is our new university-wide communications framework from which we’ll tell compelling stories about the activities, people and impact of our university.

Just as important, all of the university’s schools and units now will be aligned under one official name—the “University at Buffalo,” with the interlocking UB as the official university logo.

What is “Here is How” and what does it mean?

“Here is How” is a storytelling framework that captures UB’s unique personality—expressing distinctive traits and attributes of the university that were identified during the initiative’s research phases.  

“Here is How” presents UB as an extraordinary university in an extraordinary city—an institution that represents not only a place, but also a unique way of getting things done. It conveys a sense of what it’s like to be at UB and in Buffalo.

From this framework, UB will tell stories that permeate the entire university, creating consistency in messaging and showing the university’s impact. 

Is “Here is How” just a tagline?

“Here is How” is not a tagline and it is not an ad campaign. It’s a substantial and sustainable framework from which we will tell UB’s story.

This new storytelling framework will be conveyed throughout the university in communications ranging from admissions brochures and alumni magazines to the university’s websites, photography and social media.

How did the university arrive at the “Here is How” brand framework?

In 2015 the university embarked on a comprehensive process that included in-depth research to answer the question: Who and what is the University at Buffalo? More than 8,000 UB community members—faculty, students, staff, alumni, donors/patrons and external stakeholders, along with community leaders, prospective students and the parents of UB students—helped to answer these questions. The collective input of our stakeholders and the leadership of more than 50 representatives across the university built this strategy.

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 were the building blocks for a comprehensive brand strategy. The University at Buffalo is pragmatic, tenacious, inclusive, ambitious, proud and dynamic. We uncovered our 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.

UB’s research results also signaled strong preference for the formal academic name as the University at Buffalo and the informal reference as UB. 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 boldly build pride and connect it to UB’s stature as the state’s largest and most comprehensive public university.

How is the identity and brand strategy being integrated with other schools and departments at UB?

Research has shown us that the strongest universities are inherently united when it comes to their brand. UB’s identity and brand platform will permeate through the entire university, creating consistency in messaging and showing the university’s impact.

We have created an architecture to our name and logo identity that integrates all of UB’s academic, administrative and athletics departments under a singular university name and related logos. The School of Architecture and Planning, School of Law and UB Athletics will have the most notable brand and identity changes, with the University at Buffalo identity now fully integrated into these schools and department. 

Specifically, how is the identity and brand strategy being integrated with UB Athletics?

UB Athletics branding is a strategic part of the university’s comprehensive identity and branding initiative. Research has shown us that the strongest universities are inherently united when it comes to their brand. Athletics is a reputation builder for the university and the university brand is being integrated into UB Athletics, as is the case with every other school and department across UB. 

Isn’t “branding” more appropriate for consumer products than for higher education institutions?

Societal and economic pressures on higher education do not mean that colleges and universities should start packaging themselves as consumer products or as corporate entities. Colleges and universities need to be clearer about their purpose, meaning and unique value. For the University at Buffalo, this means identifying core ideas and principles that drive the university’s many diverse departments, schools and initiatives.

From this core set of ideas, principles and values, the university will achieve a clearer sense of its identity. Then, the university can begin to communicate more clearly and consistently, internally and externally, about its mission and its impact on the world.

How prevalent are identity and branding initiatives in higher education?

According to Inside Higher Ed, identity and brand strategy initiatives are still relatively new in higher education, but over the past decade many higher education leaders have begun to recognize the importance of brand strategy.

The article refers to a white paper on “The State of Higher Ed Branding,” which reports on a survey of 125 chief marketing officers (CMOs) at colleges and universities nationwide. Seventy-six percent of the marketing officials who responded to the survey said they had done a brand strategy project. When they were asked to name the primary objective of a brand strategy project, the top two responses were “to increase institutional awareness” (60 percent) and “to achieve enrollment goals” (38 percent).

Survey respondents also said they relied heavily on outside consultants as partners in the brand development process: 92 percent used market research partners, 78 percent used brand strategy consultants and 61 percent used creative partners.

Why is the university working with an external firm for this initiative?

This has been a university-led initiative from the very beginning and will continue to be so. UB’s internal and external stakeholders were involved from the beginning and throughout this process.

The university sought strategic and creative partners specializing in higher education with which to collaborate in the development of a comprehensive identity and brand strategy. The firms with which UB partnered have an exceptional track record of collaborating with large, complex public research institutions, and delivering compelling identity and brand strategies that have helped to catalyze their respective reputations.

The contract was awarded to Ologie, a certified woman-owned business in New York State and based in Columbus, Ohio.  For the research component of the brand and identity strategy, Ologie partnered with Marshall Strategy, located in San Francisco, Calif.

Ologie and Marshall Strategy have collaborated successfully with some of the nation’s leading research universities and medical schools. These firms bring a track record of accomplishment in successfully helping higher education institutions define their purpose and tell their stories in engaging ways.

Why didn’t UB’s marketing students/faculty manage this initiative?

UB faculty, students, staff, administrative and academic leaders are lending their expertise to the project. All schools and units of the university have been closely involved in the development of this identity and brand strategy. Their participation is absolutely essential to the implementation of this strategy, as well.

Because of the complex nature and aggressive timeline of this initiative, Ologie and Marshall were selected as university partners due to their high level of very specific expertise in higher education marketing and branding—especially for large, complex public research universities such as UB.

We needed this type of expertise and ability to focus exclusively on UB’s identity and branding projects in order to move forward in an expeditious manner.

How will UB know that the initiative is successful?

Implementing a successful identity and brand strategy will produce many benefits to the university. We will strengthen our reputation on a global basis which will result in attracting and retaining talented students, staff and world-class faculty, and heighten the UB community’s pride and engagement. We will secure more research grants, increase fundraising, align the new identity and brand strategy throughout the university, and create a destination for the best and brightest student-athletes. 

How do you think the new brand strategy will be received by potential and current students, alumni, faculty, staff and the community?

We know our brand positioning and storytelling framework will resonate positively with current and future members of the UB community because we were diligent, inclusive and comprehensive in our approach to developing our strategy. UB’s internal and external stakeholders were involved from the very beginning and throughout this process, and will continue to be so.

We’ve built the “Here is How” framework story based on the results of thousands of hours of research, and we tested that story with our key stakeholders. This story evoked strong feelings of pride, confidence and accomplishment.

What are the key outcomes of this initiative?

This initiative will result in:

  • An understanding of current awareness and perceptions of the university among local, national and international audiences.
  • A positioning for the University at Buffalo that is singular, differentiated, sustainable and inspiring, and broad enough to be relevant and appropriate across the university.
  • Brand attributes and personality traits that help identify our key messages and guide our brand voice across all communications.
  • Key audience messaging created to resonate with all internal and external audiences.
  • Comprehensive guidelines for interpreting and executing the positioning, messaging and visual design.
  • A communications plan for internal and external communication initiatives, including tools, templates, priorities and schedules for rollout and governance.

UB will continuously assess our brand strength using quantitative and qualitative benchmarks. Continuous assessment will ensure that we can adapt to audience demands and market trends. We will provide regular progress reports on brand success to UB’s leadership.

Now that the identity and brand strategy has been developed and is ready to be implemented, what comes next?

Going forward over the next five to 10 years, we’ll tell UB’s story from the inside out as the new identity and brand strategy is aligned throughout the university. Each of UB’s schools, units and departments will tell their unique story through their own platforms—student, faculty and alumni engagements, media channels, events and physical spaces.

The identity and brand strategy was a collaborative effort from the beginning, and continued input from the UB community will be critical to its success. UB’s brand strength will be measured using quantitative and qualitative benchmarks, and continuous assessment will ensure that we can adapt to audience demands and market trends.

Long-term success will mean a strengthened University at Buffalo. 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.