Published April 30, 2015
What makes UB unique among institutions of higher education? In an age of intense competition for the best students and faculty, what do we offer that sets us apart from our peers?
These are some of the questions the UB community is weighing as the university embarks on an identity and brand strategy initiative.
The development and implementation of an identity and brand strategy will clearly articulate UB’s differentiated meaning and promise, says Nancy Paton, vice president for communications. “It will catalyze the university’s reputation — a reputation that is built on a foundation of academic excellence, research and scholarly distinction, transformative student experiences and engaging public service,” she says.
Higher education, Paton notes, is undergoing significant change: Demographic and other societal trends are creating more competition for top students, faculty and staff. “This means the university needs to be clearer about its collective purpose and unique value — both to internal and external audiences. We need to define UB’s strategic identity: who we are, what we do and why it matters.”
The initiative began in January and will continue through October, at which time UB will introduce and begin to implement a new identity and brand strategy. Progress will be communicated through a variety of channels and mediums, including a new website.
Dozens of students, faculty, staff and administrators across the campus have participated in the planning and launch of the initiative to date. The continued input of the UB community is essential as the initiative progresses, Paton says.
“Reflecting UB’s diversity, the branding and identity strategy initiative is a highly collaborative effort,” she says. “It requires the involvement of a wide cross-section of the UB community.”
To distinguish itself from competitors, UB’s brand and identity should be distinctive, inspiring and broad enough to be relevant and appropriate for the university’s varied schools and units.
“I think branding is important at every level of the university,” says Thomas Feeley, professor and chair of the Department of Communication and member of the initiative’s President’s Brand Council. “A department or university cannot be everything to everyone, so positioning within the higher education marketplace is more important than ever.
“UB is a large, public research-intensive university that provides first-rate education in arts and sciences and in applied sciences, such as engineering and management,” he says. “There simply are not many universities that have this profile, especially in the Northeast.”
To complete the project, UB has engaged the services of Ologie (pronounced like the suffix, “ology”), along with Ologie’s partner, Marshall Strategy. These two firms, selected through a highly competitive bidding process, have collaborated successfully with some of the nation’s leading research universities and medical schools. They bring a track record of accomplishment in successfully helping higher education institutions define their purpose and tell their stories in engaging ways.
A successful identity and brand initiative will produce several benefits to UB, Paton says, including:
“For UB, this initiative is a chance to come together and identify core ideas and principles that drive our diverse departments, schools and colleges, and initiatives,” Paton says. “It’s a chance to tell our story better, to explain to the world who we are.”
Early steps and timeline
The identity and brand initiative’s first “discovery” phase concluded last week and involved extensive efforts to understand how UB community members, external stakeholders and competitors currently perceive the university.
Focus group interviews were conducted with community members in March, as was an analysis of UB’s competitive and aspirational peers. Nearly 4,500 alumni, faculty, students and staff responded to a digital survey this month, exceeding the response goal by 272 percent.
“The UB community is very supportive of in this initiative and eager to see it implemented,” Paton says. “Their level of engagement underscores the critical need for this initiative at this time in UB’s history.”
The survey asked participants for their opinion on what the university’s current strengths are and what its priorities should be. Though one survey question asked what names respondents had used to refer to UB, Paton says the university is not looking for a change in that realm.
University at Buffalo will remain the institution’s appellation, she says. The survey question was meant to provide UB with a better understanding of how alumni, staff and faculty of different generations identified the university, whose name has changed more than once in past decades.
In coming weeks, Ologie, Marshall and UB will analyze the information received and share the results with the campus. The results will be the foundation for establishing a distinctive brand and identity that’s appropriate for a university of UB’s mission, diversity and strengths.
Branding is a mistake. UB is already a great multiversity of international reputation. It offers much to many. Branding infers a limitation of offerings. Refer to Ohio.com, Akron Beacon Journal, May 21, front page, to illustrate the damage of branding.(University of Akron).
Michael Sugarman, EdD '66