The University of South Florida is rebranding itself. It matters to you because there is risk and reward in any rebrand effort. How existing/potential customers feel about your brand is actually the ONLY thing that matters — and a Pop Quiz take-away at the end.
On March 1, 2018, Claire McNeill on tampabay.com published an article concerning the herculean task facing the University of South Florida: they are rebranding the university. She splashed the 30 or so different logos currently used by the institution — the varying shades of green and gold, icons, and odd phrasing across the header of her piece to highlight the visual chaos of the university’s schizophrenic messaging.
Understandably, the piece sparked a conversation in our shop concerning all the specific ways Texas A&M has done a great job communicating the university’s values, insisting on graphic standards when departments use their branded assets, and generally protecting their name (a name that belongs to Aggies across time). Of course, there’s the dust up about the Seattle Seahawks using the Twelfth Man, and we know there is a raging debate about the “bevel” and “non-bevel” block ATM on alumni web discussion forums, but even that is an indicator of how much pride the community takes in our presentation to the public. Their fearless on every front campaign is phenomenal; we love hearing it on the radio in DFW/Houston. So – kudos to Texas A&M! As a shop full of Aggies, it was a fun conversation, and that should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t …
This university branding discussion quickly transitioned into a debate about how difficult it is for a company to accurately assess what their visual branding does/does not say about their business as a whole. The accounting professors at USF probably haven’t given one thought to the university’s mixed visual messaging. Likewise, we see business owners every day who can’t see what their potential clients notice immediately. As an example, we have a friend who has run a very public company in Dallas for 20 years without changing anything about their brand presentation. The “look” of their graphics feels like the Goo-Goo Dolls and Third Eye Blind is playing on the stereo somewhere as NBC’s Thursday Night Must See TV flashes Friends across the big box TV in the corner. Our friend isn’t grimacing because he simply doesn’t know. He needs a quick tutorial on rebranding, but he really needs to recognize that he is communicating something, whether it is intentional or not. We all communicate in intentional and unintentional ways.
There is a communication theory that states, the responsibility of communication rests entirely upon the speaker doing the communication. This is why we take a knee and look a five year old in the eye when we explain something difficult. We use eye contact and we use words they can understand because we know they aren’t always going to connect the dots that adults do.
So, it follows that we are all responsible for how our brand presents to others, not how we feel about our own branding. It simply doesn’t matter how we feel about it, if it isn’t landing with the group we most need to address. One substantial advantage an existing company has over a start-up is the brand equity that has taken years to develop. Any rebrand effort that ignores the built in value (positive feeling/recognition), risks damaging the very company in need of assistance. After all, that is what a brand is all about: the gut reaction/feeling of those who see the logo, hear the name, or use the service. Branding is more than a “new logo” or better advertising. The only way you can positively impact the public’s gut feeling about your company is to consider what they’re interpreting when they look you up and down.
As you’re driving down the road, start asking yourself why you feel the way you do about businesses. Is it just the signage that bothers you? Or do you have experience with the company that taints your impression? Why do you love this brand? What specific component in that logo is so pleasing?
A Logo is NOT a Brand
One of the most important parts of the USF article is how much emphasis seems to be placed on their graphics/logo. We assume that heavy-duty conversations are transpiring right now behind closed doors concerning CORE IDENTITY questions of the university. There better be, anyway. The USF isn’t Yale, but it isn’t just a commuter school or community college either. The University of South Florida is aspiring to create a new identity in the American mind, not simply land on a standardized shade of green. We appreciate how difficult it is to distinguish your university from the crowd of other schools — especially when you don’t have the built in traditions or legacy alumni that others universities rely upon. We get it, but the USF better secure that identity and pour concrete around it, before they try and interpret it into messaging points or start a mini-war about a beveled edge!
When you consider what your company presents to the word: visual displays, core messaging, ad campaigns, or your website for example, you should critique it harder than you think any other observer possibly could. When you have it down, you should defend it as you would your own reputation. Every piece of marketing that represents your company should look fantastic. Don’t let other people (even poorly trained staff) splash your branded assets around without your knowledge or review.
Right now, quick: check your existing business card. Did you value shop that little love note to the world? Did you decide against the $1.25 business card in favor of the $0.35 card because that $.90 cent difference was just too expensive for a premium interaction with the business that pumps with the lifeblood of everything you stand for? If you are willing to risk a “ho-hum” initial impression over $.90, how else are you short-changing the world that needs your product or service? Are they getting the $.35 version of your company in other ways?