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The value of co-production in university branding

By Avarina Wilson-Dyer-Gough

Universities are vision-led - driven by a mission to educate individuals, advance knowledge and improve societies. So when it comes to branding such an emotionally charged institution, is there a way that universities can limit and overcome any problems they might face from stakeholders?

Transparency through collaboration

Over the past 7 years we have worked with a wide variety of large and complex higher education institutions. During this time, increased importance has been placed on universities accounting for where they spend their budgets and why major projects (like corporate and brand strategies) are necessary. Combined with our first-hand experience, we can see a highlighted importance for transparency and openness when undertaking strategic brand projects. This is where co-production steps in.

Co-production encourages transparency through collaboration. It opens up communications helping stakeholders to understand the reasons for a rebrand, by ensuring that stakeholders’ voices are heard along the whole rebrand journey, from inspiration to execution.

Involving people from start to finish

Universities are hubs for bright, inspirational individuals. If these individuals are a university’s most important asset, then why not use them to help create and drive the brand?

A co-production approach allows an institution to draw on the opinions and expertise of its stakeholders (from the Chancellor, to staff, to current students) to discover what they currently think about their university and the issues that affect or define it. The range of perspectives and differences in opinions enable provocative and productive debates around why people emotionally and functionally connect with a university. As a result, the co-production philosophy creates a final brand positioning strategy that naturally enriches and evolves what the institution says and does.

In addition, this form of active engagement can make advocates of stakeholders for the final strategy, as well as enabling a successful rollout. People feel excited and empowered due to the engagement along the rebranding journey. They feel valued and needed because they have been listened to and can articulate what the new brand means to their friends, colleagues and wider community. After all, the best form of publicity is advocacy.

The value of co-production

The role of a brand is to inspire audiences. When people work together, a brand strategy can be created which is relevant and engaging, not just a series of empty catchphrases. It is for this reason that the philosophy and approach of co-production can be an asset as well as a strategic tool for a brand.

In summary, what happens when new university brand strategies are created in partnership with their key audiences? Answer: A brand is created that really reflects who they are, and stands the test of time.