A brand is larger than oneself

I was recently leading a rather large creative kick-off meeting for the redesign of a university’s entire website which would serve as the main communications platform for a newly developed brand.

As an agency policy on large projects we always lead our clients through this discovery exercise to gain the valuable internal perspective that surrounds their needs, issues and goals. We walk our clients through a series of exercises that foster discussion about the specifics of the project at hand, and these meetings frequently evolve into a greater discussion of the direction about how the client’s brand will be represented within whatever deliverable that we’ve been hired on to design and produce.

So back to the creative kick-off… I’m in about the 5th meeting of what was going to be a 20 + meeting two day session at the University, and this is the large one with the VP of Marketing for the University and over 40 people. At this point everyone in the room is voicing varying opinions on the direction that they envision for the site, and I needed to rein in the conversation and restore focus to the information that will enable our studio to return at a later date with a concept that meets the wishes of the stakeholders and the overall goals of the client.

As the 6th marketing person from one of the schools at the University starts to state what they would personally like to see on the site I held her up and make a fairly bold statement – –  but hey that is why we were hired as professionals right???…anyway, I say, “I appreciate everyone getting a chance to tell me what they need or would like to be on the University’s website but I would like to point out that this website is really not about anyone in this room, it’s about the people visiting your site and what information they need. We need to maintain a focus on our audiences’ perspective throughout this process. How engaging is the site and how easy is it for them to find what need and enable us to meet our goals? Is it compelling? Do they feel like they know what the University has to offer for them and for their future? Do their parents feel taken care of and can they find the information they need? Etc. Etc.”

Yes it was a bold statement on my part and I didn’t mean it to be taken that the information they were providing wasn’t important – I just wanted to give them some perspective on the point of the exercise to basically rebrand this University through the website. As the room fell awkwardly silent I thought well maybe I went too far, but the University’s VP of Marketing got exactly what I was saying and jumped right in with… “let’s really concentrate on the users and what they need when they come to the site”. I was thankful for the VP’s help and certainly there were a couple snide comments later in the meeting like “I thought this wasn’t about us”, but the real point is that while people do really know their brand one must really look at it from an outside perspective. We encourage all of our clients to continually step outside of themselves to understand what their audiences are experiencing, and to understand which aspects of a brand compels people to act and engage with the institution.

I know clients will tell me, “I know exactly what my brand needs” and perhaps sometimes they may be correct but many times we will come back on a branding exercise with ideas or designs that the company really never thought about and really made them think about how they would like to be perceived in the marketplace. I include my company as well.., sometimes I feel “why wouldn’t a potential client choose to work with us? Look at all of our experience in a certain industry or deliverable type.” Then I take a step back and realize maybe we could have showcased something else or explained our process better or we came off as too expensive or inexpensive – anyway there is a lot to think about when going through a branding exercise. Hopefully the 40 attendees who I mildly offended in the meeting feel proud of the University’s new site and more importantly hopefully their website’s visitors are extremely pleased with the new website experience.

Corey Baim, Principal at IE Design + Communications


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