From Intention to Activation: Building a Vibrant Brand

Voltaire Santos Miran Apr 11, 2024 Voltaire Santos Miran EVP, Creative Persona The Compassionate and Charming Aficionado

To Roll Out a Brand Successfully, You Must Focus on Brand Activation

In the realm of higher education, the art of brand activation goes well beyond marketing. It is the dynamic process of breathing life into the brand, transforming institutional values and visions into lived experiences and tangible outcomes.

My friend and colleague Ben Arendt, VP for Client Success at Carnegie, often talks about how we live in an experience economy. What does that mean? In short, in today’s landscape, engagement is selective and attention is elusive, with people increasingly prioritizing experiences over mere transactions. Higher education institutions find themselves in this complex environment, where establishing a compelling brand is no longer a luxury but a necessity.

In an experience economy, institutional brands are cumulative — the sum total of tangible and intangible factors, direct and vicarious experiences, and minor and milestone events. And institutional brands are inherently fragile — they require intentional management, measurement, planning, and action, alongside proactive engagement and activation. Building a brand takes time and activation.

From Brand Expression to Brand Activation

Many clients that I’ve spoken with have confided that their brand projects haven’t gone as well as they had hoped. What’s happened? In a word, less. There has been less actual rollout beyond the initial unveiling, less enthusiasm and adoption among stakeholders across the institution, and less impact on the key metrics in the areas of awareness and perceived prestige, recruitment and retention, and fundraising and friend-raising.

Our conversations with clients led us to the concept of brand activation. While brand expression encompasses all the ways in which a brand manifests in the world for external audiences — billboards, bus wrappers, viewbooks, websites, living and learning spaces, and digital ads — brand activation is everything that happens internally. It’s all the carefully planned and executed work involved in engaging, equipping, and inspiring stakeholders to create those captivating communications and craft those engaging experiences upon which brand equity is built. Institutions are typically good with expression but find themselves at a loss for the tools required for activation.

Pillars of Successful Brand Activation

What’s involved in brand activation? Below are eight critical practices for successful brand activation and tangible examples of how to roll out this work:

  1. Brand Action Planning: The initial six months following a brand launch are pivotal. A clear plan for engaging stakeholders and embedding the brand across the institution sets the stage for success. Brand activation involves creating a detailed implementation roadmap that transitions your brand from concept to reality.
  2. Brand Ambassador Mobilization: Empowering individuals who are respected and influential within the campus and community to champion the brand can have transformative effects. Part of this work involves setting up targeted training and resources for your brand ambassadors to mobilize your brand effectively, fostering enthusiasm and widespread adoption.
  3. Workgroup Engagement: Operationalizing the brand through dedicated workgroups by defining their purpose and goals significantly boosts brand adoption. This includes identifying necessary teams, developing charters, and prioritizing work plans to keep the momentum going.
  4. Training: Beyond recognizing the brand’s visual elements, stakeholders must understand its essence, how to communicate it, and how to embody it, which is critical in today’s experience-driven economy. The best training plans span multiple channels and establish a framework that you can use over time to onboard new institutional stakeholders.
  5. Storytelling Strategy and Operationalization: Authentic relationships are the backbone of a strong brand, cultivated through strategic storytelling that fosters human connection. You must establish a consistent and repeatable storytelling approach, identify digital storytelling systems, plan brand-based stories, and collaborate with your production teams.
  6. Organizational Resources: Effective brand activation requires adequate resources. Identifying and addressing gaps is essential for successful implementation. You need to objectively assess organizational structures and look for opportunities to optimize brand management setups. This typically does not mean trying to do more with less.
  7. Brand Governance: Clear governance structures ensure the sustainable management of the brand by defining authority and providing necessary support. Governance includes establishing clear roles, responsibilities, resources, and processes to manage your brand effectively.
  8. Analytics: Measurable outcomes and clear metrics are indispensable for tracking progress and refining strategies. To do this well, you need to determine vital KPIs for your brand rollout and create a dashboard to aggregate data so you can chart progress and demonstrate success effectively.

Brand expression — billboards, viewbooks, websites, videos, ads — is fun, exciting, and inspiring. But brand activation is where intention and discipline meet, and vibrant brands flourish.

Embarking on this journey? Dive deeper with Carnegie’s insights—download our brand RFP guide, access our brand glossary and framework, and learn about our Brand Activation services, or start a conversation with us now.

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