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Branding Third Level Institutions: 4 key principles

8 February 2022

At MCCP we have led some of the most significant brand strategy and naming projects in third level education in Ireland in the past 5 years,

Branding Third Level Institutions: 4 key principles

At MCCP we have led some of the most significant brand strategy and naming projects in third-level education in Ireland in the past 5 years, including the University of Limerick, TU Dublin, TUS (Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest), and the upcoming merger of Waterford Institute of Technology with Institute of Technology Carlow. We have also worked closely with the Education In Ireland brand, responsible for the promotion of Irish Higher Education Institutions overseas.

Strategies are not developed from a blank slate in five-year cycles. Every strategy evolves from the shared narrative of the organisation’s recent past and is built upon the decisions of today’s leaders. An effective brand strategy development and management framework needs to be built on some of the following principles.


  • Evidence-based

This is especially important for educational institutions, the strategy needs to be built on robust foundations for a diverse set of stakeholders. As one of our core values, Rigour is baked into our organisational DNA as a signature strength of MCCP; it is integral to all that we do and the foundation of excellent brand strategy development – it determines the decisions that you need to make. Our deep expertise is evidenced by our proven success in discovering the challenges and opportunities that matter through qualitative research, co-creating bespoke brand strategies to meet these challenges through effective project management, across many large and complex private, public and semi-state organisations.

Our unique, proprietary methods effectively identify the most relevant and impactful insights to truly challenge existing thinking and inform strategic priorities.


  • Integrated & holistic change

Executive accountability for achieving the new brand strategic objectives extends beyond providing the blueprint for achieving an envisaged future. Although effective resource (both human and capital) and budgetary planning are of critical importance, setting new strategic goals alone is insufficient to deliver successful implementation. This is especially true if the brand strategy calls for new or different organisational capabilities or behaviours.

Success relies upon a consistent, cohesive and congruent approach to people, projects and programmes of work. This needs an organization that has been deliberately designed to build the capabilities required to implement the organisation’s strategic plan and the supporting brand; to effectively collaborate, coordinate and communicate from a base of shared purpose, understanding, and commitment.

Our team of consultants integrate best-practise approaches across multiple disciplines for a comprehensive, end-to-end approach to strategy development and execution. This provides a 360-degree approach to brand that spans internal and external stakeholder engagement, communications, workshop facilitation, brand development, brand design, brand engagement, and brand storytelling.


  • Balancing action and reflection

Turning strategic insights in to implementable actions is a persistent challenge for executive teams, especially in third-level institutions. Research suggests that 59% of senior leaders struggle to bridge the gap between strategy and execution (Project Management Institute - Brightline Initiative, 2019)

We work closely with the client as trusted advisors to ensure the brand strategy development process is based on deep listening and genuine reflection to challenge existing mindsets and biases. We use tools such as homework tasks, active listening exercises and envisioning tools to encourage workshop participants to ‘walk in audiences’ shoes’ and develop empathy and an audience-centric mindset through the brand development process.

This means that when decisions are made and strategy is translated into objectives and desired KPIs that are built on a foundation of sound diagnosis, an understanding of the degree of complexity involved, agreed guiding principles and frameworks and coherent and coordinated actions guided by disciplined project governance.


  • People at the centre

In our experience, the future brand strategy will be delivered by colleagues at campuses and in the field across the university’s catchment area, and beyond. All stakeholders need to be assured and persuaded that the organisation’s brand strategy is going to deliver on their particular strategic needs and that their views are being reflected.

Good brand strategy development can be evaluated at the end of the process by the extent to which stakeholders can see their feedback has genuinely been considered and has informed the strategic decisions that have been made; while respecting that decisions are made by those best positioned to make them.

The more inclusive, transparent and open both the brand strategy development process is – and the stakeholder engagement and communications plan that accompanies it – will determine its success when translated to a clear, understood and actionable implementation phase.

These are just some of the principles to ensure success in third-level branding. Contact the team at MCCP now to learn how you could benefit from our deep education sector branding and marketing expertise.

Mark Byrne, Strategy Director, MCCP

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