Alex Swann, Director, Lesniak Swann

We’ve been rebranding colleges, other institutions and businesses since 2002.

Given the fluid nature of the FE sector currently, such as area reviews, we realise more and more colleges will be merging over the medium to long term.

We’ve seen some excellent executions of college re-brands and mergers, and some poor ones. Hopefully, the points we raise below will help an FE Marketer and their internal team about to embark on a rebranding project for whatever reason.

What is a brand?

Firstly, there’s confusion about what a ‘brand’ is.

We believe it is a feeling or an opinion that springs to mind when people who know you think your name enters their consciousness.

However, it’s routed in four things: Your ability to provide your service and do your job to an industry ‘standard’ (Unfortunately that standard also differs between individuals), your selling points or competitive advantages, the values of your organisation and the behaviours you demonstrate.

Unfortunately, for some internal stakeholders (often senior managers), a ‘brand’ could also just mean a logo.

What to consider when merging entities and forming a new brand

When merging, it is often the values and the behaviours of the two or more organisations in question that need to be addressed – and to make sure the new identity has commonality across all of them. As the eminent management consultant and academic, Peter Drucker once said: “culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner”.

For us, a brand lives and breathes at the heart of a business. The first step should be to establish the values you wish to convey closely with customers or service users to understand what they have an affinity with. To help you to do this you or your internal team should ask these questions:

* What is unique about our institution (or institutions in the case of a merger)?

* What are our core values? 

* Do your current behaviours match these?

* Who are we talking to? 

* What does the outside world currently think about you? 

* What does the brand currently mean to you? 

* What does the brand currently mean to your students?

* What does the brand mean to your prospective students and their influencers?

* What does the brand mean to other stakeholders such as local employers?

* What does the brand mean to your colleagues? 

* Elevator pitch — describe to us your organisation in 30-seconds. 

* Elevator ‘slag off’ — 30-second eavesdropping - what don’t you want to hear?

Brand Architecture

* What is the current brand structure and what was the rationale for it?

* There are currently multiple business identities/sub-brands, should these be consolidated?

* What are the advantages of having multiple brands?

* What would be the benefits for consolidating the brand?


* What is the vision? 

* What do we want the brand to stand for? 

* What will the brand be known for in 3-5 years’ time? 

* What should it mean to your service users? 

* Which well know household brands hold the territory you would most like to occupy? 

* Which competitor’s or contemporary’s brands do you admire? And why? 

Are we moving in the right direction?

* Do we need to change any perceptions of the institutions involved today? If so, who with? And why? (think internal communications as well as external).

* Are there any parts of the college that resist the brand currently? Have they got a reason to?

The name/s

* When people hear the name for the first time what do you want them to think?

You shouldn’t stop there.

Essentially these questions will allow you to write a creative brief – which in turn should give you more questions to answer.

Developing the brief, message and tone for the brand

From the answer to the above questions, you can begin to develop the core propositions and key messages. At this stage, you should also be defining the messaging architecture, evaluating how the college offerings relate to each other and work together to promote the whole brand.

Again, it’s useful to ask questions to do this. These questions essentially determine what exactly it is that you would like to say.

* Why are we communicating?

* Who are we communicating with?

* What does the intended audience currently think? And what do we want them to think?

* What is the single most important thing that we wish to communicate?

* What evidence is there to believe the claim?

* What tone and manner should we adopt?

* Are there any mandatories?

* Budget and delivery date

If you, your internal team or an appointed agency follow the questions and the processes we have listed, the result should be a solid creative brief. A watertight brief should allow a team of creatives and strategists to deliver work to the best of their ability. Lesniak Swann believes effective marketing communication should be strategic, creative and well executed. The creative and the execution will always be rooted in the strategy; an effective strategy, like any plan, should be the product of extensive research.

Alex Swann, Director, Lesniak Swann

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