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Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

In over fifty years of study, teaching, and professional practice I found that the words people used either clearly reinforced their credibility or permanently destroyed it. There was no middle ground.

But sadly I have to acknowledge that the recent presidential election produced an exception. It seems that television experienced speakers in our 24/7 “live” television environment are now able to suspend this negative effect of repeated lies, vulgarities, exaggerations, bullying, and personal attacks for some uncertain period of time. This is especially true if they convincingly promise to fix their audience’s most deeply felt problems… even when the fixes may not be realistic.

And now other experienced television performers have managed to polarize their political party ideologies and unknowingly drive them into total gridlock. The sad consequence is that these mean-spirited performers accomplished this while being mindlessly unaware that great numbers of Americans were dropping out of their system. Now these drop-outs may be growing into a new majority.

New polls confirm that more and more Americans are concerned about unanticipated consequences of exaggerated promises, White House management turmoil, mean-spirited personal attacks, elimination of society’s safety-net programs, dangerous foreign policy pronouncements, continued gridlock, and mindless disruptive presidential tweets. The question that has so many of us living on pins and needles is… “When will something really bad happen?”

Do we have fresh thinking political leaders ready to engineer a new day? Do we need a totally new grassroots electoral system? Can the current two parties survive this mess they created? Or will a clean-up require new parties based on pragmatic problem-solving and new ideas? There are no easy answers.

But I must say that during my 50 years of immersing myself in all aspects of the power of media and communication I learned that it is possible that truth-telling, authenticity, integrity, ethical character, trust, and credibility can all be restored as unwavering prerequisites for leading anything… most especially great institutions and nations. Collective persistence is the key.

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The lesson learned in the UK this week is that great numbers of people feel that globalization left them behind. The digital technology revolution, free trade agreements, easy immigration, and the creation of a global economy benefited only the educated elite, not the middle or working class.

For the UK there are direct concerns for universities. There are 150,00 European students in UK institutions, and millions of pounds flow from Europe supporting research. But there are also lessons here for the U.S. and other countries, as well as for all of global higher education.

For the U.S. and other countries the growing tendency to move toward greater nationalism may slow globalization a bit, but it will not end it.  Interconnections enabled by technology and an already established global economy will continue. So every nation will have to demonstrate that national pride and shared benefits are possible in a global economy.

There is a parallel reality for universities. International fund-raising, partnerships, curricula, and student and faculty migration patterns, are already underway. Maintaining a strong institutional brand identity is not only possible, but it is essential. Just as with nations, differentiation establishes institutional pride and competitive advantage, and is completely compatible with globalization.

Universities must pay attention to these Brexit lessons, but must also stay the course. Educating global leaders, increasing cross-cultural understanding, and focusing resources on world problem-solving are far too important.

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Members of Fort Worth Sister Cities International recently visited Cuba. After 50 years of an American embargo they experienced a country that may soon witness rapid commercial development… a situation which poses many concerns about what could result.

While in Cuba the group met University of Havana Professor Carlos Alzugaray Treto who spent 35 years in the Cuban foreign service during those embargo years. In that role the ambassador saw human rights issues not only in Cuba, but in many other countries… including the US and some  of its allies. And he came to see trade between countries purely as win-win exchanges.

So on a recent trip to Fort Worth he remained optimistic about improved US-Cuba relations in matters of human rights and trade. And he also saw commercial development in Cuba as happening one step at a time, enabling traditional Cuban cultural values to be retained.

While buildings are crumbling in many areas of Cuban cities, the question  will be whether to restore them or build modern ones. Will streets end up lined with fast food joints or traditional Cuban bars and eateries? And while more hotels certainly are needed, how many must model traditional Cuban architecture for the culture to be reinforced?

And beyond these physical development issues how can long-standing  Cuban cultural and artistic values be retained? In other words, what is an appropriate overall vision for Cuba’s future? Can standards be articulated which encourage appropriate modernization and yet ensure that traditional Cuban cultural features are preserved?

I suggest that a simple “marketing and communication blueprint” which everyone can understand will be required. It must clearly articulate, update, and authenticate a renewed national brand identity. Such a blueprint is much more than mere advertising.

A clear brand identity enables a national “self-fulfilling prophecy” to take place. It does so by constantly surrounding local citizens and the rest of the world with many media platforms… from TV to newspapers to posters to social media. To be effective the content must be clear messages and pictures about what Cuba stands for and believes about itself.

Achieving an “authentic” Cuban brand identity will require key opinion leaders from government, the arts, hotels, restaurants, education, human services, marketing, communication, etc. to meet together in small groups to brainstorm, clarify and take full “ownership” of an authentic Cuban brand. Similar groups can also work on the standards for commercial development and for preserving the culture.

I must add at this point that universities with strong programs in political science, international relations, public health, public administration, urban planning, marketing, media studies, communication, etc. can be vital resources to countries such as Cuba. Universities can provide research and expertise in everything from rebuilding institutions and businesses to addressing problems in climate change, poverty, hunger, energy, conservation, and much more.

Indeed, universities are strong soft power and public diplomacy forces… much the same as Sister Cities International.

 

 

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Back in the day, I was among several others seeking to find and articulate the perfect planning model for communicating institutions. The “buzz term” at the time in management was MBO, Management by Objectives. I wanted to find the communication equivalent.

But over time I came see that “groupthink” of any kind can be a trap. “This is the way we do things,” has caused many executive teams to plateau just when reinventing themselves and revitalizing their organizations became necessary.

In fact, entire consulting firms have based their work on a formula for success they have developed.  In higher education many fundraising consultancies and marketing and communication firms have based their work on formulas. And so when the core business is disrupted the initial response is to do more of what has always been done.

But when overall conditions change, competition deepens, and markets broaden, the game is changing. Now is when marketing thinking, integrated processes, strong team building, fresh thinking, and new strategic initiatives might be necessary.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently  described Georgetown University’s “Red House, a house near center campus, as a kind of  “skunkworks.” Students and faculty are engaged together in developing creative cutting-edge projects in search of a more innovative and cost-effective education.

In order to avoid falling back on past models, maybe all organizations could benefit from forming their own version of a “skunkworks.” Such internal think-tanks can objectively use integrated group processes to clarify founding mission, fine-tune brand authenticity, update message points and overall  “look,” revitalize the vision, and inspire a strong sense of renewal.

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Last week I had the pleasure of working with a group of trustees committed to preserving the values and distinctions of a hundred year old institution. But they also understood that planning for the future will require using new communication tools and adapting to the needs of a generation that grew up with those tools.

We first discussed the increasing power of brand identity. In this digital media world people seem to affiliate with an institution as much for what it stands for and the total experience it delivers (values, culture, traditions, relationships, regional characteristics, consistency, program distinctions, etc.) as for its particular fields of study.

We also discussed how in an information cluttered world an authentic differentiated brand identity can actually achieve greater visibility, as well as greater distinction. And we explored how an authentic brand description can be adapted  to connect with different age groups and market segments, and how each segment will have its own preferred media platforms… some digital and some traditional.

At the heart of this institution’s educational experience has always been face-to-face conversations about social justice, gender, diversity, world religions, church and state, and more. So we discussed how all this can be preserved while adapting to the needs of new generations. Internet searches, easy to access media material, shorter talks in class, teleconferencing with experts from around the world, all can be used while preserving the added value of face-to-face conversations and forums.

What was most impressive about this group was that they could see how a contemporary vision for the future, and new methods of teaching, can remain grounded in its founding mission.

 

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During Chautauqua Institution’s focus on Europe this summer, Ulrike Guerot, Director of the European Democracy Lab in Berlin, suggested that the EU should function much like a “united states of Europe.”

Dr. Guerot went so far as to suggest that United States of America’s “republic” could actually be a model for Europe. Each European country could elect representatives to go to Brussels specifically to make laws and regulations that insure the development of the EU into a solid economic and political power. She thinks achieving economic unity, and at least some measure of political compromise, is the only way to prevent future wars.

Just as in the US, she expects tensions would exist between the rights of each country and the collective needs of the EU. She also recognizes that the kind of extreme polarization which developed in the US also exists in the EU. But just as in the US, she argues this can be tolerated for a while, and addressed over time.

Many at Chautauqua found Dr. Guerot’s “big idea” a bit far-fetched. But it is an idea that could lead to an EU that would see benefit in longterm support for collaborative university research, teaching, and international problem-solving.

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A number of forces are converging to change the future of higher education: (1) Governments everywhere are changing how they support education, often cutting back. (2) Digital technology is changing both how we teach and how we tell our institutions’ stories. (3) Globalization is gradually and steadily changing the competitive dynamics of our marketplace.

In the United States all of this is happening in an atmosphere of state government cutbacks. Many institutions therefore are focused more on saving their core business and local markets than on exploring international opportunities.

But the facts suggest that global forces are already changing higher education… ready or not. Migration patterns of both students and faculty are already changing. Institutions everywhere are recruiting and raising money in markets previously foreign to them. Institutional partnerships are being formed. New campuses are being built. And technology is creating new international on-line markets, while at the same time changing the communication of everything from subject matter to institutions.

In such an environment it is only prudent for institutions to consider these international realities at the same time they are addressing their local core business disruptions. And what’s exciting is that all of these challenges are ones that all advancement professionals are capable of addressing. Who better than they can identify the parts of the world where their institution has  fundraising potential? Who better than they can call upon alumni in other countries to help recruit students and lift visibility? Who better than they can access and clarify the international appeal of their special program strengths? And who better than they can understand and explain how media revolutions change everything?

The only bad news in all of this is that advancement work will require more sophistication than ever before. But the exciting good news is that there is no one in all of higher education better suited than advancement professionals to help lead the way.

My new book with much more on this topic is coming soon from CASE Books: The Transition Academy: Seizing Opportunity in the Age of Disruption  (http://www.case.org/books).

 

 

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