Thompson Rivers University

Want to rebrand? Start by involving staff, study shows

  Posted on: January 24, 2022

A brand serves as an organization’s identifying symbol. And through its brand, organizations may be able to set themselves apart in the market. For branding to succeed, however, the brand’s desired positioning must be legitimate—and that’s where branding becomes complicated.

More than just a name or a logo, a brand distinguishes itself by the employees who work at the organization. For example, Nike positions itself as being innovative; offering its customers the latest high performance athletic products and services. Nike’s employees are constantly experimenting and introducing new technology to support this brand positioning. Consequently, Nike’s customers experiences with the brand are legitimately in keeping with Nike’s brand positioning.

Dr. Paul Clark

“For an organization’s brand to be successful, its staff must be supportive of the brand positioning,” says Dr. Paul Clark, who teaches in the School of Business at TRU.

Staff and management support is key

Clark saw a practical opportunity to examine this when Thompson Rivers University began its rebranding process in 2016. He realized that staff attitudes needed to be involved in how TRU wanted to position itself in the market. This includes the range of experiences students have with the university, including their in-class experiences and navigating the website.

He has since co-authored three papers on this topic: Branding higher education: an exploration of the role of internal branding on middle management in a university rebrand,  Branding a tertiary institution by committee: An exploration of internal brand analysis and management processes, and Dilemmas in Re-branding a University–Maybe People Just Don’t Like Change.

“I realized for TRU’s rebranding process to be successful, the support of the institution’s staff, and its senior management, was essential,” said Clark.

For the first research study, Dr. Clark interviewed senior management from a variety of areas across the university, including deans, department directors and student union leaders, about their brand knowledge and the rebranding process. The study revealed that people who understood the purpose of the university’s brand were more likely to support the rebranding process and the new brand. In fact, for these supporters, the rebranding exercise functioned as a rallying opportunity.

Ensure staff understand role of branding

In contrast, Clark notes, “Those individuals who less understood the significance and role of TRU’s brand were also less likely to engage in the rebranding activities focused on how the university wanted to position itself in the market. These individuals were also less supportive of the time and cost involved in the rebranding process and were ultimately less likely to support the institution’s new brand.”

Clark believes the research brought people’s attention to the importance of brand positioning being supported by the organization’s staff. In TRU’s case, over the rebranding process, senior management was integral to determining how the university wanted to position itself for in the market for students.

Clark believes this research will benefit other universities and publicly owned institutions in their rebranding process.

“This study revealed the importance of educating key organizational staff about the significance, and role, of an organization’s brand. Therefore, this study really illustrated the importance of ensuring staff are educated about the role of branding,” says Clark. “Education is a key first step.”

Contact:
Dr. F. G. Paul Clark
pclark@tru.ca