The benefits of mosaic branding

by Meg Fowler Tripp for Call to Action (Inside Higher Ed)

Article seven in an eight-part series on how to craft an authentic, differentiating brand.

Now that you have an understanding of the process behind building a compelling brand and have gotten calibrated through thoughtful research; crafted resonant messaging; developed a visual toolbox; made strategic choices around methods and materials, and mapped out your digital strategy, it’s time to take your brand live.

But, after all your efforts, how can you ensure your audiences and constituents perceive your brand just as you want them to?

You can’t control…but you can influence.

One of the toughest realities about branding is that you aren’t—and can’t be—in control of every aspect of your brand. You can put the work into crafting a verbally and visually resonant brand, and create communications that tell your story in a compelling way, but the “you” that exists in the minds and hearts of your constituents is also subject to a host of other voices and forces in our multi-channel world.

If you place every “brand tile” you’ve got in an intentional, thoughtful way, you’ll create a mosaic indelible enough to withstand all the other tiles being placed around it.

That’s why embracing “mosaic branding” will save you frustration in the long run. The concept is simple: If you place every “brand tile” you’ve got in an intentional, thoughtful way, you’ll create a mosaic indelible enough to withstand all the other tiles being placed around it.

What are your brand tiles?

Your brand tiles are all the words, designs, communications, systems, and processes you develop intentionally: your website, your campus event emails, your alumni fundraising pitch pieces, the FAQ you provide for prospective students on your website. Any interaction you have internally or externally can be considered a part of your brand mosaic.

The tiles that get placed without your input include everything from posts on personal Facebook pages (or your own institutional page) to rankings in national magazines and news stories covering events or happenings on your campus. These tiles could be positive, innocuous, or problematic—but the stronger your brand mosaic, the less likely it is that they’ll take over your brand narrative.

Making the most of your mosaic.

With your new messaging and visual system in hand, here are some tips for ensuring that your brand makes the impression you want—and an impression that lasts:

Get everyone speaking the same language.

Your brand messaging shouldn’t be chained to the marketing department. Advancement, admissions, administration, academics—everyone should be able to articulate your vision, mission, values, attributes, and storylines. If you want your messaging to become the “first language” of your institution, give every member of your team a chance to learn it, speak it, and share it.

Design consistently to differentiate.

Today’s higher education communicator has more channels than ever before to attend to, and a lot of moving parts that require a coherent visual approach. It might seem simpler to slap on a seal, pick a brand color, and move on to the next task—especially when that’s all your competitors are doing—but true differentiation comes from a more comprehensive approach. Your brand will stand out markedly from the crowd when you use all the parts of your visual system: type, palette, approach to imagery, design moves, and so on.

Give your design pros all they need to succeed.

This includes their full brand toolbox (with everything listed above), step-by-step training, a few can’t-miss templates for frequently used communications like emails and newsletters, and assessment and support.

Consider every interaction an opportunity.

Whether it’s a thoughtful response to a question on Facebook, a quick conversation at a recruiting fair when someone picks up a brochure, the voicemail message your callers get after-hours, or the tone of your signage around campus, use every communication as an opportunity to reinforce your values and attributes. Even the smallest exchange can make a big impression at the right time.

P.S.: There’s no such thing as a perfect brand…

…Because there’s no such thing as a perfect institution. You aren’t always going to get it right, verbally, visually, or experientially.

And that’s okay, because perfection isn’t the goal—mosaics aren’t meant to be photo-realistic representations. If you aim for consistency, authenticity, differentiation, thoughtfulness, responsiveness, and clarity in your communications, you’ll already be a standout in a noisy, complicated world.

Articles in this series