Rebranding any higher education institution can seem like a daunting task, especially when considering the required involvement from and impact on the entire community. Often times, marketing teams struggle to execute such an overhaul while keeping the institution’s key stakeholders engaged and supportive throughout the process.
As we learned during an EDU Track Session at Converge 2019, New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) successfully tackled this issue head-on by leveraging their highly engaged faculty and community from beginning planning stages all the way through implementation and saturation. Loretta Lawrence Keane, Vice President for Communications & External Relations, and Troy Williams, Acting Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Brand Management at FIT explained that in order to achieve their Beyond 2020 Strategic Plan goals, it was crucial to focus on three foundational pillars throughout the integrated rebranding process. These pillars include: strategy, market research, and brand adoption.
FIT realized that meeting their strategic goals required clearly established brand goals and alignment of vision between leadership and the general community. Not only did their brand goals include establishing a reputation as a center of innovation and distinguishing FIT from their peers, they included increasing awareness of FIT’s capabilities and expertise outside of fashion.
For example, when you hear the name “Fashion Institute of Technology,” what type of degrees come to mind that this institution offers? Our guess is that you answered something along the lines of “fashion degrees.” Although, FIT does offer undergraduate, graduate and certificate fashion programs, the college also offers a wide range of programs beyond fashion such as media and technical design, product design, product development, marketing and communications, business, and entrepreneurship. The FIT leadership team realized that their overall brand story and program offerings could be difficult to explain to the general public, given that the college name inherently provides that limit.
The team came to this consensus through several peer sessions with a carefully crafted planning council that included diverse members of their community. The planning council was critical in the development of strategic goals that would direct the renewed brand and adoption.
The FIT team also utilized extensive market research to better understand the current brand perspective among their community, as well as where their community envisioned the brand moving. With the collaboration of Kristen Creighton and the SimpsonScarborough team, FIT collected qualitative and quantitative data from over 3,000 subjects and developed over 200 pages of key insights and benchmark data.
From this research, they found that the majority of their audiences heard about the institution and identified it as “FIT” instead of just “Fashion Institute of Technology,” providing them the confidence to promote the brand with “FIT” as a standalone identity. The team also found that the community believed FIT should be at the forefront of innovation, creative, and business. Their challenge was to convey this message while distinguishing their brand among their peers who all wanted to convey this message. Ultimately, through market research findings and peer-review sessions, their renewed brand strategy landed on the narrative that FIT would nurture Unconventional Minds within a new creative economy.
As with any large change within an organization, FIT faced a touch of hesitance and resistance from key community members regarding the newly developed brand. To address this hesitation, the teams also completed validation testing. This allowed them to gauge the success and potential pitfalls of the new brand as it is presented in a live environment. Through this additional survey that collected over 2,000 responses, FIT and Simpson Scarborough gathered data on brand ideas, language, message statements, and design. Their research validated that the new brand was effective among alumni, prospects, parents of prospects, counselors & teachers, employers, and higher ed peers while conveying the story they had intended to present about FIT. This research was key in providing confidence to the community that the brand was ready to be implemented.
Collateral to assist in the adoption of the FIT brand were developed in the form of a renewed brand toolkit. This toolkit includes brand standards, a peer-reviewed brand FAQ, findings from marketing research efforts to support the message, and brand cue cards telling the renewed story placed throughout the campus.
But the FIT team took brand adoption a step further. Throughout this renewed brand identity process, FIT’s team made a commitment to their community. This commitment was based on the belief that brand adoption was dependent continuous community consensus, engagement, and collaboration. This meant focusing on living the brand throughout adoption.
Nurturing unconventional minds took place while listening to community members about their perception of the new brand. The marketing team developed brand workshops to introduce the brand in “town hall style,” allowing them to listen, take in feedback, vet market research, and develop goals for brand implementation. The team also leveraged their creative students and faculty in crowdsourcing fashion. Students were asked to promote FIT’s new brand by posting to social media with “un” words (serving a dual purpose of engaging the student body while increasing organic content about FIT online). The team crafted stories with student testimonials discussing what makes them unconventional. Lastly, identity elements, including video collateral and printed materials were all developed internally by student and faculty teams.
Loretta, Troy, and the FIT leadership team understood that an entire rebrand was a mountainous task that would only be successful through continuous community consensus. Throughout the rebrand phases, FIT collaborated with 25 members of the community as part of a planning community; hundreds of FIT faculty, students, alumni, industry members, and board members throughout implementation and brand adoption; and thousands of respondents through market research.
The result of engaging the FIT community was a renewed brand infused at the core by the message stakeholders felt about the institution. Their brand story of nurturing unconventional minds permeates throughout the institution’s every day activities. With this type of high-touch engagement, the community can have pride in the development of the brand story. Furthermore, there is no lack of confidence in the full adoption of nurturing unconventional minds.
Learn more about FIT’s brand guide and how they implement it while engaging their community on their website.