Redefining who we are

Redefining who we are

What makes us unique? What makes you proud to work here? What do you love most about Aberdeen as a location? Why do students choose to study here?

These are just some of the questions the Marketing and Brand Development team have been asking staff, students, and our broad network of stakeholders, over the past six months, as we look to find what makes us distinctive as part of an exciting new rebrand launching early next year.

Understandably, the word ‘rebrand’ can be confusing. What is brand? Is it a logo, a tagline, the templates we use day to day? The answer is it’s all those things, but it’s also a lot more than that. If a stranger who had never heard of the University asked you to explain where you work or study, what would you say? What words would you use, and how would you keep the listener intrigued, without going into so much detail about our diverse offering, our 525 years of history, and our aspirational vision for the future, that they are left with no real understanding of who we are, and what makes us different to other Universities?

Simplifying our message through a story that is compelling and succinct: that unites and inspires us through knowing ‘why’ we do what we do, is ultimately what branding is for. It’s about defining what makes us distinctive to all our diverse audiences and then providing the words, the guidelines, and the imagery that teams can then use to connect with them at an authentic level. Brand is then, at its simplest, storytelling. It is the North Star that guides us, the sense of purpose that reminds us why we are here, the values that drive our actions, and the messaging through which we tell people – whether they are a prospect student on the other side of the world, a local policymaker, or a potential new research fellow – just why we are so great!

 So, what does a rebrand look like? We have structured the work into three phases...

 1.       Perception – understanding how audiences see us

The first phase was made up of interviews, focus groups and surveys with audiences, stakeholders, and critical friends: helping us understand current perceptions, and how that differs from our aspirations for the future as set out through Aberdeen 2040. This gap – how we are seen now, versus how we want to be seen in the future – is where our brand power sits: where we use storytelling to influence perception and build reputation.

From identifying our persona (who would the University be if it was a person) – to describing the University in three words, to the sharing of inspiring stories from across our community, the input from staff and stakeholders have been invaluable – helping us identify what makes us truly distinctive, and providing the foundations on which the new brand positioning can then be built…

 2.       Definition – shaping our story and creating an emotional connection

The second phase – due to be completed shortly – is about defining who we are. Using the insight from phase one to create a value proposition – a unique selling point from which our story and new messaging takes shape.

Working with brand consultancy Stand, we have started laying the foundations for our new brand through core themes - otherwise known as ‘brand pillars’ – and proof points that can be evidenced through the work we do. Deep dive interviews with Schools and Interdisciplinary Directors have also helped ensure that we have a brand narrative that keeps us joined up, but that has enough flex to stretch across the breadth of our diverse portfolio.

So, what will that look like? At the end of phase two, we’ll have a new value proposition, positioning statements aligned with Aberdeen 2040, a messaging hierarchy that helps us translate those for different audiences, and tone of voice guidelines that help us articulate our story, depending on who we are speaking to and where. This will then help us create an authentic connection with our different stakeholders, inspiring them through emotive storytelling, and moving past the more transactional approach we currently take with our marketing. Once this is in place, we’ll have  the strong framework we need to start creating and sharing the new brand in phase three…

 3.       Creation – a new image

 This is when it gets exciting - the shaping and sharing of our new brand through content and campaigns due to launch in Spring and Summer 2023. To do this, we will refresh our visual brand guidelines over the coming months – translating the new brand narrative into the imagery, videos, content, and templates we all use day to day: providing teams with what they need internally to inspire audiences externally.

This will result in new brand guidelines (which will be available on the brand portal), and a series of workshops with teams, schools and directorates, before we start rolling out the new brand through a series of campaigns, launching from Spring next year. A two-year brand rollout will follow, during which time the Brand team will work closely and collaboratively with teams, functions, partners and sub brands, to help people create the content and collateral they need to inspire each and every stakeholder, across every channel and touchpoint.

 We’re looking forward to working with you all over the coming months as we work to refresh our image and connect with and inspire all our diverse audiences. Keep an eye out for our upcoming Brand Café sessions where staff are invited to ask questions and bounce ideas, or drop us a line at brandcomms@abdn.ac.uk for more information. We look forward to hearing from you!

You can read more about the University Brand here.

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