Monday, 12 May 2014

What's in a logo ? Royal Holloway re-brands

A bit of house keeping has unearthed this (no longer timely, but still worthy) posting I held back lest I changed my mind materially about the College new brand image.  Several months have now passed and the conservative grumbling about a bold burnt brick orange and slate grey new brand statements appear to have gone away.  I am wearing my new brand MBA hoodie with pride - so I guess that is a form of positive endorsement ?

After some extensive market research amongst the student body and wider University stakeholders (including staff) we see a new logo launched, bold and bright using highly contrasting colours of glowing orange and black. 
The 2013 'new' Royal Holloway logo
The college shield plays centre stage, and I know that students have strongly expressed a preference for this.  I am not surprised, with positive associations for a long history the heraldic imagery should reinforce a number of Ye Olde English brand attributes that Universities in new countries struggle to compete with.  When asked to design a hoodie a recent MBA cohort sought to utilise the shields latin moto and lots of the sports teams and student societies use the shield on their uniforms.  I wonder if teams will elect to move of the striking and unusual (bar Wimbledon tennis) and very regal (purple = colour of Roman emperors) green and purple. 
Five years ago, when I started at Royal Holloway the blue and white clock tower relief 'envelope' was in the process of establishing itself.  Although, of course, these things take time and evidence of the previous 'Royal Holloway' with counter pointed blue and orange triangles were in much evidence. Branding is a long and slow process.  Some of my longer serving colleagues have muttered "Not another branding !! How long will this one last ?" and flagging that this will be the fifth (?) re-branding in fifteen years.  Perhaps this one will stick around a bit longer. 

Baroness Thatcher did not approve ! Mail photo
Re-branding can be a tricky exercise to get rigtht.  Remember famous reversals like New Coke ?  Or more recently The Gap ?  Starbucks seems to have got away with dropping words and using just the green mermaid (siren) in a push to become part of a global elite, the image only icon brands (e.g. Nike tick).  Way back, British Airways tried to position itself as a global brand in an attempt to deliberately shed some of the negative British reserve perceptions (stand offish, old fashioned, stiff upper lip and poor customer service) with a daring 'World Images' concept.  I loved it ! Re-branding is an extremely expensive exercise, typically undertaken every ten to fifteen years. Unfortunately BA's highly conservative and influential stakeholder group (that included pilot staff and blue suited business executives in UK) found it all a little bit too racy and it was quickly de-radicalised by the new CEO, Rod Eddington, despite hasty market research 'evidence' that suggested strong, positive responses from customers around the world.  Margaret Thatcher epitomised the home market distain by putting a handkerchief over a model plane sporting the then new decals. Extensive media coverage of her reaction may have been the straw that broke the camels back, although the world image, of waves in union flag colours selected for Concorde remains the universal livery that is still being utilised today. 
However, the FMCG trained brands department knew that a logo was more than just an image.  They sought to symbolise a change in the way the organisation thought about itself and to win the hearts and minds of its 50,000 plus staff by seeking to galvanise an internal cultural change, in addition to the more obvious intended messages to customers.  Shrouded in intense secrecy, seeing need-to-know staff sign confidentiality agreements before being shown the re-brand project, the launch fan fare was a hugely exciting and a memorable event that used large, theatre based staff briefings with senior staff presenting a slick multi-media story that sought to emotionally engage, not merely inform staff about the new image that would be portrayed.  And, the College leadership team has undertaken some useful iPad based market research with its staff to better understand how frontline delivery staff feel about the brand they collectively represent. 
The University operates with a decentralised marketing function, and as befits its not-for-profit status invests relatively small amounts of money marketing itself.  (Of course, with a fast changing context that sees the government encourage direct competition from newly founded private universities and cash strapped initiatives that effectively reduce public university funding, this is no longer a rational assumption going forwards).  Thus the hurrah attached with this change is significantly more muted, no multi-million pound campaign as you might expect with a FTSE-100 rebrand.  Perhaps not of central importance to staff, it is of course immensely important for current, future and alumni students, as the brand (image and wider associations) are profoundly enduring.  Hence my choice of this topic for this blog, which includes a wide audience of future, current and alumni students.
I understand one of the ideas is to put more emphasis on Royal Holloway, which is obvious from the size of the lettering, with the smaller 'of London'. But one of the crucial brand associations that is very powerful outside UK is the University of London moniker.  No one says "London - where is that ?"  So, thankfully, this remains as a source of competitive advantage regional UK universities can not easily match. 
The previous image was highly restrictive, with essentially one, singular creative.  No reverse colour way, no fragmented elements, no watermark.  No flexibility in execution.  It was not designed with social media and co-creation in mind.  In the old days the powerful brand guardians would jealously guard how and where the brand was used.  The fairly static web design, merchandising and various print media would be created centrally and therefore had to be approved.  Unfortunately this straight jacket and unimaginative approach saw many teaching staff reluctant to adopt the constraining powerpoint format they were encouraged to use.  (Of course, there are other motivations/explanations for this behaviour too !)  The opportunities to see staff and students adopt and adapt the College identity come from a choice of creative executions that can fulfil a wide variety of needs, ranging from tiny 'buttons' (like the white B on an orange square that Blogger uses) to cover slides.   Thus I do hope we will see other elements come forward beyond the expected letter heads and business card designs and perhaps linkages to a wider positioning of the Royal Holloway brand.