Branding may seem like business reserved for marketing and communications staff, but each individual touchpoint matters. Even if you aren’t a designer it’s important to ask yourself, “What role do I play in the Illinois brand?” Or more importantly, “How can I contribute to the goal of presenting a unified brand to prospective students?”

Why It Matters

If we think about some of the strongest brands, there are a few that most likely come to mind. Take Apple. When we think of Apple we may think of high-end technology, sleek design, and user-focused interfaces that spark and enable creativity. 

Disney is another example. No matter how you experience Disney, their goal is to make you feel the magic at the heart of their brand. That’s why Disney World is the most magical place on earth. It’s why when you deal with a Disney employee their parting words are, “Have a magical day!” Everything they do is on brand, because they don’t want anything to break that magic. 

That’s what makes a great brand: It creates a strong sense of belonging around a “shared perception” – a collection of ideas that immediately come to mind when the brand is encountered. 

How do we ensure that prospective students are thinking, feeling and experiencing many of the same things about Illinois? It’s simple in concept, but more challenging in execution: We get unified. In order to do that, we need to be clear on the Illinois brand. Each one of us.

Knowing the Illinois Brand

Thanks to the Office of Strategic Marketing and Branding’s website, which they launched in July 2020, we have great online resources available, from brand strategy, messaging and design guidelines to blog posts and assets. If you work at Illinois, this should be required reading. We each may have our own ideas of what the Illinois brand is, but it’s critical that we present a unified front to prospective students. It’s the only way to strengthen and elevate our brand. 

People often refer to a brand as a promise. While Disney’s brand may promise to provide the magic that transports you out of ordinary life, Illinois’s promise is that the university offers an education that will unleash the power that lies within them. 

That promise is articulated in the core brand message: The Power of I. The phrase’s dual meaning represents both the power inherent in our students and the power of the university to be a catalyst for those students, by offering life-changing educational experiences. 

If there’s only one thing you remember about the Illinois brand, make it The Power of I. 

Everything else – our brand powers, brand pillars, brand voice and more – revolves around it. 

These key elements are good to understand, but the university’s brand identity is only as strong as the people who work to convey it, whether that’s through a conversation, an email or a marketing vehicle like a website. We each need to know how to weave the brand into the work we do on a day-to-day basis – whatever that work may be. So how do you do that?

Being a Brand Ambassador 

Being a brand ambassador means embracing the brand on an internal level and passing it on to others in thoughtful, meaningful ways. Slapping “The Power of I” and an updated wordmark on communication pieces doesn’t fully reflect the new brand in a way that connects the dots for prospects and their parents. 

A good place to start connecting those dots is by practicing how you would explain the meaning of “The Power of I’ to a prospective student. It’s important to note that we don’t want to explain the brand to our audiences, we want to convey the idea that the brand is rooted in, and how it will impact them if the come to Illinois.

How would you then tie that overarching concept (“We recognize the power in you.”) to the goals and dreams of that particular student (“We can help you achieve those goals.”) 

The next step is to get specific about how the university – and your unit in particular – can be a catalyst for that power. What resources and opportunities do the university and your unit offer that help our students achieve their goals and succeed? What are the strengths that set us apart from other universities? Start a list of ways we help students succeed, and keep adding to it throughout the year. 

Remember – prospective students want to know we have topnotch resources and that our work impacts the world. But, they also need to feel empowered. They need to know we care about them. 

Finally, think of all the touchpoints you have with prospective students and work to make each one as powerful as possible. Connect with colleagues and discuss the brand. Explain it to someone over dinner. Consume it. Live it. That’s the best way to become a true brand ambassador and ensure that we’re all moving forward together, toward a stronger, more unified brand.