Staking New Territory in Association Branding

brand on phone screens

Securing internal buy-in is one of the most difficult, and necessary, parts of any branding project. And, as more and more areas of the organization realize the importance and implications of brand, more and more stakeholders’ sign-offs are becoming necessary before a new positioning is embraced.

We’re used to this increased decision-making pool, but when we learned that our client AACSB—an association of business education leaders—had 29 board members (and a shorter-than-average timetable) we knew we had our work cut out for us. After presenting comprehensive findings, we’d need to adapt our process to make sure such a large board could come together behind the right brand for AACSB…quickly. We decided to “lift the hood” to the board, bringing them rougher ideas sooner—to be pressure tested, workshopped, and ultimately, narrowed to one.

Onsite at a board meeting, it was time to bring these all-important stakeholders into the process. We summarized the “brand gap” between where the brand was currently and where we’d learned the organization and its constituents wanted to see it. Then, we presented four broad brand “territories” around which our findings had coalesced.

brand meeting

We broke the board into four groups and asked each to evaluate a territory. What worked? What didn’t? How did each appeal to traditional stakeholders, business school deans, as well as newer ones, like business leaders? We even let the board put on their creative director hats and select images to represent their assigned direction. Finally, the groups came together, explained their work, and voted on a preferred territory.

workshop board

The clear winner was “Convening the Best Minds,” a territory built around the idea of AACSB as the connector, the organization that facilitates the exchange of best-in-class ideas. The board’s input was invaluable to us, as they articulated an important distinction. AACSB had a huge role promoting innovation in business education, but more through its ability to convene thinkers and disseminate ideas than through its own proprietary intelligence.

That idea become the center of the AACSB brand, eventually manifesting itself in a new brandline, “Business Education. Connected.” The core idea of connection inspired messaging, nomenclature, and content strategy. It can be seen clearly in AACSB’s new look and feel, whose central motif includes brightly colored, overlapping lines, emphasizing AACSB’s role as the place where great business minds intersect and interact.

By bringing stakeholders into the decision-making earlier, and in a more hands-on way, we not only expedited the process and smoothed buy-in, but also gained crucial insights that directly informed the final product. The territories activity was so successful, we began to weave it into many of our project plans. As for AACSB, they launched their new brand (on time!) to much acclaim.

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