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Megan Youngblood


Don’t start over—refresh

September 7, 2016   //   Megan Youngblood

Effective branding requires time and money. When you don’t have the budget or people to commit to a total brand restart, consider whether a brand refresh is right for your school.

Do you have a strategic plan? Have you defined key messages for your distinct audiences? Do you have existing research that identifies how your audiences perceive you and what they want?

If your answer is yes, you have a great starting point.

Zehno’s typical rebrand process begins at the foundational level: with a brand audit, interviewing key stakeholders, conducting audience research, reviewing your competitors’ brands and developing key messages. If you’ve got most of this preliminary work in place already, you don’t need to start back at square one.

Think about a refresh.

A brand refresh is an abbreviated version of the rebranding process, and our first step depends on the strength of an organization’s brand.

Two years ago, Forté Foundation, a nonprofit that launches women into top-level business careers, came to Zehno needing to amp up its brand. Mariska Morse, Forté’s vice president of marketing, had scattered Forté’s entire suite of marketing materials across her living room floor when she realized the brand needed a facelift. In one complete scan, she could see how the organization had been communicating with its audiences. She noticed that a once-lively brand felt tired after beating the same drum for the past five years.

Why a brand refresh was the logical next step

Forté knew its brand hadn’t kept pace with audience growth over the past 10 years because it tracked how well its communications were connecting through e-newsletter metrics, annual membership trends, event registration and attendance, program participation, member surveys, website visits and social media engagement.

But Forté had a solid brand platform, a robust marketing communications plan, and an impressive audience and body of market research — all critical ingredients for a brand refresh. Plus it had just embarked on a five-year strategic plan that pushed the foundation to double its membership base, budget, programming and staff.

Although Forté was on track with its marketing strategy, the brand’s overall look didn’t reflect what Forté had become. It wasn’t energizing for all audiences, and some messages were no longer relevant.

“We had a firm grasp of who our audiences were and how to target them, but their mindsets had changed with the generational shift,” Morse says. “Millennials came into play — a whole new generation of women who have no question they can be leaders in the workplace.”

How content strategy supports the brand narrative

Before getting started on the creative brand vision, Zehno worked with Forté’s leadership to distill five key messages targeting key audiences. Then we launched into the creative concept phase, making Forté’s marketing plan come alive in look, feel, voice, tone and color.

To do that effectively, we paid close attention to that generational shift and discovered how to best appeal to millennial women. Through Forté’s research, we learned that many millennial women don’t have an understanding of the limitless career paths available in business, female business role models aren’t readily accessible on campuses, and women are sometimes risk-averse and likely to stay close to home for their education and employment. So, we needed to connect millennial women who might not consider a business career with role models who they could identify with — real examples of women who’ve been successful in business.

Using bold colors and headlines with a “let’s do this together” spirit, Forté’s new creative concept, “Let’s turn it up!” inspires women at all levels — from Gen Z students to C-level leaders — to advance in business.

“Let’s” suggests that women should support one another in their leadership pursuits, and it encourages bravery, confidence, leadership and networking among Forté’s 75,000 members.

At the center of the campaign are role models ranging from Twitter’s senior director of global business marketing to Citibank’s manager of U.S. investments to a global hostel entrepreneur. These corporate VIPs, industry trailblazers and daredevil icons — photographed like superstars — share knowledge of how they charged up their careers.

“The creative concept combines an aspirational voice with community language,” Morse says. “Our sponsors — business schools, undergraduate colleges and corporate partners — love it. That kind of language is really important to connect with a millennial audience. Our sponsors also want to know they’re funding a strong brand.”

So what makes a strong brand?

It’s certainly more than the logo guidelines, color palette and fonts that typically appear in an institution’s brand manual. A strong brand appeals to your audiences’ emotions through graphic elements, photo style, brand personality, editorial voice and most importantly — a relevant messaging platform.

A strong brand gives audiences a consistent experience, whether they’re receiving an email or attending an event.

“You have to be consistent with the whole package,” Morse says. “As much as advertising and CRM, maintaining a consistent representation and experience of our brand to our community is my focus. It’s what makes your brand feel real (versus just a word).” 

Learn more

Read about Forté’s brand refresh in our case study.

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