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Branding 101: Our story thus far…

An important part of branding is sharing stories—in UT’s case, stories that illustrate the energy and passion found on our campus and among students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the community.

In that spirit, what’s the story behind the brand? As you already know, the Office of Communications and Marketing is leading the charge for UT Knoxville’s branding initiative. What you may not know is that we’ve been hard at work throughout the past year, and we’re nearing the home stretch.

We began the year with a mission: Understand UT’s brand and develop communications that support that brand in a unified manner, all while promoting the university as we pursue Top 25 status. Before jumping into the fire, however, we needed a better understanding of how we—and others around campus—were communicating through websites, publications, news, and more.

Communications and marketing firm Lipman Hearne worked with us to assess the current communications throughout the Knoxville campus. The overall finding was that we need a centralized approach to communications; in some cases, that’s already happening, but in others, we need focused work. In March, Lipman Hearne representatives met with university leadership, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the Office of Communications and Marketing. The candid interviews allowed these different audiences to share their perceptions of UT Knoxville and our current marketing efforts.

From their communications assessment and meetings with campus constituencies, Lipman Hearne developed a preliminary branding approach and messaging. Their external, objective approach helped our branding team in Communications and Marketing to move forward. We began working with the suggested messages, tweaking the language. We developed a tentative color palette and began experimenting with typefaces that captured the essence of the stories we wanted to share through the brand. We brainstormed and came up with a variety of possible taglines that could capture the epitome of the UT Knoxville brand.

As our team worked, we began meeting regularly with campus communicators, including the chief communicators for the colleges and communicators from larger offices around campus. Thanks to their help, we’ve continued to refine our messages and other elements of this comprehensive branding initiative. Needless to say, we continue to meet with and work with this essential and talented group.

We also knew that we couldn’t simply launch our ideas and wish for the best. Instead of crossing our fingers, we decided to test our five key branding messages and our set of proposed taglines with a variety of focus groups. UT’s Center for Applied Research and Evaluation in the Social Work Office of Research and Public Service conducted the focus group interviews with current and prospective students and parents, faculty, staff, and others. Their feedback will help us better hone the brand messaging and find a strong tagline to successfully promote the university.

What’s next? We’re currently finalizing the messaging and developing brand communications guidelines. In addition to the new UT Knoxville website, we will release a brand book for communicators, a new website for the Office of Communications and Marketing, and brand communications guidelines, all on schedule for January and February.

Early in 2012, you’ll also begin to see pieces developed by our office and pieces developed in conjunction with our network of campus communicators that utilize the brand communications guidelines. These pieces should immediately show that they were born at UT Knoxville and that they’re part of a unified brand.

We can’t wait to share with you what we’re developing. In the weeks leading up to January, we’ll post tidbits of the overall initiative so you can learn more.

Most importantly, we want your input. As we continue to share, please offer your feedback via the comments section at the end of every blog post. We’re all responsible for promoting the university and upholding our great reputation, whether we’re developing publications and websites or just talking with others about UT.

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