University of Southampton

Brand campaign

Rallying a university behind a compelling story.

What happens when a large and well-respected academic institution recognises that a solid reputation, sound values and a strong visual identity aren’t enough to stand out in a crowded and highly competitive marketplace? That’s when you unleash the power of a good story.

The University of Southampton is a founder member of the UK Russell Group and is ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world. It has a global reputation for leading-edge research, enterprise and scholarship across a wide range of subjects.

Having recently reviewed its strategy, vision and values, the University resolved to turn its disparate offering into a more unified proposition that would dramatically improve communication with key stakeholders.

Working closely with the central Communications and Marketing team, we embarked on a wide-ranging project to identify and develop a powerful narrative thread running through the University’s activities that would provide the foundation for all future marketing activity.

The process began with research: interviewing key stakeholders, including members of the University Executive Group, academics, marketing staff and students. During the early stages of a large-scale project like this, we aim to identify broad themes that unite these key constituencies but are often overlooked in the day-to-day running of a large, complex institution.

This is because we believe that effective branding need not involve a costly root-and-branch reappraisal of an organisation’s vision, values and identity. Instead, the process can be an invigorating reconnection of ideas, people and key functions that may have become disconnected over time, or may always have existed in relative isolation.

In 2016, Southampton was ranked 110th in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, a rise of 36 places since 2014.

In this instance, it quickly became clear that greater connectivity would not only be a goal of the project, but also the theme of the Southampton brand story itself. Despite being a leading exponent of interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers working across a variety of disciplines to solve real-world problems, the University’s communication lacked a correspondingly cohesive vision.

It was necessary, therefore, not only to highlight and celebrate the fundamental interconnectedness of the University’s outlook and achievements, but also to ensure that its behaviour reflect the sheer power of connectivity.

Having achieved buy-in from the key stakeholder groups, we worked with central and faculty marketing teams to create a roadmap for embedding the brand story across the entire University community. We also devised a University-wide editorial policy to facilitate the sharing of ‘connectivity stories’.

We also coordinated media and public speaking training for academics who were willing to become more visible ambassadors for Southampton, giving them the tools to tell their own story while ensuring that each narrative was underpinned by connectivity.

With the power of connectivity now underpinning its communication and culture, the University is reaping the benefits of a compelling brand story.

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