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Tennessee Tech University: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand

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Tennessee Tech: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand



Tennessee Tech University: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand Dewayne Wright University of Memphis

July 8, 2009

[APA 5th]

Tennessee Tech: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand


Tennessee Tech University: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand

This paper will examine issues involving the current branding issues facing Tennessee Tech University. First, it will present definitions of corporate branding from the literature. It will then examine the role of multiple stakeholders in the creation of a corporate brand. The current branding efforts of Tennessee Tech will be examined, and a possible path to a future negotiated brand will be explored.

Corporate branding King (1991) stated that in an age of rapid technological advances, where one organization will not hold an advantage over a competitor for long, “the company brand will become the main discriminator” for consumers. But what is the “company brand” he is writing about? It is not the product brand, encompassing how a single product is marketed (e.g. Coca-Cola soft drinks, or Ford Taurus automobiles), but instead the overarching identity of the company, or corporation, as “experienced through corporate and staff behavior, and, importantly, through the organization’s products and/or services” (Balmer & Greyser, 2003, p. 246). Corporate branding has a value foundation “from which the brand is seen to summarize the additional values that are intrinsic in, or associated with, the corporations, its products and services” (Roper & Davies, 2007, p. 76). It differs from the corporate identity construct in that, while identity is applicable to all organizations, branding is not. To develop a brand, an organization’s identity elements must be aligned with the values that are fundamentally held by the organization as set forth by the

Tennessee Tech: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand


organization’s senior management in terms of a corporate branding proposition (Balmer & Gresyer, 2003). And it is more than a visual identity system which, according to Balmer (2001), should be seen as the “trappings” rather than the “substance” of a corporate brand. This visual identifier system (such as a logotype or color scheme) is more of the point of entry to the brand rather than the brand itself (Balmer & Gresyer, 2003). “A clever design has little intrinsic value of its own,” wrote Balmer & Greyser (2003). “However, it can achieve significant leverage when the promise explicit in the corporate brand has been kept and has been experienced consistently over time. Only then will such verbal and visual identifiers potentially have enormous intrinsic worth.” Increasingly, corporate branding is being utilized by organizations as a way to achieve distinctiveness (Balmer & Gresyer, 2003), fulfilling the prophetic words of King (1991). The benefits of corporate branding to an organization are substantial: differentiation from competitors, increased loyalty from diverse stakeholders, and increased organizational leverage, especially if the organization is in a mature consumer market (Balmer 2001).

Stakeholder involvement in branding Instead of focusing on customers only, the corporate brand must deal with the needs of multiple stakeholders (Hatch & Schultz, 2003). Shared values between stakeholders help to unify and strengthen the corporate brand, and gaps between differing stakeholder perspectives is a threat to the corporate brand that must be guarded against (Roper & Davies, 2007). Gregory (2007) wrote “systematic studies should be undertaken of the images that various stakeholders have of an organization, that these should be fed back into the development of corporate strategy which will in turn help to shape the corporate brand” (p. 61).

Tennessee Tech: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand


In an attempt to create a process model of corporate branding that encompasses the role of stakeholders as partners in the development of the corporate brand, Gregory (2007) developed what she calls “the negotiated brand” process. The process is based on the organization working through a process of dialogue and negotiation with its various stakeholders, both internal and external, in developing the corporate brand over time. Under this model, the organization must be responsive to the input of the stakeholders. The process begins with the organization initiating the process by identifying core values and management vision through research. These values are then provided to the stakeholders through corporate communication. From there, the steps work through engagement (soliciting response from the stakeholders), knowledge (values are reviewed, evaluated, and refined based on the stakeholder response), and action (adjustment to strategies which affect the corporate brand or the way it is communicated), creating a negotiated corporate brand. At this point, the process continues its evolution by returning to the engagement phase. This process means that the organization might not end up with a deliberate, vision-driven corporate brand which is realized precisely as planned or intended by management. However it does mean that the organization will have a brand where management vision is constantly informed by reality and refreshed and where overall strategy is more likely to be supported by stakeholders since they are partners in creating it (p. 64).

Current branding efforts of Tennessee Tech University Tennessee Tech University is a Master’s/Comprehensive four-year public institution. It is organized with a central administration and seven academic colleges and schools. It has experienced record enrollment for the last eight years, breaking the 10,000-student mark in 2006.

Tennessee Tech: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand


Like most universities, Tennessee Tech has numerous stakeholder groups. Some of the obvious groups are prospective students, current students, faculty and staff, alumni, and the institution’s governing body. Other publics include government officials, peer institutions, the mass media, and donors. Tennessee Tech currently focuses its branding efforts in the development of a common visual identity system consisting of logotypes, word marks, and shared color scheme. Communication to stakeholder groups, both internal and external, has been primarily one-way, as a traditional marketer (university admissions) to a consumer (prospective student). While some research has been undertaken to understand the way that prospective students view Tennessee Tech, no systematized research program has been done to understand the perception of the Tennessee Tech brand held by its various stakeholder groups.

Possible application of Gregory’s negotiated brand concept to Tennessee Tech By looking at existing corporate communication, any existing research, vision and mission statements, along with interviews of the university’s senior administration, an initial formulation of the corporate brand of the university will be developed. The core values that are determined will be given to the university’s public affairs office, the current office with the chief responsibility for maintaining the brand of the university. A corporate communication plan will be developed and materials shared with internal stakeholders such as faculty and staff, and external stakeholders such as alumni and donors. A series of focus groups or surveys will be used to engage the stakeholder groups and solicit input from them. Responses will be analyzed and presented to senior administrators, in a individual meeting with the university’s president and by group presentation to the executive

Tennessee Tech: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand


council consisting of all vice presidents. At this time, the core values will be evaluated and refined based on the stakeholder responses. After this executive-level evaluation and refinement, new communication materials reflecting the current status of the brand will be created and given to the stakeholders. A second series of focus groups or surveys will be used to solicit responses. The responses will again be analyzed and the brand evaluated. I think the majority of the work will be accomplished during the first two cycles. The trap that must be avoided by the university is to consider the process to be completed at that time. The brand is continually developing, especially in the way it is communicated. Constant engagement should be structured as an annual review process with continued surveys or focus groups of the partnering stakeholders.

Tennessee Tech: Possible Path to a Negotiated Brand References Balmer, J. M. T. (2001). The three virtues and seven deadly sins of corporate brand management. In Balmer, J., & Greyser, S. (Eds.), Revealing the corporation: Perspectives on identity, image, reputation, corporate branding, and corporate-level marketing (pp. 299-316). London:Routledge. Balmer, J., & Greyser, S. (2003). The corporate brand. In Balmer, J., & Greyser, S. (Eds.), Revealing the corporation: Perspectives on identity, image, reputation, corporate branding, and corporate-level marketing (pp. 245-252). London:Routledge. Gregory, A. (2007). Involving stakeholders in developing corporate brands: The communication dimension. Journal of Marketing Management, 23 (1/2), 59-73. Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. (2003). Bringing the corporation into corporate branding. European Journal of Marketing, 37 (7/8), 1041-1064. King, S. (1991). Brand-building in the 1990s. In Balmer, J., & Greyser, S. (Eds.), Revealing the corporation: Perspectives on identity, image, reputation, corporate branding, and corporate-level marketing (pp. 259-271). London:Routledge. Roper, S., & Davies, G. (2007, February). The corporate brand: Dealing with multiple stakeholders. Journal of Marketing Management, 23 (1/2), 75-90.


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