A rebranding exercise at Lewisham Southwark College cost almost £290,000 and the result — Lesoco — could be dropped after less than two years. Ruth Sparkes considers the rebranding question.

It’s all about the brand. Actually, it’s not. But in my line of business, education brands are very important.

Branding, rebranding and the cost of such college activities has won lots of column inches recently, and the merits of rebranding have been ferociously debated in some quarters.

To the cynical out there, ‘branding’ is all ‘smoke and mirrors’, marketing speak to keep people like me in business. “Get a design student to create a new logo, it’ll only cost you a pint” — bet you’ve heard similar.

Why would a college want to rebrand? Well, lots of colleges have rebranded or are going through the process of rebranding, I think we’re seeing a ‘college’ renaissance; there was a time, in the not too distant past when some colleges even ditched the word ‘college’ from their marketing communications.

I am pleased to see that it’s no longer a ‘dirty’ word, and it’s making a comeback, if not to the institution’s title, to the tagline
at least.

Rebranding is a chance to ‘start afresh’, to perhaps draw a line under the old and signal a new direction, a new team, a new focus — a new energy.

If not approached in the right way, rebranding can alienate rather than attract

The rebranding process is an opportunity to re-evaluate your key business messages, your cornerstones — mission, vision and values.

You can use it to create an identity that really supports what you’re trying to achieve, so that advocates and key stakeholders know what you organisation’s unique selling points really are, when they’re talking about it.

When is a rebrand a good call? When you want to change an existing perception — has your organisation suffered from constant bad press, have there been major problems with the college or its teaching methods?

Once issues like this have been corrected, then a new identity is a way of relaunching.

Other reasons might include the college not being seen as up with the times — old fashioned, tired, if you’re losing market share to other colleges and you want to relaunch with a bright new face or if you want to attract a different types of students and staff.

You might also want a new management team and a new direction for a college, you might have had a total revamp (building, facilities, equipment) and want this to be reflected in your brand.

You might also want to merge two or more colleges (this can be quite a difficult exercise because you are bringing together two sets of values, ways of working, existing brand equity — good and bad, so any new branding should be handled sensitively).

However rebranding is not always the right answer.

When considering a rebrand, there are lots of things to think about — how do your stakeholders feel about the change of direction, style, management? If there hasn’t been a change in any of the above — how are you communicating why you need a rebrand?

If not approached in the right way, rebranding can alienate rather than attract — I don’t think you need me to point out that an ill-considered name and logo can do more harm than good.

You need to make sure that you understand the heritage and existing value of your current brand. You need to make sure that you’re not ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’.

Recognise the existing value and be sure to bring some of that forward, if you can. It might be a case of evolution rather than revolution.

Do not use a rebrand exercise as a way of fixing other problems. Some institutions may use a ‘new logo’ like a sticky plaster.

Make sure you look carefully at all options before you start so you’re not wasting time and money — fix the problems first.

Also steer clear of rebranding when your college has a strong and recognisable brand and all your stakeholders ‘get it’. A minor ‘refresh’ might be a way forward in this case.

So, how much should it cost?

This can be variable depending on the type of organisation you use to help you rebrand and the extent of the rebrand exercise you want to go through, but a good guide would be between £10 and £20,000. This should include an audit of your existing brand, re-evaluating your positioning statements, running stakeholder workshops and, of course basic brand guidelines.