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The SU Brand: A Q&A

Written by The Commons
September 17, 2014

Since SU's brand initiative began in earnest a year and a half ago, the Brand Leadership Group has guided, shaped and overseen the effort. We asked two members of the group-Matt Isaac, assistant professor of marketing in Albers, and Barry Mitzman, professor of strategic communication in Arts and Sciences-to talk about the initiative.

The Commons: The brand initiative was developed through a comprehensive data-driven process. What struck you most about what the data said in terms of how to reach our target audiences? 

Matt Isaac:  In addition to in-depth interviews with faculty, staff, current students, alumni and community partners, the brand initiative has benefited greatly from the quantitative market research that we commissioned, which consisted of over 700 completed surveys from potential undergraduate and graduate students. 

Upon reviewing this data, three things jumped out at me: (1) Awareness of Seattle University is quite low among prospective students, even in the Pacific Northwest-there is clearly an opportunity to improve recognition and recall among our target groups; (2) Even those who are familiar with SU are unable to consistently and clearly state Seattle University's unique value proposition (i.e., what makes SU different?)-this may partially have do with the fact that many survey respondents did not have an accurate understanding of what a "Jesuit" education really entails; and (3) Our location in Capitol Hill is a unique and valuable asset that we should leverage even more in our branding and communications- survey results show that location is an extremely important factor in prospective students' decision-making. 

The Commons:  What is it about the "Here We Dare" concept that resonated most with you? 

Barry Mitzman

Barry Mitzman:  Part of what inspires me about the Jesuit tradition-and SU as a community in particular-is a commitment to engaging with the world. We're not just an Ivory Tower. We're involved. We're makers. We're doers. We are at the center of, and enmeshed in, the business, cultural and civic life of one of the most lively, dynamic, progressive cities and regions in the world. Many authentic attributes of SU are captured brilliantly in three words: "Here We Dare." 

The Commons:  In terms of awareness, Seattle University, like other universities in the state and region, is well behind the University of Washington. In terms of familiarity, SU is below 20 percent among prospective students. What does that tell you the university needs to be doing to break out of the pack with the other universities? 

Matt Isaac:  Building awareness requires an imaginative branding campaign that attracts attention, achieves distinction, and communicates a simple but compelling positioning. It's easier to get people to pay attention to messages that are clever, unexpected, surprising, and/or otherwise thought-provoking. But it's not enough to just be attention-grabbing- the SU brand needs to look and feel distinct from the pack of other universities. Otherwise, our message might be lost in the mass of advertising or even cause consumer confusion. Finally, SU's messaging needs to include a strong and clear positioning, which communicates in a simple way how people should think of the brand and why it should be preferred over others.  

The Commons:  The ad campaign is still fairly limited in its reach given available resources. What challenges does this present? 

Barry Mitzman:  Frankly, SU hasn't yet invested the resources that are necessary to break through the ad clutter and noise out there, not enough to really change broad public perceptions. But the ad campaign is part of a larger effort that can inform how everyone associated with SU thinks and talks about it. As students, faculty and staff go through our daily lives, we have many powerful opportunities to share a fresh vision of what SU is all about, as expressed in the "Here We Dare" theme. SU people live those words every day. Sharing our stories could have a huge impact.    

The Commons:  How does an overall awareness raising campaign for SU help support enrollment efforts for specific programs, especially graduate programs where the competition is particularly intense? 

Matt Isaac

Matt Isaac:  As they say, you can't buy it if you don't know it exists. There are many crowded markets out there where lack of information may skew people's choices, and education is certainly one of these. Given the influx of local competitors, as well as the growth of massive open online courses (MOOCs), many of which are free, the onus is on us to make potential students, particularly the best and brightest candidates, notice Seattle University and include us in their consideration set. In order to reach our enrollment goals and to raise the profile of our university and the many terrific programs we offer, we can no longer settle for being Seattle's "best kept secret." I feel strongly that the branding work that has been done to-date takes SU in both a positive and necessary direction.    

The Commons:  Higher education is much more competitive environment these days. What would you say is most needed moving forward to help SU cut through all the clutter? 

Barry Mitzman:  What we most need is what I hope the "Here We Dare" campaign will strengthen in us: confidence, boldness, a clear sense of what makes us uniquely valuable to the world and a firm commitment to continuing serving that noble purpose.