The University of Washington is undertaking a comprehensive Reputation Building Initiative (RBI), which began in fall 2007. The goal of the RBI is to help clarify what makes us unique, and to help us achieve the reputation we deserve among all our constituents and stakeholders. We are one of the world’s leading enterprise Universities — and we want to make sure public perceptions match that reality more consistently here in the Northwest, across the country and beyond. It’s time we are consistently viewed in that light, alongside Berkeley, Michigan, UCLA and other peer institutions.
In summary, the objectives of the RBI are to enhance awareness and recognition of the UW by:
- Clarifying our distinctive identity and contributions
- Solidifying our positive relationship with our cities and state
- Positioning the UW as a clear leader in determining what a national and global research university can be in the world
In initial research and strategic planning processes, a key challenge emerged for the University. We can’t simply communicate what we are (a major research university). We also must convey why we do the remarkable work being done here, and what it is that makes us different from other institutions. We must humanize the University of Washington.
What is a Brand
A brand is the sum total of our experience with a product, a service or an organization, a relationship built between the entity and its audiences. Brands help us know what to expect (great customer service from Nordstrom, on-time delivery from FedEx, user-friendly technology from Apple, effective action and advocacy from the Nature Conservancy). Organizations like these have spent years building their brands and in turn their reputations. Each new product or service, every transaction and every message is intended to reinforce what we believe about them.
The University of Washington brand has been around for years as well. But without consistently communicating a clear and common understanding of who we are and what we stand for, perceptions of our brand vary widely from one group to the next. And in too many cases, those perceptions fall far short of our reality.
The Strategy: Humanize the University
Whether it’s educating a new generation of thinkers and doers, improving the health and well being of people here and around the globe or planning a more sustainable future — our efforts and innovations are always in service of the greater good. By telling stories that reflect this truth, the picture we present will be anything but cold and institutional. On the contrary, it should give all our audiences reason to feel good about our University, the work we do, the contributions we make and the future we are all helping to create.
The importance of story
Because they are understandable, relatable and memorable, stories are an important part of how we build and extend our reputation. Stories help transform the perception of the University from an amorphous entity to a personally relevant organization. While we can never tell them all — or even agree on which ones are the most representative of our University — one thing should always be clear: Every story should reflect the fact that as a public institution, our primary mission — and our greatest contribution — is the education of a new generation of thinkers, doers and leaders.
When we tell stories about our achievements and discoveries, we’re sending a message about the level of educational experience that’s available here. After all, every university teaches students. Very few of them offer the same kind of opportunities we can provide, which is why the best and brightest students, researchers and educators seek us out.
The importance of place
The UW is a quintessentially Northwest institution, and we are a cornerstone of this uniquely innovative culture. It’s a culture whose impacts extend far beyond our region, whether it’s inventing the next generation of software, medical breakthroughs or jet aircraft. Our symbiotic relationship with the Northwest is an authentic part of who we are, and unique within the academic world. It’s a point of difference that we can leverage.
The UW brand position
A brand positioning statement is meant to clarify what an institution does, the benefits that result, and what makes these unique. A position statement is not intended to be public facing, but to instead act as a guide for the development of all other communications. It describes how we want our target audiences to think and feel about our organization and what we stand for. The statement below, the UW’s brand positioning statement, describes what we do and why we do it — applied correctly, it will provide our target audiences with a clear sense of why we’re different and desirable.
The University of Washington acts on its great capacity to educate as well as its ambition for addressing society’s most vital issues — all motivated by the shared concern for humanity as is characteristic of our region and the people who join it.
The way to make this positioning real for our audiences is to share stories about how our organization has made a difference, about the gifted individuals — both in and outside of the University — who dedicate themselves to the greater good, and about the progressive, forward-thinking mindset of an entire region.
The UW brand personality and attributes
Not surprisingly, the UW brand personality reflects the uniqueness of the Northwest itself. For all that we have accomplished, we are still approachable, practical and grounded. Humility is in our nature, but we’re learning to balance this with a justifiable sense of pride in our contributions and their far-reaching effects.
We are a global institution that makes the Northwest our home. We are truly citizens of the world, committed to the greater good and passionate about improving the human condition. In science, in art, in medicine, in business and everywhere else, the spirit of discovery is what drives us. And it’s why we’re optimistic about what comes next.