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Building World Class University:The Role of Brand Management
I feel highly honoured by the invitation you extended to me to share thoughts on the process of “Building a World Class University” and the role, which “Brand Management” can play in the realization of this ambition.
The expression “World Class”, means “amongst the very best in the
world”. It is an expression that has been increasingly employed to
underline the “Internationality and Excellent Quality” of all forms
of both “tangible and intangible” benefit carriers.
I belong to the school of thought that believes very much in the
relentless pursuit of world class ambitions, goals and purposes. This is
because the pursuit of globally recognized excellence in any endeavor,
is absolutely necessary to guarantee the attainment of
feats and heights that are uncommon, from a global standpoint, and
which deserve to be proudly celebrated on the world stage.
The notion of an increasingly “globalized world” is no longer news.
Indeed, reference to this notion no longer features only within the
precincts of the United Nations, in Multilateral Economic Summits, or
within the hallowed portals of institutions of higher learning . It has
become a reality which has gained currency in modern societies all over
the world, even amongst the young. It is however doubtful if all who
have heard of it and who even routinely talk about it, are well aware of
its implications, particularly in a world that is becoming increasingly
competitive, and where traditional approaches and standards are no
longer good enough to guarantee sustainable success in every area of
The “Global Village” expression speaks to “a world without barriers” for
all types of goods and services that represent the “end products” of all
forms of human endeavours. It speaks to a world where people of different nationalities:
a) are open to a variety of choices from ALL parts of the world; and
b) can go for offerings which, in their opinion, represent the best value amongst the variety of choices they are aware of; irrespective of whether these choices are from their immediate environment or not!
Thus, it is no longer “unusual” or “implausible” for a citizen of any country outside the UK, for instance, to choose a world class and well renowned institution like Cambridge University, over and above every other University in his home country, for his tertiary education. Indeed, if the challenge of meeting the admission criteria does not constitute an insurmountable barrier, it will be unlikely for this student, to jettison the opportunity to go to Cambridge in favour of a local and less highly regarded University alternative!
The situation will be the same for Universities in any country, where available Universities therein are not seen to be capable of offering the “world class” benefits/values that are widely associated with highly regarded tertiary institutions. If this tendency is not challenged, the result will be that these “not – highly – regarded Universities” anywhere in the world, would not be able to attract the top echelon of very good students, faculty, and/or Research grants, either from within the local environment or anywhere else in the world. It is not difficult to predict the “cheerless future” that awaits such institutions!
3) “A University” – Definition & Role in the Modern World
A “University” is widely regarded as a tertiary institution where students are trained to acquire both broad and specialized knowledge, leading to qualifications, which should set them apart as “veritable professionals” in their chosen fields.
Michael Porter provided a complementary perspective in the following words:
“Universities ought to be the source of Skilled Human Resources and Knowledge Resources”. He described these as “two of the most important factors for upgrading national competitive advantage”.
In a 2009 publication entitled “What are Universities for”, Geoffrey
Boulton, then Vice – Principal, University of Edinburgh, made
the following points, to stimulate thoughts on what standard Universities should
According to him, the central role of the University should be
“Education” and Students’ exposure to “Experiences” which should serve
to make them “think out-of-the-box” in the delivery of solutions to “both
existing or new challenges”.
In making these happen, he reckons that:
i) Universities should devote considerable time and attention on establishing what this really means in the “world of their catchment area” and also devote considerable resources on instituting processes and procedures that will guarantee successful execution of the imperatives for action.
ii) Universities should be concerned with imparting useful knowledge, but not merely to address the immediate challenges of today; but should also be a Resource for proffering solutions for imaginary, but probable challenges for a yet “unknown future”;
iii) Research and Scholarship are essential to the University enterprise. They should therefore be intimately associated with the Educational process. “Research – only” or “Teaching – only staff” can undermine the rationale for University Research;
iv) They should increasingly promote and indeed contribute to the fertility of the environment that innovation needs.
There are a few other perspectives on this subject, but without doubt,
the general consensus is that a University in the modern society should
always demonstrate the potential to be the “direct driver of knowledge-
based skills, capabilities and competencies which are necessary to
advance both personal purposes and general economic interests of a nation”.
From the foregoing, a standard University should be well resourced to serve the
i) They should take on the role of crucial national assets “in addressing many policy priorities” and as “sources of new knowledge” and “innovative thinking”.
ii) They must serve as Identifiers of “wide ranging and technology-based skill sets/necessary credentials” needed for development purposes;
iii) They should come across as veritable providers of “skilled personnel” and contributors to “genuine innovation”;
iv) They must be unfailing attractors of “international talent and business investment”;
v) They should be agents of “social justice and mobility”;
vi) They should be contributors to “social and cultural vitality”; and
vii) They should serve as determinants of technological and economic “health and well being”, within their geographical sphere of influence/relevance.
All in all, it is crucial that existing Universities should perform a “reality check”, by dispassionately establishing the extent to which their existing structures, processes and procedures meet each of the 7 criteria outlined above.
However, whilst these should indeed be seen as “non-negotiable” components of the “functional relevance” of Universities in modern societies, they are nevertheless general and do not necessarily cover all that it takes to make a University truly stand out as a member of the club of “World Class citadels of higher learning”.
4) Criteria for Classification as a “World Class University”
Here, the key question is:
“What is it that makes some Universities more highly regarded than
In his seminal publication on the challenges of a World Class University, Jamil
Salmi, one time Tertiary Education Coordinator of the World Bank, stated as
“The term “World Class University” has become a catch phrase for not simply
improving the quality of learning and research in tertiary education, but more
importantly for developing the capacity to compete in the global tertiary
education marketplace through the acquisition and creation of advanced
With students looking to attend the best possible institution they can afford,
often regardless of national borders, and governments keen on maximizing the
returns on their investments, global standing is becoming an increasingly
important concern for institutions around the world.
The paradox, however, is that “every institution wants to enjoy global standing,
but not many can envision what must be in place to be one, and not many
know how to acquire this status”.
Research has shown that the key reason(s) do not necessarily lie only in
the “quality of teaching and knowledge dissemination”. These are of
course very important, but there are other dimensions. Most of these lie
in the strength of the other benefits/values that are not just generally
important, but which are also very essential in meeting the overall
aspirations of students from different parts of the world.
On this same subject, Jamil Salmi, gave the following perspective:
“A World Class University ambition must be an aspiration to attain an elite
status that is conferred by the outside world on the basis of international
recognition”. He went on to state that joining this elite is not something that is
achieved by merely wishing it or by self – declaration”.
The key question in all these is: “What is it that makes some Universities
more highly regarded than some others?”
Over time, a lot of Ranking Criteria have been developed, but what is
common amongst them is that “World Class Universities are recognized
in part, for superior outputs”, which should manifest in the following:
i) International and High levels of talented students. (In many cases, world
class Universities have Students and Faculty who are not exclusively
from the country where the University operates).
ii) Academic Freedom;
iii) Well-qualified graduates who are in high demand in the
Iv) Highly Qualified, world class faculty
v) Quality Teaching;
v) Excellence in Research along with Leading Edge Research
Publications in top, world class scientific journals;
vi) Leading and Regular contribution to world class Technical
Innovations through patents and licenses;
vii) Huge levels of Government as well as non-Government sources of Funding;
viii) Well Defined autonomous Governance Structures
ix) Well equipped facilities for Teaching, Research, and Administration
x) Ample opportunities for self-development for Students
across a wide range of interests.
xi) International Reputation.
These can be classified under 3 broad criteria as follows:
i) A High Concentration of Talent (Students and Faculty)
ii) Abundant Resources to offer a rich Learning Environment
and conduct Advanced Research;
iii) Impeccable and Favourable Governance features that
encourage Strategic Vision, Innovation and Flexibility; and
enable Institutions to make decisions and manage
resources without being encumbered by Bureaucracy.
Thus, in order to transform an existing University from a
“standard/mainstream status” into one with “world class
associations”, it is necessary to do the following:
I) Institute a world class process of satisfying all the criteria
II) Professionally distil the inherent “tangible and intangible”
benefits and values;
III) Master the process of injecting these benefits and values
into the main essence of the University, in order to enrich
the “stand point” from which it can make both “credible
and authoritative” claim to being a “world class” tertiary
iv) develop and actively implement the “blue print” embodying
the planned journey from a mainstream status into a highly
respected and truly world class tertiary institution.
5) The Transformation Process - The “Brand Management” Approach
The key objectives of the Brand Management approach are as follows:
i) to facilitate the steady and speedy transition of the mainstream University into the “World Class” status that is desired, over a specified, but realistic space of time; and
ii) to firmly establish clear preference for the University in the minds of a sufficiently large number of topflight students from different parts of the world within the set timeframe.
It must be essentially driven by the need to gain recognition, first as an aspiring
“World Class” institution, and, ultimately, as a “proud member of this
elite group” within the realistic timeframe. The mandatory steps in the
process of adoption and application of the strategic management
principles inherent in this approach are as follows:
i) Professional understanding of the meaning and significance of the
“Brand”, both as a concept and a strategic tool for Business
ii) Clear understanding of the process of leveraging the “Brand” for
a full establishment of its Customer Connection potential.
iii) Acquisition of strong insights into the “drivers of choice” amongst
“topflight” students, World Class Faculty members, Donor
Agencies and discerning and top rated Employers of University
graduates and skilled labour.
iv) Systematic application of insights for the “injection of appropriate AND superior benefits values” into the University Brand Essence, and for the subsequent development of a winning “Value Proposition” for the University.
v) Strategic Leveraging of the “Value Proposition” for consistency with the evocations of the “Brand Pillars” and systematic “Brand Building Structures and Action”.
The “Brand” Concept
Broadly defined, the Brand is a “strategic entity” with clearly articulated superior benefits/value associations that set it apart from both directly and indirectly competing alternatives.
The meaning of the word “Brand” is variously linked to any or all of the following terms:
Even though it simply comes as a name by which the relevant offering/service is known and referred to, it is NOT just a name! It is a “name that stands for something important and unique,
Properly understood, developed and managed, it should serve as:
i) the “purveyor of the superior benefits/values” inherent in the
offering or service;
ii) it should be spontaneously evocative of the reason(s) why the
offering or service being marketed under the Brand name, should
be preferred to competing alternatives.
As a concept, the “Brand” should ideally sit on 4 Pillars as follows:
i) The Heritage Pillar.
This refers to the established special values in the “Roots and Origins” of the Brand, which can be employed to build preference for the offering, in the eyes and minds of target customers. These inherent values must however be consistent with what these target customers see as “attractive” and a “very important factor” in their patronage/purchasing decisions.
For example, the “Roots and Origin” of this institution can be described in any or all of the following terms:
a) Nigeria; because it is registered and functions as a Nigerian
b) International; because it is founded on “divinely inspired
Principles and Values” that are relevant and applicable in, and for
Given the strength of the notion of “Internationality” as a critical
component of the qualifications for “World Class University” status,
this University can credibly adopt “International” as its “Roots and
Origins”, as long as it is claimed within the context of its “divinely
ii) The “Product” or “Physical Manifestation” Pillar:
This refers to both the “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” values of the physical manifestation of the Brand. It speaks to the “Functional Benefits” of the Brand (i.e. the potential to give the target customer a veritable reward for the adoption of the offering). In particular, emphasis should be focused on unique facilities and environmental features that set the Brand apart, first as one of the best amongst its peers, and as a potential World Class institution.
As a rule, these reward elements or components must be visible and, must come across as tangible benefits.
iii) The Personality or Social Standing Pillar:
This is an expression of what the institution would look like if it were a person or a physical entity. This usually comes in various descriptions as follows: Masculine/Feminine; Elegant/Ordinary; Smart/Reticent; Handsome- Beautiful/Ugly; Accessible/Clumsy; International/Local; World Class/Ordinary, etc.
Each one of these associations comes with perceptions that can shape the opinion of target customers concerning the suitability or otherwise of the Institution for their purposes. It is therefore important to ensure that knowledge of customer insights on drivers of choice are excellently leveraged to guarantee the projection of the right image/personality for the Institution.
iv) The Symbols and Symbolisms Pillar:
These are the combinations of design elements, logos and colours that have been adopted for the Brand. By definition, these must be very pleasing to eyes and mind, and must also convey the images of International Quality, Class and Style for the Institution.
The uniqueness and attractiveness must be so very striking and unique to the
extent that the Brand will readily come to mind, even if the symbols are
made to feature as “stand alone” images.
It is absolutely essential that the process of evolving the character and
value associations for each of the Brand Pillars must end up with a
consistent message that will define the Brand as envisioned. In other
words, if the adopted “Heritage” values are presenting the Brand as
“International”, the defined value associations with the Physical
Manifestation Pillar should not be evocative of anything else but
International Values. So it must be for all the Value Associations
evolved for all the other Brand Pillars.
LeveragIng the Brand for Desired Purposes:
A professional management of the process of evolving the Brand
Benefits and Values for each of the Brand Pillars should facilitate Brand
Profiling on each of the following elements:
Source of Authority e.g. Roots and Origins, Recorded Achievements,
Functional Benefit Delivery Potential …verifiable evidence of special features that can deliver
Emotional Benefit Delivery Potential …apt description of exactly how the offering will
bring about appropriate feelings
Brand Character & Attitude …depiction of the personality of the Brand,
particularly the aspect that speaks to the
aspirations of the target customer
Brand Values …value associations and specific platform from
which the Brand can speak authoritatively
Brand Essence …a “one-word” summation of what the Brand
(Research Led) Customer Insight Generation
The need for insightful knowledge of the “drivers of choice” for target customers cannot be over-emphasised. The success or otherwise of Brand Management strongly depends on deep customer knowledge and understanding. This is crucially necessary for the necessary establishment of the Value Proposition that should represent a perfect fit between the Brand and the target Customer.
Towards this end, “Research - led Insights” should be established to provide strategic customer information as follows:
Reference Customer …profile of the typical target customer
Key Consumer Insight …nature & level of dissatisfaction with existing
Aspirations of Target Customers …a distillation of established needs/desires of
target customers their dis – satisfactions
Functional Needs …Functional requirements of “new” solutions
deriving from the nature of their dis-satisfactions
Emotional Needs …a synthesis/distillation of how the desired
solution would make the target customer feel
Reference Occasion …particular usage occasions that will best bring out
the special credentials of the new solution/offering.
Brand Value Proposition Development
The Brand Value Proposition is an undertaking, being made by the Brand, to meet the needs of target customers under terms that are specific and unambiguous. In the case of a University with world class aspirations, the Value Proposition will spell out in short, concise but clear terms, what the target customers (e.g. students), are to expect if they choose to attend the University for their tertiary education. The Value Proposition should serve to reinforce target customer resolve to choose the University, over and above all else.
An illustration of the Brand Management process for Value Proposition Development is featured in the following tables:
Upright & Inverted Pyramid Approach:
Source of Authority
Functional Benefit Potential
Emotional Benefit Potential
Brand Xter & Attitude
The Upright and Inverted Pyramid Approach:
Aspiration of Target
Functional Benefit Needs
Emotional Benefit Needs
Key Customer Insight
Matching Brand Values/Essence wIth
Building the Brand Structures – Making It Happen
a) The “7 S” Framework
With the Brand Proposition in place, the journey towards the realization of
the Central Mission can and should take on a structured form. Here, the
celebrated “7S” framework provides a very useful and promising guide.
i) Strategic Direction: This is a statement of the Brand’s long term
destination and a clear road map to getting there over a specified
ii) Systems The next step is the identification of support systems necessary
to manage the task of managing the imperatives of the “Road Map”
effectively and efficiently/
iii) Structures: Building appropriate management structures around the tasks
at hand is very crucial for positive results. In matters of this nature, it is
advisable to seek help from accomplished HR consultants.
iv) Skill Sets: The need for the establishment of the skill sets necessary to
effectively manage the tasks should also be given focused attention
v) Staffing: It is advisable to ensure that all specified roles are adequately
manned, for the guarantee of good results. This should also be managed
with the professional assistance from HR.
vi) Style: This is an opportunity to positively give the Brand Proposition
delivery mandates in ways that are both unique and exciting. This comes
with the additional benefit of reinforcing the Brand Character and
vii) Shared Values: There should be a systematic and unending focus of liking
the Brand with Events and other support activities that will adequately
mirror the Values of the Brand in ways that are intricately linked with
Values appreciated by target customers..
b) Deploying Marketing Mix Elements:
The traditional Marketing Mix elements of “Product, Pricing, Place,
Packaging and Promotion” have for long been employed as levers for
managing customer contact initiatives, at both strategic and tactical levels.
However, over time Brand Managers have shifted focus from the traditional
4/5 P’s to embrace a new and more effective levers.
In the planning and execution of ALL initiatives, Brand Managers must never
lose sight of the GOAL Indeed, the end-result must be uppermost in their
minds ahead of planning and execution.
6) The FinaL Word
As exciting as The Brand Management approach ican be, it is neverthelesss very demanding. The fact the approach itself is constantly being updated, does not make the task any easier. However, I don’t know of any professional management process that is more fulfilling. For the diligent Brand Manager, an endless focus on the “glorious end-results” that always end up being realized, no other experience can be more fulfilling,
Talking about “glorious end – results”, I cannot wait to see The Redeemer’s
University joIn the Elite Club of World Class Universities. I have no doubt in my
mind that this will happen within the next 10 years. This is a University where
the virtues of “Strong Belief in God”, “High Integrity”, “World Class Knowedge
and Excellent Skills Acquisition” and “Well rounded character formation” are
cherished. Injecting these values into the “Redeemer’s University” Brand must
now become the pre-occupation of ambitious Brand Managers amongst you.
I wish you all the very best in this endeavor. God bless you.