Education in branding

The past couple of years have taught Michael Victor that it’s never too late to roll out a new branding strategy.

Victor became the president of Lake Erie College in 2006, more than 20 years after the Painesville school became coeducational, admitting male students in 1985 after 129 years as a women’s college.

The trouble was that the transition occurred without a long-term strategic plan, which created problems that still lingered when Victor assumed the presidency.

“The college had lost its brand and its focus,” Victor says. “So the biggest challenge was to restore our brand and become fully coeducational. What that meant was I had to move quickly and I had to make dramatic changes quickly.”

Victor needed to define Lake Erie College — and its approximately $20 million in revenue — as a coeducational school. But, to do that, he had to define a new brand.

Smart Business spoke with Victor about how you can set a new course for your company through branding.

Q. How do you identify what should define your brand?

To identify and build those areas that define your organization and your brand, you have to find your strengths. You have to be who you are. Lake Erie had been a traditional, four-year college for women but was now a coeducational institution. We had to turn that traditional academic program into a coeducational institution and then exploit it.

As a leadership team, we sat down and put together a strategic vision of where we needed to be five and 10 years from now. And through that strategic vision, we pulled together these key areas that had to occur.

First of all, to deal with the coeducational questions, I started a football team. Nothing gets you coeducational quicker than having 150 male athletes on campus. Second of all, students today are very visual, so what we did was we started a capital campaign to restore our existing buildings and build new buildings. In 31 months, we raised $17 million.

The third part was we started a massive marketing campaign to get everyone to know our brand. The fourth thing was we raised our admissions standards. We simply would not let people in who were not academically qualified. Also, very critical, we challenged our faculty to come up with new, innovative niche majors. They created majors like sports business, human resources and entrepreneurship. Doing all of these things at once propelled us forward very quickly.