Staying True to your Brand

By Araceli Ortiz posted 01-10-2018 11:51


Bringing Stanford Athletics Home of Champions (our version of a hall of fame) to life was a multi-year effort that wouldn’t have been possible without prior thoughtful and intentional steps to define and articulate the Stanford Athletics brand values, messages and meaning. When I arrived in early 2014, there were more than 20 logos in use and no written branding guidelines. We immediately underwent a deep-dive to put together a set of key messages that represented our organization, while simultaneously defining our visual identity and establishing branding guidelines. Staying true to our brand, particularly when it came to building a long-term celebration of our successes, meant having a clear definition of what our brand represented and being able to convey that to the agency we worked with, and push them repeatedly when designs strayed from that (even if they were exciting and interesting).

The process incorporated surveys, focus groups and interviews with key stakeholders in order to determine the right number of and precise articulation of those messages. Once everything was established, the roll-out process involved sitting down with every coaching staff and every administrative unit in Athletics, key stakeholders across campus and at our conference office to ensure understanding of the purpose behind putting these items to paper and comprehension of why each was selected. The best feedback I received was from one of our longest-tenured coaches who asked why we were doing this when the messages we had selected were what he had been using for decades. We’d hit the nail on the head.

Stanford is fortunate to have achieved significant success on and off the athletic field and is in a very privileged position to have so many incredible student-athletes to highlight. Simply putting all of our trophies in a room to collect dust (as we’d done previously), wouldn’t have done justice to what this incredible athletics department represents or the stories of the amazing student-athletes and teams that have been part of creating it. So, we took a step back and reevaluated what was important.

Much like we did when compiling our key messages, we interviewed hundreds of current and former student-athletes, coaches, donors and staff members about what made Stanford Athletics unique and special and created banks of stories about our student-athletes and teams that we couldn’t have otherwise gathered or even known. One story in particular, told by our former men’s tennis coach, Dick Gould and our current men’s tennis coach, Paul Goldstein, who was then a student-athlete, in separate interviews, was particularly compelling. It was about the 1998 men’s tennis team and its run to the NCAA Championship. The story highlighted the humility of a student-athlete in helping lead the team to victory. This is one example of the types of stories that make Stanford Athletics special and that resonate with people, so it (and others) became integral to how we designed the space and the stories we try to share within it.

We spent several days going through the stories we heard and categorizing them and, not surprisingly our six key messages were the main themes. We used these as the pillars for our project and they became the basis for how we made difficult decisions about what to include in the space and how it would be highlighted. For example, student-athlete majors are included in almost every display (including the Heisman Trophy display) and we have displays recognizing our academic all-americans to highlight our commitment to scholar-athleticism. We also have an interactive display highlighting student-athlete alumni in a variety of industries to highlight how Stanford prepares student-athletes for life after college. In the end, in collaboration and partnership with Advent, we designed a distinct and special space that tells the stories of Stanford Athletics’ student-athletes, teams, and championships through a variety of mediums.

Everyone has unique stories and incredible student-athletes, coaches and programs. By clearly defining, articulating and communicating what the themes and messages that connect them are, it will be easier to identify and tell those stories and bring them to life across all channels and spaces.

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