For the past several months you and your team have led a branding effort across your university. You’ve facilitated ideation sessions with the Dean and university leaders, soliciting their perspectives. You’ve engaged key audiences and stakeholders including prospective students, current students, alumni, corporate partners, faculty, and staff along the way… diving deep to understand what makes the university unique.  

You partnered with a communications agency to help you distill these outputs into positioning directions to explore. You tested these positioning directions across key audiences again, refining and settling upon one and bringing it to life creatively.  

It will fuel website redesigns, the origination of organic content, and perhaps paid media campaigns to catalyze the next admissions cycle. You’re ready to stitch together a comprehensive, multi-page Governance Charter to codify the people, policies, standards, and guidelines informing and aligning content development across the many departments within the college.  

You’ve done it all. Almost.  

That’s because you also recognize you work with humans, not robots. Sometimes people are stressed. Sometimes their habits are ingrained. They take shortcuts. They’re under time pressure, or they’re plowing through the day-to-day list. As they work to check off items, sometimes they’re unable to flip through a Governance Charter. Yet the importance of staying on brand, being thoughtful, and ensuring organizational alignment is critical. You need a quick reference guide to help them “in the moment.”  

Enter the Brand Touchstone.  

What is a brand touchstone?  

An internal tool, a brand touchstone is a one-page snapshot of the most important aspects of what you stand for, the best way to message its essence, and how to distinguish it from competitors and infuse the spirit of your higher education institution into your everyday. It’s a classic, easy-access document.  

Here are its parts:  

  • The Mission Statement: The purpose of your institution and why you exist.  
  • The Positioning Statement: The internal facing statement that articulates your differentiator/value proposition vis-à-vis the audiences you serve. It forms the basis for external initiatives and communications.  
  • Brand Values: A list of the handful of core brand values that are indispensable and authentic to your institution.  
  • Meanings (in-market perceptions): A bucketing of the in-market perceptions about your college or university that you institutionally wish to either keep, discard, or grow — each in list form  
  • Proof: A section offering tangible proof points which ladder up to the meanings, brand values, positioning, and mission of the institution, enabling your college to claim its unique place and tell its story sincerely so it resonates with key audiences. These could be the centers, programs, initiatives, speaker series, or other realities helping you claim this space as your own.  

Why is it such a valuable tool for higher ed?  

Let’s imagine a university is launching a new online MBA program. It needs to develop a dedicated program page on the website, complete with engaging copy. 

Its content specialist cracks her knuckles and pulls forward at her desk for some late-night writing. She understands the particulars of the format and curriculum and also appreciates that her charge is about more than nuts and bolt specs. She needs to draft this copy for the new program, in context, aligned with the overall brand positioning of the school to ensure cohesive storytelling and introduction of the program. She needs a quick reference guide to re-orient or validate her course.  

The brand touchstone is it. This snapshot understanding of your brand helps refresh, focus, and align the people responsible for executing it – those communicating about the institution in the middle of their busy days. It’s a handy safety net, a way to keep them mindful about who you are and the space you want to occupy in the mind of your audience.  

It’s challenging to create, but a valuable communications resource that can serve as an organizational compass.