Self-developed brands remain very common within the college and university dining community. And as a recent Food Management online poll shows, one of their most common uses is to reinforce a unique sense of campus community.

At the same time, self-developed brands either work effectively or they fail to meet their potential. Some of the most common reasons they fail are because:

• the brand is not well aligned with the dining program's strategic vision;

• the customer is confused by the brand identity;

• the brand is seen as signaling a possible decrease in product or service quality, or;

• the brand doesn’t stand out—it’s ‘just another face in the crowd’

The ability to successfully develop and promote brands is an important function for any campus dining organization, and it’s not just about logos, websites, packaging and promotional materials. Successful brands are about who you are. Your brand is your promise to your customer about your products and services It is how you differentiate yourself from the growing number of national and local brands you compete with in the off-campus market every day.

Branding poll


Many of us assume that the first step in creating or re-developing a brand is to start with the actual brandelements (name, logo, signage, etc.), but this would be a mistake. Developing an effective brand requires that you lay the groundwork with brand visioning supported by good research. It is only then that you will be prepared to design a logo or other design elements. 

Here’s a seven-step process that can serve as a roadmap to any branding or re-branding effort:

Phase 1: Onboarding, Overviews and Introductions.

This is the most important phase before starting any branding project.

• Form your internal team (including interns, if necessary)

• Before you approach them with your ideas or perceived needs, conduct intercept surveys with a small sample of customers. This feedback will help you focus your goals for the project and provide data to back up your strategy.

• Based on the goals you have or develop, prepare an initial plan, calendar and budget. Present your findings to key decision-makers. Plan to include a simplified explanation of what branding means in the context of campus dining and why it is important to the success of your operation.

• Obtain buy-in from the stakeholders, approvers and decision-makers. Seek out their input and ideas and try to add them to your plan if possible—this helps get key influencers invested in what you are trying to accomplish.


Phase 2: Research

Once a branding project is approved, begin data collection and analysis using some of the following methods:

• In-depth Interviews with department heads, stakeholders, and internal customers such as departments for Housing or Community Life or the faculty/staff of buildings where the brand will be located

•  Intercept surveys for students: How is brand perceived? How does it contrast with other on campus and off campus brands?

•  Focus groups with influential student groups, faculty and staff and even some of your own team members

•  Execute a mystery shopper survey (if it is a re-branding project) to establish strengths and weaknesses of the existing brand

•  Data collection and evaluation of such areas sales history, product mix, competitive analysis, similar brands at peer universities, existing collateral materials, past surveys etc.


Phase 3: Brand Visioning

Once all the data has been collected and analyzed, review your findings with the stakeholders and decision-makers.

•  Invite them to a brand visioning session in which you discuss how the brand is currently positioned (both theoretically and in the minds of customers). Explore how the brand should evolve, based on your research.

•  Agree on 5-10 words that describe your brand attributes.

•  Work on defining your brand promises. It is important that these simple brand promises be crafted at the most senior level of the organization, because delivering on the promise will require making sure that the mission, vision and allocation of resources of the organization are all in alignment.

•  Based on the visioning session, craft a brand positioning statement. The brand positioning statement is a one- or two-sentence statement that shows your brand’s unique value to your customers as compared to those of your competitors. It has five important components: type of business; what you offer; who you target; why you are so special; and the specific value you provide.