Investigating the brand perception of a South African university ensuing a corporate re-branding strategy
De Wee, C.J.
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Background: Institutions of Higher Education occasionally rebrand in order to signal a strategic repositioning within the organisation or to gain a competitive advantage in a very challenging environment. This was certainly the case for the North-West University who recently undertook its second corporate rebranding since its inception as a single university and incorporation in 2004 as a single multi-campus institution. The rebranding was a direct consequence of a strategic repositioning which aims to transform and position the NWU as a unitary institution (NWU, 2018b), and to accentuate the unitary multi-campus identity. The rebranding entailed the adoption of a monolithic corporate brand. The distinctive maroon, blue and green, which represented the three campuses namely Potchefstroom, Mafikeng and Vaal Triangle respectively for a number of years, had been replaced by one primary colour purple, and two secondary colours turquoise and grey. Various averse feedback from students via social media showed that some students did not fully embrace the rebranding. This adversative attitude of students toward the rebranding needed to be investigated in order to see how students perceive the new brand in comparison to the old branding. In order for management to make strategic marketing plans, the brand perception of students about the rebranding was investigated by means of a customer-based brand equity survey. Methods: In October 2018, 146 respondents on the Potchefstroom campus of the North-West University were asked to complete a questionnaire aimed at measuring the brand perception of the North-West University following the recent rebranding exercise. The respondents were sampled via convenience sampling around campus and had to complete the customer-based brand equity questionnaire based on the four dimensions of brand equity, namely brand associations, brand loyalty and brand awareness, as proposed by literature. One question that was aimed at understanding the students' attitude towards the rebranding was also included. The data was analysed with SPSS. Results and conclusion: The results of the empirical study revealed two dimensions of brand equity that was extracted from the data gathered. These dimensions were labelled brand image and brand awareness and this finding correlates with previous research. The results also confirmed that brand equity for the old logo was higher than that of the new logo, which indicates a decline in brand equity. The dimension of brand awareness scored the overall highest means for both the old and new branding and brand image the lowest for the new logo. The brand image of the new logo also showed lower scores than that of the old logo, and students are still uninformed regarding the rebranding. The overall attitude of the students toward the rebranding was fairy neutral with only 8.2% of the respondents disagreeing with the rebranding and 41% being neutral about the rebranding. Recommendations: Rebranding an institution of higher education can be very daunting and literature warned against possible erosion of brand equity. Based on the findings the following actions are recommended: • Although the overall mean scores from the findings for the brand awareness dimension were higher for both logos, the findings suggest that students are still unsure as to what the logo stands for and the meaning behind the purple colour for the rebranding. The university should continue to raise brand awareness through various brand awareness campaigns on the digital as well as printed platforms. • The brand image of the new logo scored very low in comparison to the old logo, and thus management should invest some time in order to make it more appealing to resonate with students' personalities, since students felt that this logo does not express their personalities. • The university should conduct a campaign around the rebranding specifically aimed at communicating and informing students about the meaning behind the logo and brand colours, and how it relates to the brand attributes. This can be done on social media, the university website as well as printed media. This study was conducted with only one unit of the stakeholders in mind, further research that is inclusive of all stakeholders like staff and alumni is advised for a more comprehensive study.
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