This article is Day 21 of the series: 31 Days to Better Fraternity Recruitment.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “fraternity or sorority”? Some of you may reminisce on personal experience and may be picturing a chapter house, friends holding hands, your crest, an emblem, etc. But some of you, like many of our unaffiliated counterparts thought of things like a paddle, alcohol or a red solo cup (the unofficial GRSSK mascot, right?). That’s our fraternity branding problem!
We think we are sending one message, when our candidate pool is receiving another. We truly believe our experience is about brotherhood and leadership and service, but in our target audience’s minds we are best known for being social. Don’t misunderstand us; there is nothing wrong with having a good time. We simply need to balance the ‘work hard’ with the ‘play hard,’ and then play responsibly. We need our visual brand to represent our work (and at times adjust our actions to reflect the branded values we espouse) while being uniquely recognizable.
What is branding?
Branding is attaching feelings, thoughts and emotions to a product or company through a visual representation. Many chapters confuse this with marketing, which is simply the dissemination of information. One of our biggest branding mistakes comes from trying to be trendy. Borrowing slogans and images from other companies (which promotes them, not your organization), or changing the color of your marketing materials, because this year a different color is cool and you want your t-shirts to be cool. Your marketing materials have very little impact if they are visually different with every production.
Think about national chain businesses, that isn’t how they do it, right? McDonalds is always “loving it” in red and yellow with golden arches, making them easily recognizable to their customers.
Reputation is an important thing to consider when you focus on branding, and this happens in two ways. First, you must offensively brand your reputation by promoting your brand through the five steps below. Next you must defensively brand your reputation by protecting it and monitoring the means by which your fraternity brand is promoted.
You need to have a simple, concise, understandable, values-based message. What thoughts, feelings or emotions are you trying to convey when someone sees your brand? Some organizations have great tag lines that work well here: Building Better Men or Do Good. If your organization only has a long creed or sonnet, try to condense it down to a few simple words that convey the reason you are relevant to today’s students.
Your visual brand should be simple and easy to recognize. We often see chapters utilizing their crest for their branding resources. Yes, the crest means a lot to you, but who doesn’t it mean anything to? That’s right, everyone else!
You need to think about your target audience and your message when devising your visual brand.
Your brand needs to be visually consistent. Pick 3 things that will always be used in your visual branding, a color, font, visual image, specific words, etc. Those three things need to be present in everything that represents your chapter. Don’t panic, sorority women, you can still have creative t-shirts! But, your brand does need to be present on every t-shirt. Nike isn’t creating materials without the swoosh and you shouldn’t create materials without your brand.
And now repeat your visual brand on every medium and over time.
Every t-shirt, flyer, sign, Facebook profile picture, website images, I mean everything should incorporate your brand. No, it’s not a great idea to come up with a new brand each year. That confuses your customers and does not build brand loyalty or brand recognition.
Lastly, your brand needs to be aligned with your organizations values.
Don’t borrow the visual brand of a recognized company. While your fraternity may love Southern Proper, using their images only sells their product, not yours. And certainly don’t Pull Hoes like John Deere or be the ABSOLUT Fraternity. Again, it’s not your product and worse, it isn’t values aligned. When your brand visually and in action is a reflection of your organization’s mission and values you will, over time, build a loyal and trusting customer base. Even if the generic Greek brand conjures up images of kegs and paddles, the unaffiliated person your campus should see your chapter’s brand and think differently.
Defensive branding focuses on protecting or rebuilding your chapter’s brand. Select a brand manager, someone who will ensure all published materials accurately utilize your chapter’s brand. Even better, develop a branding guide to share with members so they understand how to appropriately utilize your brand. If your chapter is in a place of rebuilding, there are plenty of business models out there to consider. Check out Dominos, or JCPenny or Martha Stewart. Each have struggled in the past but used defensive branding techniques to be honest with their clients about a need to improve and commitment to do better. You can’t say you’re about academic excellence if you’re at the bottom of the grade report, but you can say you’re carefully evaluating candidate
GPAs and working on member accountability as you make scholarship a new emphasis of the organization and commit to do better. But more importantly than protecting and/or rebuilding your visual brand is protecting the message of your brand. Your members brand your chapter daily through their actions. You must monitor your members’ behavior to ensure they remain aligned with the message you convey.
For example, Disney’s brand message is “To Make People Happy” and they do so by creating a magical world in which you can get lost in childhood wonder and imagination.
If you were visiting a Disney park and saw Cinderella standing around the corner of a building smoking a cigarette on her break, what would you think? That action of one member of the Disney team would tarnish their brand. The same idea applies to your chapter members. Each of us individually makes up the collective feelings about our organizations.
The key to fraternity branding is to remember that you can design a message you’d like your constituents to receive, but without the proper actions behind that message, their perception of you is their reality, regardless of your branding efforts. Branding begins with values alignment.
Want to learn more about how to brand your organization? We have more ideas on this topic and many more in our RBC: Fall Webinar Series. Please visit
http://rbcwebinars.eventbrite.com for information about purchasing these affordable and exceptionally helpful educational resources for your community.
Recruitment Boot Camp educates chapters to implement a year-round, networking based, recruitment system through a variety of educational means including webinars, campus programs, keynote presentations, and chapter coaching. For more information please visit www.recruitordie.com or follow us at @recruitordie.
About the Authors
Shelly Brown Dobek (@sbdobek) is the Director of Chapter Services and Associate Director of Greek Life at NC State University and has worked in the field as a Fraternity/Sorority campus advisor for 15 years. She is a member of Delta Zeta sorority and serves as part of the CAMPUSPEAK, Inc. Facilitation Team.
Laurel Peffer (@lpeff) is a full-time Recruitment Specialist for CAMPUSPEAK, Inc. She is a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority and has worked as Fraternity/Sorority campus advisor at Bowling Green State University and Lafayette College. firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more, check out our most in-depth article on fraternity recruitment: The Complete Guide to Fraternity Recruitment.