Institutional Positioning is not an Innuendo

In the spirit of President Franklin’s habit of radical public consultation, VP of External Relations and Advancement, Julie Davis, has launched a discussion paper as well as started a conversation with staff, students, alumni and community members about Trent University’s “Institutional Positioning.”

As mentioned in Davis’ discussion paper, Positioning is a public relations and communications concept coined by Trout and Ries in their 1981 book ‘Positioning: The Battle for your Mind.’ Positioning is the distillation of what makes Trent different and special in people’s minds so it can be communicated effectively and simply.

As Trout and Ries say, “In communication, less is more… You have to jettison the ambiguities, simplify the message and then simplify it some more if you want to make a long-lasting impression.”

The campaign, called “Our Time to Shine,” is more than just a marketing campaign to help design a marketing campaign. While it does have “a strong element of marketing,” positioning is not marketing. Its target is not to find Trent’s demographic, but to find Trent’s attitude and interest in order to find new people to contribute to Trent’s new institutional conversation.

With Trent’s 50th anniversary rapidly approaching, now is the time to have the Trent community think about what Trent means to them and what they think about when they recall their experience of Trent.

Since Trent is now more than just the Nassau Mill campus, land and landmarks are not part of our positioning because the commonalities that unite the Trent community are not experiences per se, but what those experiences mean.

During an interview with Arthur, Davis described the project as a way of finding the ubiquity between the three campuses, “the values that tie all three together.” This may prove to be difficult because many at Trent associate the river with the reasons why they came here. Davis acknowledges that some folks in the Trent community will have “evocative memories tied to physical structures,” but it is what those memories represent that will compose Trent’s Institutional Positioning.

Positioning is not focused on creating slogans or tag lines because it has to be credible. Meaning that it cannot be a hallow marketing device that the university is expected to conform to, rather a refining process of keeping “a continuity of discussion” about the university.

Since Institutional Positioning is targeting what is already there, it is not like a mission statement or visioning, although both endeavours have had a rigorous public consultation process (like the Integrated Plan, the Academic Plan, or the Trent Lands Plan). If the positioning is successful, everyone should be able to describe Trent in their own words while still talking about the same things. “[W]e use a lot of similar language but different concepts,” Davis says of these types of visioning exercises. Positioning seeks the opposite, similar concepts, but different language.

The discussion paper makes it clear that this is a branding exercise that will be the “sum of all the experiences, beliefs, feelings, and perceptions that one has about the University.” Davis was clear that this branding process “doesn’t mean you are excluding anyone,” which is the fear of any process that narrows personal experiences into a generic, homogenous, field of abstraction designed to sell.

“He set the tone,” Davis said of Steven Franklin’s commitment to consulting all the Trent stakeholders before making grand decisions of making grand proclamations of what Trent stands for.In his statement on the Our Time to Shine blog he says, “The next logical step [is] that we now decide as a community what does Trent stand for, why it matters and, ultimately, why future students, faculty, donors, and partners should choose Trent.”

Before this commitment to consultation and community consent, Trent had some rocky reactions to branding slogans like “Canada’s Outstanding Small University” and “Studying to Make a World of Difference.”

Davis mentioned that this is not always easy or straightforward from a “practical time perspective” because it takes much longer to make decisions the more people you include. She is also worried about Trent asking too much of people so they make sure to space out the consultations to they are not all in similar locations at similar times.

There will be “dialogue” sessions in late February and early March on Symons Campus, the Oshawa campus, Traill College, and even a session in Toronto at the Home of Degrassi, Epitome Pictures Incorporated.

More details about the dialogues can be found on the Our Time to Shine website. You can read the discussion paper, take the online survey, look for your friends on the Special Advisory Committee on Positioning, or read the Our Time to Shine blog.

About Anthony P. Gulston 0 Articles
Redheaded radio writer that specializes in events coverage, underwater journalism and media news. Listen to his reggae radio program, the Anth co dub-Station on Trent Radio, read his blog, read his work in Absynthe or follow him on Twitter.