A college or university’s brand is a vital asset in building and maintaining its reputation and image. And, while a school’s brand encompasses much more than a logo, seal, mascot or catchphrase, these symbols serve as some of the most prominent and powerful representations of the brand. Used in the right ways, they promote the brand and give the extended school community a means of showing their spirit and pride. Used in inappropriate ways, they can dilute or subvert the brand, creating false perceptions about the school that leaders may not even find out about — much less have the opportunity to correct.
A school’s signature brand also represents a potential revenue stream in the form of licensing fees and royalties from branded merchandise. The financial implications are significant: in 2013-14, collegiate licensing accounted for $4.6 billion in retail sales, according to the International Licensing Merchandiser’s Association (LIMA).
Of course, for a college or university to protect its brand and generate revenue from sales, they must have a trademark licensing program in place, regulating use of trademarks and ensuring that the school benefits from their use. Such programs also give the school control over the types of branded products available for sale, as well as how it is being used and its quality. They can be managed within a college or university or through a licensing group, whatever best serves the needs of the school. Establishing a program is only the first step, however. Schools need to ensure that all their external partners — and internal audiences — are equally committed to protecting their brand and have the resources to do so.
Protecting Schools’ Brands in the Campus Bookstore
In terms of merchandising, colleges and universities work within a variety of market sectors, from mass market to specialty retailers. Barnes & Noble College focuses on one: the campus bookstore. Within this segment, there is a wide array of customers to serve. Students, faculty and staff, alumni, campus visitors, fans and season ticket holders all comprise important customers within the campus community. Serving these unique audiences at each school requires a deep understanding of their needs and preferences — as well as the parameters of the school’s licensing program.
“Barnes & Noble College serves as a conduit, overseeing the licensed vendors approved by colleges and universities,” said Joel Friedman, Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer for Barnes & Noble College, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble Education. “We use every resource we have to protect each school’s brand as established by the school itself. Every school is a little different, and we respect that, curating assortments of product from a variety of vendors to best satisfy each school’s specific mix of constituencies.”
Retail expertise matters in understanding the type of branded merchandise that audiences want and the best vendor partners to turn vision into reality. For example, to complement the insights gained through decades of retail experience and on-campus research, Barnes & Noble College works with high-end, globally recognized trend service provider FastForward to understand the latest trends in fashion and how they can be applied to college apparel. These insights support continuous updates to a school’s assortment of merchandise. The focus is on getting just the right mix of product, rather than sheer volume of product available.
“We know our schools — and we know better than any vendor what inventory they need. So, we judge vendors by their listening skills and their ability to create the products we want them to make,” added Friedman.
Another way that Barnes & Noble College helps protect college and university brands is ensuring that schools work with vendors that meet the manufacturing code of conduct for labor standards. “We’re not in the business of monitoring factories — we leave that to the experts. That’s why we’re a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and require all of our vendor partners to join as well. Otherwise, we walk away. And, while the Worker Rights Consortium doesn’t allow corporate members, we consult the information they provide as well,” said Friedman. “Ensuring ethical labor standards is important to our constituencies and our communities. Both organizations allow us to serve our campus partners better, providing us with the information we need to work with the right vendors, educate schools on our approach and protect their brands.”
Safeguarding Brand Integrity on Campus with Promoversity
The use of a college or university’s logo and other symbols relates to more than just merchandise sold externally. Every day, different audiences within a school need to create custom, branded merchandise. The challenge is that licensing can sometimes be disregarded when branded products are not created for sale in a retail environment. Schools must put additional processes in place to ensure appropriate use of trademarks and selection of vendors.
With the recent acquisition of Promoversity, Barnes & Noble College offers an expanded way to help campus partners protect their brands. Promoversity is a custom merchandise supplier and e-commerce storefront solution with an established supply chain, in-house printing capabilities and ability to fulfill orders quickly and on an individual basis. It can meet the unique needs of campus organizations such as Greek life, alumni, schools within the university system and non-profits, while still offering the same level of brand protection as the merchandise sold in the campus bookstore, ensuring appropriate content and quality as well as the use of vendors that meet labor standards.
Promoversity provides three different platforms to handle the differing needs of an institution. One is designed specifically for the needs of the procurement office. The other serves the needs of all administrative offices, academic departments and auxiliary services. The third, Ignite CX Platform, is focused on fundraising, with pop-up websites that give campus groups the opportunity to fundraise by selling and promoting school merchandise. All platforms allow users to customize merchandise design, while also providing safeguards in terms of design application. If a design does not meet a school’s prescribed standards, Promoversity works with the user to find an agreeable alternative.
Many campus partners are taking full advantage of these platforms. At Boston University, Promoversity is integrated into the school’s Terrier Marketplace. School clubs and groups can look for promotional items and utilize content and design applications within the university network. “The advantage is that groups can benefit from negotiated pricing, along with the confidence of knowing that the logos used are going to be approved within the licensing system of the university,” said Steve Turco, General Manager of the Barnes & Noble at Boston University Bookstore. “We really strive to understand our client’s needs and provide services, like Promoversity, that protect and help our campus partners and their school brand.”