Building the research brand

Our client, a Russell Group university, was carrying out a major review of its brand, intended to:

  • Enhance competitive differentiation in the UK
  • Help strengthen the brand globally.

Perceptions research, internal and external, was an essential part of the review – and  as a World Top 100 university, with a strong research profile, the views of the University’s research partners/collaborators were important.

The University was particularly keen to understand:

  •  Whether there was anything distinctive about the way in which it conducted its research relationships – including what might differentiate its approach to working with research partners
  • The extent to which it was seen as ‘easy to work with’
  • What, if anything, made the University more (or less) attractive  as a partner institution

How we helped

Engaging with research partners across 3 continents

Working closely with the University’s marketing/communications and business engagement teams, we designed and conducted qualitative depth interviews among 20 senior staff from 17  organisations. Each organisation either had a long-term research relationships with the University or had collaborated in or commissioned a significant research project.

Great care went into developing the sample, so as to include particular industries and academic disciplines as well as different types and lengths of research relationship. Most of the research partners were private sector firms, from industries that included construction, oil and gas, renewable energy and FMCG.

Interviewees were based in the UK, several countries within mainland Europe and in the USA and Canada. They had worked with eight different academic departments and research groups, across the University.


Our findings gave the University insights not only into the ways in which its own approaches to research were viewed but also into the collaborations that partners had in place with other research institutions and the ways in which they selected research partners. Specifically they highlighted:

  • Six factors that distinguished our client from other research partners
  • Steps that the University could take to enhance its relationships with partners –  and to develop these more strategically
  • Ways in which it could better communicate its research offer.

The research also noted several factors that made reaching out to and interacting with universities – in general – easier or more difficult.

When interpreting the findings, we were conscious that the sample was relatively small and may not reflect the views of the University’s research partners as whole. Nevertheless, there was a consistency in interviewees’ comments about the University and about the ways in which their companies conducted research collaborations.

This research was essential in helping us to understand how we are perceived by the businesses and organisations we work with and in defining our areas of strength and weakness.

Findings from this perceptions research have been used by the University (and by the consultants who supported the brand review as a whole) to inform the development of our overall brand proposition and positioning, specifically relating to our research partners and those with which we collaborate. The main impacts have been a better understanding of the needs of our partners and the ability to tailor marketing and communications activity specifically for these important audiences.

— Director of Marketing and Communications – a Russell Group university