Although, the research of branding in institutions of higher education is notable, a substantial number of published studies discuss the subject conceptually. Among the available empirical studies, the concentration is on branding initiatives in institutions of higher education in United States and United Kingdom. In the United States, university branding management is of great concern and universities are ahead of those in the United Kingdom in terms of embracing the concept of branding. In Asia, however, academic interest in higher education branding is only a recent phenomenon, as is the case in South Africa, where higher education branding has received limited academic attention. The current study contributes to the body of knowledge on higher education branding by empirically investigating the perceptions of students in a national university in Botswana about the brand following a rebranding exercise. This will help to isolate the consequences of rebranding by demonstrating how a change of the logo of the university affects brand equity and overall attitudes.
Academic research relating to rebranding emphasizes the effective ways of ensuring rebranding in commercial enterprises rather than institutions of higher education. Muzellec and Lambkin described rebranding as a continuum ranging from evolutionary to revolutionary rebranding. Evolutionary rebranding represents a change in only one of the elements of a brand while revolutionary branding signifies a change in all the elements of a brand simultaneously. Rebranding occurs under several circumstances such as change in the market place, change in products, change in brand image, and during acquisitions or mergers. The most compelling reason for undertaking a rebranding exercise is acquisitions or mergers because old elements of a brand are usually inappropriate.
Although rebranding may communicate an updated identity, it may phase out some of the attributes associated with the original brand, which may have an inverse effect on the brand’s image. Rebranding is costly and has a high level of reputation risk because it can potentially nullify years of effort in creating awareness and building the brand image. Rebranding also opposes the standard marketing practice which proposes that maintaining strong brands over a long time and consistently supporting them will result in sales. For instance, consumers who were strongly committed to a brand perceived logo redesign negatively and had lower brand attitudes. Additionally, rebranding commands extensive planning and sometimes organizations do not engage fully in the exercise. It is generally held that successful rebranding requires extensive research; the support and commitment of the leadership; involvement of all the levels of the organization; communication to ensure the understanding of the reason behind the change and evaluation after the brand launch. Building and maintaining brands after rebranding also requires promotional resources yet the marketing budget of institutions of higher education is constrained.
The University of Botswana is a national university that was established in 1982. Although for years the University of Botswana has operated as the only university in the country, the establishment of private institutions such as ABM University College, Botswana Accountancy College, BA ISAGO University College and Limkokwing College of Creative Technology and Arts inspired changes in the higher education market environment. In a bid to keep abreast with intensifying competition in the higher education market, the University of Botswana decided to modify its logo, symbols and corporate colors. The original University of Botswana logo comprised of three key symbols: a cow’s head which symbolized strength and depicted the history of “One Man, One Beast”, sorghum leaves which symbolized growth and a book which symbolized learning.