Blacktop Creative has cultivated brands for 14 years – it counts Hallmark, Applebee’s and Chick-fil-A among its clients. But when Division II hired the Kansas City-based marketing firm last April to develop a new brand campaign, Blacktop entered uncharted territory.
This time, instead of developing an organization’s core brand, the firm needed to enhance a sub-brand of the NCAA that complemented the all-encompassing blue disk. Instead of positioning a brand against its competitors, the marketing team needed to work alongside Divisions I and III. And instead of presenting ideas to a handful of company leaders, Blacktop needed to answer to hundreds of college administrators and athletes.
In January, more than 500 of those Division II athletes and administrators gathered at the NCAA Convention outside Washington, D.C. to vote for a new moniker to replace “I chose Division II.” The line “Make it yours” won in a landslide over the other option, “We go all out,” by a vote of 450-64.
Making a moniker
How did Blacktop Creative land on those three simple words?
It started with research: five school visits; 19 roundtable discussions with Division II athletes, administrators and coaches; survey responses from 1,300 high school athletes who have registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center, and from 700 of their parents. The list goes on.
After research came the strategy phase, in which Blacktop developed a brand story and brand personas, both internal tools meant to capture life in Division II. From there, a dozen Blacktop staffers crafted roughly 20 sentences explaining the essence of Division II that were then reduced to short taglines. They cut the list to five monikers, then three, then two, with presentations and vetting interspersed each round.
“We were asked to put two monikers in front of the membership for approval. It was a first for us, but it was not something that surprised us,” Blacktop Creative brand planner Emily Esparza said. “As we worked with Division II, it became more apparent how involved they wanted membership to be.”
The campaign – and the membership involvement – won’t end with the moniker. This spring, Blacktop is presenting options for the other creative components of the brand enhancement, including fonts, colors and photo treatments.
The Division II Management Council, Presidents Council and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will narrow down the selections this month and members will have the chance to provide feedback through a survey in May. Once the details are final, schools and conferences will receive a guide from Blacktop to help them rollout the brand on their campuses this summer.
The membership has already embraced “Make it yours.” It took just seconds for the tagline to appear as a hashtag on social media platforms after it was approved in January. “We’ve all taken our DII experience and made it ours,” said former Molloy College baseball player and SAAC representative John Galanoudis. “Everybody’s going to add their own story to it.”
Bowie State University Athletics Director Clyde Doughty said he has started incorporating the moniker into his everyday communication. “I put it on everything I do,” he said.
“I can’t wait until they come out with all the different looks they want to give us. I think it’s something folks will rally around.”