Juliana Davies writes about contemporary business issues facing entrepreneurs and young executives, and this post focuses on branding strategies essential for success. These issues have been discussed on the blog before, but Juliana’s take is a somewhat different one: by analyzing how business schools themselves brand their coursework and programming, she uncovers valuable advice about how to structure a successful plan. Many of Juliana’s other pieces are featured on a business education site that recently released the top MBA programs of 2012.
Though branding is one of the most important steps towards growing a business that is sustainable in the long run, too many young entrepreneurs still fail to capitalize on their products through effective branding strategies. When they do attempt branding campaigns, many startup leaders make mistakes that can have long term negative effects. For instance, many MBA students are taught to look for trends, but this can lead to inconsistency. Certainly it is important for business leaders to be aware of what captures the attention of their consumer base, but relying too strongly on what is popular can tempt marketers to frequently alter their message and change their approach. While this may lead to short-term spikes in sales, over time the approach creates a murky, indistinguishable brand that consumers may find confusing and off-putting.
When building a brand, marketers and business leaders must remember that, today, their consumer base likely has myriad options for whatever service or product a company is offering. Successful branding campaigns establish a company’s expertise while creating loyalty, and in so doing are often able to attract more business even while charging higher rates. Perhaps the most important branding tip is offered by Frank Goedertier, teacher of Brand Management and Marketing at the Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium. Goedertier asserts, “The best slogans reflect the essence of a company, its very soul. And the best way to achieve authenticity is to work from the inside out, asserts “In an age of information overload, less is most definitely more. Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it clear.”
The importance of branding is not lost on the marketers of top MBA programs. In 2009, Penn State University’s Wharton Business School began to assess the steps it would need to take to better grow its own brand. “One of the challenges was to look at [websites of] the top 20 schools,” said Wharton’s Dean Robertson to The Wall Street Journal. “Take off the brand names and see if you could tell which school was which. Even putting Wharton in there, they all looked very much alike.” Robertson then convened an 11-person faculty committee which, using proprietary software, crowdsourced thousands of stakeholders to create a brand that would differentiate the school from the competition with a compelling and authentic campaign. The committee’s efforts to refresh Wharton’s brand lead to use of the tagline “Think Bravely: We believe that business can be bravely led, passionately collaborative and world changing.” “[The tagline is] a sensible attempt to draw an even closer association with the idea in the mind of the marketplace,” says Tim Westerbeck, founder of Chicago-based consulting firm Eduvantis.
“What makes Wharton’s self-examination so interesting is the comprehensive approach they took, trying to define the essence of their business school, and involving faculty, students, staff alumni and recruiters along the way,” Matt Symonds, chief editor of MBA50.com, recently told Forbes magazine. Wharton’s analysis of its own image by students, staff and faculty provides a model that could prove advantageous to any school, startup or established company. By acknowledging their own strengths while looking to the desires and needs of their core demographic base, Wharton is setting itself up for the future in ways that many branding experts agree could provide long-term growth and success.