Building a Better Brand

How We Got to Think In the Next

written by Alissa Walker
illustrations by Jeffrey Smith

 

“If you were blindfolded and dropped into an East Coast school versus, for example, UCLA Anderson, you would know it from the vibe and energy,” says Judy D. Olian, Dean and John E. Anderson Chair in Management at UCLA Anderson. “OK, you would also feel Southern California's warm sun, but that's hardly the story that distinguishes the school from its eastern counterparts.” In developing a distinct brand identity for UCLA Anderson, says Olian, the challenge has been to articulate the school's uniqueness, concisely.

Olian recognized this challenge as she listened to UCLA Anderson faculty use a wide variety of terminology when asked to describe the school. “We didn't have a clear way of expressing how we were different from other elite business schools,” she remembers. “We needed to be more consistent in our message. In the competitive environment that we're in, it must be easy for students to spot the differences across the schools, and for us to express them.”

And that competitive environment has changed dramatically in recent years. Last year, UCLA Anderson proposed to forego all public funding for Master programs. When public funding was more abundant, UCLA Anderson was known as a tremendous tuition value for the quality of education. Now, tuition is more in line with other leading schools, which makes affordability a challenge and no longer as much of a selling point.

The anemic economy gave the school another reason for self-examination, says Dominique Hanssens, Bud Knapp Professor of Marketing. “We've just come out of this horrible financial crisis, which is not even over, and some fingers have been pointed at business schools as being part of the problem,” he says. “Of course, we disagree with that, but the challenge and opportunity is on us to demonstrate how our educational products create value to students and organizations alike. That has led us, and some of our competitor schools, to be introspective and come up with new affirmations of our brand position, what we stand for and how we add value to our audiences.”

Olian asked Hanssens, along with over a dozen faculty, board members, students and alumni, to form a branding task force to position the UCLA Anderson experience through clear, concise messaging. Robert Eckert, chairman emeritus of Mattel, and then member of the UCLA Anderson Board of Visitors, was asked to co-chair the task force with Hanssens. The advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, known for its method of pursuing the “Big Idea,” was enlisted as a partner to facilitate the creative process.

The ensuing eighteen-month journey was more than just institutional navel-gazing. It was an opportunity to demonstrate how a UCLA Anderson education creates lasting impact and transformation, not just for graduates and the business world, but for society at large.

Location vs. Culture

While the committee members are renowned experts at selling technology, toys and tacos, branding a business school presented its own challenges, according to Andrew Ainslie, senior associate dean of the full-time MBA program. “A brand for a business school is quite a complicated issue because there are so many key groups involved, and everyone has a different vision of what that brand should be,” he says. Yet he knew it wasn't impossible: “At the heart of the brand is some fairly simple message that pulls everyone together.” The task was to find that core essence that would resonate with faculty, students, alumni, recruiters, and—as they were deemed most important—prospective applicants.

The team began by conducting thousands of surveys and organizing focus groups to gather insights. While demonstrating differentiation was the goal of the branding process, the research needed to unearth those specific benefits: What actually makes UCLA Anderson different from other top-tier programs?

One of the most compelling differentiators became immediately obvious: Location. A Los Angeles address offers a unique set of geographic benefits to business students, from its proximity to content, entertainment, and technology industries, to its access to fast-growing Asian and Latin American markets. There's L.A.'s burgeoning start-up community, for example, which is rapidly becoming an important draw to young entrepreneurs, designers and tech professionals from around the globe. Additionally, an L.A. location connotes a more collaborative and experimental culture than more traditional programs of the East Coast.

But it takes thoughtful consideration to promote a nontraditional atmosphere without playing into Southern California stereotypes—a direction the brand task force decidedly wished to avoid. It was important to feature the region without appearing regional.

While focusing on L.A. as the sole differentiator wasn't an option, there was definitely an advantage and excitement associated with UCLA Anderson's sense of place. Data proved that those who experience UCLA Anderson in person are extremely likely to enroll, says Olian, pointing out that 75 percent of accepted students who visit the school during events like Anderson Days (“A-Days”) end up signing on for the program.

That was the experience of Christopher Loo, who served as the UCLA Anderson Student Association president and participated as a student voice on the branding committee before graduating in 2012. “Ultimately, I chose UCLA Anderson because, as I talked to people here it really resonated: These were the kind of people I wanted to be associated with, the kind of people I wanted to learn from,” says Loo, who was hired by Intel into their Accelerated Leadership Program. “Anderson is a unique family that utilizes its collective strength to inspire and empower one another to succeed in our next great challenges. It's a culture like no other.”

While it wasn't specifically an L.A.-based culture, Bob Eckert saw UCLA Anderson's unique environment as part of a larger regional culture: The spirit of the West. “We have all the academic rigor, but there's also a freedom here that people associate with the American West,” he says. “UCLA Anderson offers this free spirit, if you will, that an old-line East Coast school really doesn't offer.” The challenge became to turn that intangible feeling into a concrete concept.

The Creative Pioneer

Working with two metaphors that defined the spirit of the West, the team came up with an archetype that describes the current faculty and alumni, as well as the kind of student UCLA Anderson tends to attract: the Creative Pioneer.

The two words together evoke a risk-taking, status quo-challenging individual who represents the West Coast—and is also attracted to UCLA Anderson, says task force member Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble and adjunct professor of marketing. “Creativity is about finding a non-obvious solution to a challenge or problem, connecting things that weren't connected before,” he says. “Pioneering is closely aligned to creativity; pioneers explore new territory, they do what has not been done before.”

That sense of being first, especially in areas of technology and entrepreneurship, is where UCLA Anderson can truly stake a claim, he says. “They've produced leaders who do that. I doubt many schools can say that.”

That persona seems to describe alumni like Susan Wojcicki, who graduated in 1998 and became one of the first employees at Google, where she is now,senior vice president of advertising. Wojcicki, who also was part of the branding task force, is among just a handful of females in leadership roles at tech companies and was named #25 in Forbes Magazine's 2012 list of the world's 100 most powerful women. She says that UCLA Anderson prepared her for a career that, at the time she was in school, hadn't been invented yet. “Working in technology I look at how much the world has changed in the time between when I graduated and now,” she says. “UCLA Anderson has always been very forward-looking in their approach. With a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship, it encourages students to try new things and to take risks. That's something that's really valuable for companies, both big and small … all companies that want to be on that cutting edge of doing the next generation of things.”

Thinking in the Next

With a primary target of attracting the Creative Pioneer among prospective students, the team, including Taco Bell's CEO Greg Creed, drafted language around the brand that encompassed the ideas of innovation and possibility. When asked about early versions, Creed said some didn't quite ring true. In refining the brand language, he says “we continued to work together to make it much simpler, much cleaner, and much more reflective of how they differentiate themselves,” Creed says, “I think it will really set UCLA Anderson apart.”

The final creative positioning statement is what came out of the work, and cleared the path for the creation of a tagline and brand essence that embody the unique UCLA Anderson culture: “Think in the Next.”

“The Next idea will speak every language. The Next game changers may not wear ties. The Next dream career has not yet been invented. And though no one knows precisely what the Next will bring, we believe anything is possible. We will give you a foundation to be ready for it, to understand it, and to lead change by it.

 

Here, at UCLA Anderson, where we Think in the Next.”

Over the coming months, a new logo and brand identity will roll out across UCLA Anderson's collateral, publications and website, as well as a new 60-second commercial targeted at prospective students. All reflect the “Next” brand essence.

Looking to the Future

Of course, a tagline, a typeface—none of it matters if the branding fails to capture the school's DNA and to resonate with its intended audience. Then, there's the unsettling precedent which the team viewed as the learning experience: A few months ago, University of California's system-wide logo redesign was withdrawn. UC's stakeholders, 50,000 of whom signed a petition, asked the University of California to retract the new branding.

The new branding must feel right, first and foremost, to the students, faculty and alumni who form UCLA Anderson's exceptional culture. “In large organizations, branding is a way to remind everybody what the place is all about,” says Hanssens. The branding already aligns with UCLA Anderson's strategy. Many of its ingredients are found in the school's new strategic plan called Anderson 2016, which focuses on raising the student experience.

Perhaps most exciting to the team is the idea that the new positioning captures the central core of the school, around which growth can be positioned, reinforcing UCLA Anderson's current efforts, and inspiring new opportunities. “You never want to take on a brand essence that doesn't describe you—it has to be applicable today as well as aspirational,” says Olian. But, she already sees the tagline in action every day—from curricula addressing new career directions as they unfold, to the school's community programs focused on literacy, to new scholarly themes among the school's faculty, to a groundbreaking partnership with TED.

“The brand, who we are, leans forward to careers of the future, and to ideas as they evolve,” says Olian. Most importantly, the new brand expresses the exciting atmosphere in the school—an action-oriented vision of what students can expect, both during and after their UCLA Anderson experience, providing a glimpse of “the next” even before they set foot on campus.