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Brand equity

Well known business schools are reinventing their brands to make themselves more attractive to students, reports Steve Coomber

If brands influence which car we choose, why not which MBA programme? In increasingly competitive times, business schools in the education market need to communicate the values that make them different. Branding is a fundamental way of doing so. A clearly defined brand can be the difference between a candidate considering a school’s programme or dismissing it.

“To maintain stature and grow without losing quality, the premium universities must distinguish their business offerings as brands whose values uniquely travel in elite global circles,” says Mark Linder, global client leader at WPP, the worldwide advertising and marketing services.

The Business of Branding 2005 report carried out by CarringtonCrisp and the Association of Business Schools, found that half the business schools studied had rebranded in the past five years. Linder, for example, is currently involved with a branding exercise at the Judge Business School at Cambridge.

Clint Evans, marketing director at Henley Management College, says: “Brand is about purpose, positioning, personality, perception management, and promise. It’s what you stand for and aspire to be at a given moment in time.”

But do prospective students notice the brand and does it affect their choice? Student surveys show that rankings are the critical factor when choosing an MBA programme.

At Cranfield School of Management, which is engaged in a programme redesign and branding rethink, a survey of students last year revealed that rankings were the most influential factor, followed by reputation and recommendation — no mention of brand.

There is, however, a strong connection between branding, reputation and rankings. Brand helps to build reputation — providing it is authentic. In the Branding 2005 report, of 9,000 UK business school alumni surveyed, 62 per cent chose their schools on reputation. And brand and reputation feed into the rankings.

At Esade, it is surely no coincidence that a strategic reshaping of the Spanish school’s internal programmes, coupled with a branding relaunch, was followed by a sharp climb up the various international rankings.

If students do not pay attention to brand when drawing up a business school shortlist, then they should. A business school’s brand can make a real difference where it counts — in the pocket.

“Think of it from the student’s point of view and what they are buying,” Evans says. “Yes, it’s a qualification but the value of that piece of paper and those initials is only as good as the continuing brand value and reputation of the business school. The students are investors in the school, and expect a return on their investment over many years.”

With so many schools reinventing their brands, students must be careful to look beneath the veneer. Rebranding must be coupled with strategic change. New logos should be accompanied by programme alterations that reflect a change in identity. There should not be a lack of connection between what the school does and how it presents itself.

Wally Olins, co-founder of Wolff Olins, the brand consultant, advises: “If you are going to change the brand, you have to have a change which is recognised internally so people can see that the external change represents an internal dynamic, and that it is not just superficial nonsense.”


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