Do You Need a Brand?

An interesting question arose during our department's annual strategic planning meeting yesterday. The department chair asked the faculty about the need to develop branding elements, namely a logo. It was obvious by the reaction of many faculty members that they had never thought about this question. To stir discussion, our chairperson asked the question "why would we need a brand?" It is a fair question that any organization should ask, and it is one that in typical cases should be answered with an unequivocal "yes."

What would a brand do for an organization like the Department of Management and Marketing at Middle Tennessee State University? After all, we are associated with two brands already - the University brand and the College of Business brand. Brands serve three vital purposes:
  1. Bring mission and values to life - Brand names and logos are meaningless unless they relate to fundamental purposes for existence. We started the process by reviewing our department's mission statement. In 12 years, I had never seen it, and after reading it I realized I had not missed anything! We will work on refining and shortening it. Once the mission is defined and the values we hold articulated, then (and only then) can we begin to think about branding our department.
  2.  Give direction to what we should be doing - One colleague answered the question of why we need a brand by saying that it would help us make decisions. What are our priorities? How can we better serve students? Are the needs of the business community being met? What courses are needed in our curriculum? These are questions that cannot be answered adequately until brand meaning is defined.
  3. Creates an identity - Oh yeah, brands are an outward expression of identity. Brand name and marks like a logo create awareness, aid in brand recall, and shape perceptions that form brand image. However, starting here is risky at best and can result in bad branding strategy. You cannot forge an identity until investing time in defining mission, values, and benefits provided to stakeholders.
I am excited about the possibilities of a branding initiative for our department, and not because we may end up with a nice logo. Rather, the clarity of purpose that could arise from the process will guide future strategic planning. Like many organizations, we sometimes are mired in day-to-day operational tasks and lose sight of long-range goals. Brands are like a compass that allow us to navigate the turbulent paths that an organization encounters. 

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