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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Marketing & Branding

Our brief discussion of marketing and branding that came about as a result of the comments from the NSF officer has got me thinking a lot about how we approach/come across others (students, faculty, staff) that are not like us.

First of all, as a "self-hating" business instructor (which is to say that my impression of some of the topics in my discipline are not ones that I would necessarily like or embrace), my initial reaction to the suggestion of doing a better job of branding and marketing SUSTAIN outside of Cal Poly was a little negative. Like many others, my sense of branding and marketing is one of "selling" what is unnecessary to others. I come to that sense because of what I see on TV, newspapers and other media -- a veritable tsunami of effort to sell us crap. So, what overwhelms me is the amount of "bad" marketing/branding that I face rather than the fundamental idea of marketing and branding -- which is to convey information in a way that allows people to grasp ideas in an efficient and, often, an emotional way. This is really quite hard to do (hence the amount of "bad" marketing/branding that we witness every day) but this is something that we are struggling with on campus. We are not undertaking improper marketing approaches but we are realizing that doing a "good" job in marketing is pretty damn hard -- especially given our ethic of not imposing out models on others.

As we move ahead with recruitment, we continue to look for that emotional hook for the students. But we also need to find that same emotional hook with faculty and staff since younger students will still seek out their advice. Over the past week I have been trying to find that emotional "hook" for students and faculty in the College of Agriculture (CAFES). There is a lot of underlying information about SUSTAIN that is available that we feel is necessary to inform students and faculty about SUSTAIN. Yet we still run into the difficulty (like all good marketers) of the short attention span of everyone (including us) not to mention the difficulty in managing the common disconnects between espoused models and actual behaviors. In my brief (but intensive) marketing spurt of emailing faculty in CAFES, I tried to focus on SUSTAIN as an extension of the college's history with "learn by doing". LBD is the mantra for all of Cal Poly but in CAFES there is a sense that we helped create it (with the creation of Cal Poly) and that we remain "true" to it in a fundamental sense. This can be seen in how students in CAFES embrace it (and wish they could get rid of all classes and just do LBD). I think that this common ground of LBD -- discussed in a way that doesn't criticize current LBD but which does offer SUSTAIN as a new option in Cal Poly's arsenal (Neal, why all the war rhetoric?) of LBD. I am still trying to figure this out (this is something I have been doing my whole career at CP -- how do I talk about something that is personally important to me but which so many in my college can find "bad" and threatening?) but I have to accept that a good marketing/branding approach (once we figure it out) will make our lives easier. Not because we don't have to think about stuff but because it will get people to ask questions faster and establish a commitment to SUSTAIN that much faster.

I hope this hasn't been too off-topic but it was on my mind and I wanted to get more into the "document the hell out of the project" mode.

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