Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Why not change the world?™
As Vice President of the Rensselaer Alumni Association (RAA) board and chairman of its national Alumni Admissions Committee I was a key participant in the endeavor to rebrand Rensselaer. Today I want to share the case study of that effort.
Great Accomplishments, “No Man’s Land” Marketing Position
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, was the first degree-granting technological university in the English-speaking world. Rensselaer was established "for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life." Since Rensselaer’s founding, its alumni have impacted the world in many significant ways:
• Inventing television
• Creating the microprocessor
• Managing the Apollo project that put the first man on the moon
• Founding Texas Instruments and creating the first pocket calculator
• Creating e-mail (including using the @ symbol)
• Inventing baking powder
• Inventing the Reach toothbrush
• Building the Brooklyn Bridge
• Building the Panama Canal
• Inventing the Ferris Wheel
Yet, for all its accomplishments, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rensselaer was not well positioned (to prospective students) compared to its world-renowned rival, MIT, or even to schools such as Cal Tech, UC Berkeley, and Carnegie-Mellon. Many state schools (Purdue, University of Illinois at Urbana, etc.) offered exceptionally strong technical programs at significantly lower costs than private universities such as Rensselaer.
Marketers are a fickle breed. Aside from the usual list of ailments that afflict the general population, we are also vulnerable to a number of conditions unique to us. The most pernicious of these is logos extendos rabidus or, to give it its more colloquial name - brand extension disease.
Typically contracted by young managers who don't receive adequate training at an early stage in their development, early indications of the condition include delusion and a loss of hearing, especially when customers are trying to tell you how stupid your idea is. More serious symptoms often remain dormant for many years until the manager achieves a prominent position in charge of a major brand. At this stage, the onset of the condition can be frighteningly quick and the results are often severe.
One recent, sad case is that of Jonathan Hewitt, group financial services director for Dixons. Until last month, Hewitt appeared to be an executive operating at the very peak of his powers. But earlier this month it became clear that he had contracted a very severe form of the condition, when Dixons announced an unlikely move from selling kettles to offering online quotes for home and motor insurance.
"Safe advertising is the riskiest advertising you can do."
– Bill Bernbach, Advertising Legend
Sponsored By: Brand Aid
A brand audit provides an analysis of an organization’s brand and its brand management and marketing effectiveness. It assesses a brand’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It identifies brand growth opportunities including those achieved by brand repositioning and brand extension. The audit should result in recommendations to improve brand equity, brand positioning, and brand management and marketing effectiveness.
The following are typical components of a brand audit:
This year Coca-Cola launched a rather strange campaign behind its Coca-Cola Zero product.
You may have seen it. It's based on the odd idea that executives at Coca-Cola that sell Coca-Cola Classic want to hire lawyers to sue their co-workers who sell Coke Zero. To them it's "a clear case of taste infringement." In simple terms, the Classic marketing guys want to sue the Zero guys for producing a Coke with no calories that tastes as good as a Coke with calories.
But then you might say, "What about Diet Coke?" Good question. The grand strategy is to have a three-cola strategy (Classic, Diet and Zero). This is not unlike PepsiCo, which is pursuing the same idea. They have basic Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Max and, coming soon, Diet Pepsi Max.
What's going on here? In my estimation, nothing but confusion, and confusion is the enemy of effective marketing. This is the kind of stuff you often see when a category is flat or declining. All the marketing guys sit around, stare at complicated marketing research and try and figure out ways to turn things around.