By Dakota Damschroder
Marketing and branding are often seen solely as relating to advertising and the selling of products. However, as students of the trade learn, they can be applied to a larger range of ideas, including organizations and social movements.
“I think it’s important for students to learn that marketing can be used to do more than sell sneakers, perfume, or jeans,” said Associate Professor Kristin Lieb.
Last semester, Lieb taught a service learning course called Strategic Brand Management, which served to change the way students thought about brands.
“Brands are dynamic,” said Lieb. “They change in culture as audiences interact with them and give them new kinds of meaning.”
The class discussions focused on broadening the concept of a brand, how they might change with different demographics, and how powerful they can be. A key concept of the course was how to be socially responsible when creating and developing brands.
In order for her students to apply the abstract to the practical, she partnered with Brookview House, an independent nonprofit organization meant to help families experiencing homelessness learn the skills they need to break the cycle of poverty. They offer classes and groups so that individuals can build self-esteem while developing these skills.
Lieb’s students were asked to create a new branding strategy for Brookview House.
As a large group, the students built an overarching brand theme that could be applied to all of the activities and factions of the organization. They evaluated Brookview’s current strategy, researched other companies for comparison, and thought of ways for Brookview to differentiate itself from others. Individual groups were then assigned to specific target markets, researching how to position Brookview to future residents, alums of the program looking to stay involved, possible celebrity partners, or corporations who might be interested in supporting the program financially. All of this culminated in a final project in which the students presented their findings and their final brand. For Brookview House, the students’ report made immediate and tangible differences.
“Most important for us as a nonprofit with a small budget, they gave us low cost takeaways that we could implement within a short time frame,” said Deborah Hughes, CEO of Brookview House. “In fact, we continue to work with some of the students to incorporate their recommendations into our programs.”
Professor Lieb believes that the implications of the students’ work can also have wide-reaching effects on society as a whole.
“Effective marketing by effective brands can change the cultural discussions we have,” said Lieb, “which changes what people know about and care about.”