A task force of UCLA Anderson faculty, board members, students and alumni faced a unique challenge. How do you restructure a mega-business-school brand with a 75-year history to make it ring with the modern MBA?
The tagline needed to be catchy, accurate and attractive to top students. The diverse group, which included Susan Wojcicki, Google’s senior vice president of advertising, and Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed, contemplated this challenge for some 18 months – testing out different positioning slogans in surveys and focus groups. How could they set UCLA Anderson apart in a few words and, most importantly, attract potential students?
They finally distilled the quintessential UCLA Anderson student down to a “creative pioneer.” The tagline grew from here and the “Think in the Next” campaign was born.
So what exactly does it mean? The school’s alumni magazine Assets Digital paints a picture of a nimble, adaptable MBA ready to take on challenges yet unknown: “The Next idea will speak every language. The Next game changers may not wear ties. The Next dream career has not yet been invented. And though no one knows precisely what the Next will bring, we believe anything is possible. We will give you a foundation to be ready for it, to understand it, and to lead change by it.”
DETERMINING THE SCHOOL’S DNA
But that leaves the question of why the school embarked on a campaign to rebrand itself in the first place. For starters UCLA lost some of its competitive edge when it opted out of public funding for its masters’ programs in 2012. Then, tuition cost roughly $48,000 per year for California residents. For the 2013-2014 school year it’s closer to $52,000. In the highly competitive field of MBA degrees, UCLA recognized it couldn’t fall back on price to set itself apart.
When many B-schools are shouting buzzwords like innovation and leadership – individual institutions have to capture what makes them unique, says Anderson Dean Judy Olian. She is quick to add that the new slogan is not an attempt to rebrand the university. “I view it as saying let’s make sure there is a crystal clear image of what differentiates us so that we can express the DNA in a relatively concise way to these prospective students,” she says.
Dominique Hanssens, professor of marketing at UCLA, says the economic crisis also prompted the school to take a tough look at repositioning their brand. “We’ve just come out of this horrible financial crisis, which is not even over, and some fingers have been pointed at business schools as being part of the problem,” he says in an interview with Asset Digital. “Of course, we disagree with that, but the challenge and opportunity is on us to demonstrate how our educational products create value to students and organizations alike.”
The process for developing a new brand is never a straight and easy path – especially when it comes to an ever-changing entity like a business school. The team originally proposed to play up the school’s LA location, but they didn’t want to be pigeonholed into the South California stereotypes, says Andrew Ainslie, senior associate dean of the full-time MBA program. “We worried people would associate Los Angeles with a beach school – a place where everyone goes to lay in the sun and have fun, a slacker school. Our students are the exact opposite of that.” So they opted for a more regional focus, emphasizing California’s innovation and the West’s free spirit. As alum Robert Eckert, chairman emeritus of Mattel, explains to Assets Digital, “We have all the academic rigor, but there’s also a freedom here that people associate with the American West,” he says. “UCLA Anderson offers this free spirit, if you will, that an old-line East Coast school really doesn’t offer.”