Why Academics Need Branding

Today, many professors share the same responsibilities as our counterparts in other industries. We need to answer emails, attend mandatory HR trainings, and have conversations about recruitment, retention, and image. But one thing we don’t usually have is the staple of many in the working world: An ID badge to be worn while at work. At the most, we have something like this, a name badge used during “open-house” events where members of the public, or new students, may be in attendance.

My Delta State name badge

When asked* to wear our badges, we generally grumble and dig them out of our bags or desk drawers, reluctantly put them on, and wander out to the event.  Most professors consider them a nuisance, however I’d argue that, when used effectively, they are far more important than we think. They are a visible way we show our affiliation, at a time when higher education (whether it wants to or not) needs not only affiliation, but brand presence.

How does a name badge advance a brand? Well if executed poorly, it doesn’t. I’ll give you an example of good execution (in my opinion) first. At Delta State, all of our name badges have the same size, shape, and style: Black lettering on a gold background. Each year there are very subtle differences depending on the shop that we order from, but unless you hold badges side-by-side you won’t really notice the font shift, bolder letters, or 1-2 point size differences in text. When ‘outsiders’ come to an event, all Delta State faculty and staff are immediately recognizable about a mile away, which means that people have no trouble asking us questions ranging from “Where are the bathrooms” to “Do you teach here?” to “Can you tell me about the XYZ program?”. We appear organized because our badges match, even if sometimes we might not have all the answers. Last week, for example, a new orientation student who was visibly confused flagged me down asking for help understanding her schedule. 2 minutes later and a quick look at her schedule and she was off happily, profusely thanking me.

Contrast that to a previous institution I was at where name badges were a very informal thing. Each year the design changed rather markedly – the background was white one year, red another, white again the next. Sometimes the logo of the school was on the badge, sometimes it wasn’t. Folks who had been around 10+ years had a much older design with just a single bar and their name, while newer badges had the same information mine does above. And unless you mentioned it a few times, you might not even get a badge (I never did), even as a full time faculty or staff member. While I’m sure the administration cared about them in theory, in practice it was a free-for-all. To the public, this sends a message of disorganization (Which at that school was more accurate than desired), and while we had a quality product to offer, we didn’t appreciate how the little details mattered.

The DSU Division of Counselor Education & Psychology at the Greater Memphis National College Fair, September 2014.
The DSU Division of Counselor Education & Psychology at the Greater Memphis National College Fair, September 2014.

At DSU, branding seems to be doing it’s job in terms of recruiting students in tough times. Last year we had our first year with increasing enrollment in over a half-decade, and we’re hopeful for another increase this year. When we go to academic / college fairs, our tables look uniform, our faculty and staff are easy to spot, and we project an image of professionalism that many other institutions lack. As academics, our number 1 priority is, and always will be, providing a quality education to our students. But we cannot become so jaded as to believe that appearance, marketing, and branding have no impact on our abilities to do our jobs. People notice if your logos are different, business cards vary greatly, and name badges don’t match. And what can admissions folks tell to those people when they ask “Will my son be able to graduate in four years or will an advising error happen like it did to my daughter at ?”. They can assure them that we take advising seriously (and at DSU we definitely do), but if it looks like they can’t even coordinate their own letterhead, will they be believed?

** I originally wrote “required”, however if you’ve spent time in academia, you know that there are always a handful of professors that will laugh in the face of such ‘requirements’.

The Immortal Royal Organizer

Gather round for this history lesson, youngsters, as I tell you about this bad boy – the Royal DM2070 Organizer

(That’s right, it had a flip cover)

As best as I can remember, I bought this thing sometime in 1999 for around $30. This was a time long before smartphones, when the best PDAs around were still quite expensive. I was a broke high school kid who had data to store, and this bad boy fit the bill.

What did I have to store? Funny you should ask. In 1999 Karey & I started dating, and we ran into a weird problem that also seems prehistoric today: the prohibitivly high cost of voice contact. While we could chat through our dialup internet connections, no good voice solution existed – especially at the speeds we both had. So I spent a lot of money on pre-paid phone cards to avoid the anger of my dad (upon reviewing the phone bill). I also found places online to get pre-paid cards via email, and at the end of the day had a list of PIN codes that would give me 10-30 minutes of talk time.

As you can probably guess, teenagers talk a lot more than 30 minutes at a time, so I had a lot of codes to keep track of – which ones I’d used, which ones I hadn’t. I printed them out briefly, but began to weary of all the paper I had lying around. So I bought this thing and used it’s “memo” feature to put in the lists of codes (which was easy given the numeric keypad). I did this for a few months until I found a flat-rate long distance service in 2000 that let me pay only $80 a month for unlimited long distance. Ah the expense of romance before Skype and Broadband!

I found the Royal organizer yesterday while cleaning, and decided to see if it still powered on. And yes, after 16 years, it not only powered on, but it had the correct date! Time was off a bit, but the date was spot on. Goes to show – just because you’re old, doesn’t mean you’re out of the game!

The Single Biggest Problem in Web Development Is…

By: Pietro Zanarini

… Remembering to update the page. Was asked today to take on additional web management duties at DSU (We’re making a push to have up-to-date contact information for everyone). Not a big deal – the contact system is very functional and takes very little time to update. It’s a push to de-centralize updating it, which makes a lot of sense, as long as people are on board. It is hard to find an organization with a “vibrant” web page that has decentralized administration of that page. Yet it’s even harder to find a large organization that can devote people solely to web updating. The classic conundrum: updating web pages tends to be a NIMBY issue (not in my back yard!) Everyone agrees it needs to be done, no one likes to do it. Hopefully as the bar gets lower and lower in terms of ‘hassle’ (i.e. modern CMS’s do a great job of making it easy to publish / update things), we’ll get rid of the 3 year old webpages that should have been updated last month.

When Humans Make it LESS Creepy

I was born in the forgotten generation – those not quite old enough to be Gen X, but those definitely too young to be a Millenial, an era some have called the Oregon Trail Generation. As such, I share some traits with either generation, and have some unique ones of my own. And sometimes I think I’m the only one who sees the odd mashups of both.
Here’s my example for today: The “Aversion to Talking to People” of the Millenials versus the “Computers are Tracking YOU” paranoia of Gen X.

I admit that I do enjoy not having to make awkward phone calls or initiate conversation with strangers – I share that with many millenials raised on instant Google gratification. I’ll do it if necessary (or get someone else to, just ask friends of mine that had to ask someone to take our picture at Graceland last week when I chickened out), but I’d prefer to avoid dealing with humans for needs, instead dealing with them simply for wants. (In other words, if you want to become friends, I’m up to chat all afternoon – but if I need to call you to ask what time you close tomorrow, I’m not that excited).

Now let’s contrast that with the “Computers are tracking you” paranoia of many Gen X’ers (and older). I’m not a huge fan of things like loyalty cards that track my purchases, but I begrudingly use them to get small discounts at the grocery store. Recently our local grocery store started sending coupons to us in the mail (I say recently, but it could have been several years ago, my wife would know for sure. I stereotypically leave most of the couponing to her). Upon the arrival of the latest batch, my wife said “I think they track what you buy and send you the coupons you might actually use”. I agreed that this would be a smart move on their part, and that it actually sets up kind of a win-win situation. Store has a greater liklihood of me buying something because it’s something I like and I have a coupon, and if I was going to buy it anyway, I get a small discount (I suppose if I were a big impulse shopper, this would be disastrous, but thankfully I don’t tend to be).

This got me thinking – for many older folks, a local grocer (physical person) who knew them by name, knew their likes/dislikes, and offered them discounts would be a valued shopkeep, something lamented when they were replaced by a big-box grocery chain. Yet those same people find it creepy when a computer tracks their purchases and targets them with coupons or ads, essentially providing the same service. Somehow it’s less creepy if it’s a person doing it. Contrast that with the Millenial attitude that dealing a person is more uncomfortable than a computer, and you have a strange cohort effect. Older generations find it creepy if it’s a computer, younger find it uncomfortable if it’s a person, and vice versa.

I, for my part, shall continue to straddle the two generations, embracing my Oregon Trail-ness while teaching (mostly) Millenials. And continue to notice strange inconsistencies like this one, which I shall report to, no doubt, millions of interested readers!

Dread

This morning my car started flashing a service engine light as Karey and I began a long drive. We’re at the service center now, and should be back on the road around noon (a bit lighter in the bank account, but with a more reliable vehicle!). As I sit here, I think about the sense of dread I feel when I know I have a pending car repair. How long will it take? How much will it cost? How serious is it?   Will the mechanic be busy? All questions that nag at me while waiting for the repair to be completed.

And it makes me wonder – would I have wanted to know about this issue late last week, when it was likely I would have had to wait until this morning to even get the ball rolling, or is it better to find out on Monday morning? They say ignorance is bliss, and I know for sure that I would have felt uneasy (“a disturbance in the force”) all weekend when I should have been more present, enjoying life. Humans tend to want more information rather than less, and it’s interesting how that abundance of information can make us unhappier than we otherwise would. 

Researcher, Educator, Author, And More

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