Importance of Brands in Education

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Bombay became Mumbai in 1995, Madras became Chennai in 1996, Calcutta became Kolkata in 2001 and Bangalore became Bengaluru in 2014; but IIT Bombay, IIT Madras, IIM Calcutta and IIM Bangalore have still not changed their names.

In each of the institutions mentioned above, the place name was initially an identifier, but now, it has become a part of the brand name. Therefore, even when the name of the city changed, the institution’s name was not changed, so as not to affect the brand value that has been built up carefully over decades – a policy that is followed by all brand conscious institutions.

For example, the oldest business school in the country, Xavier Labour Relations Institute was set up in Jamshedpur in 1949. Over the years however, its acronym XLRI came to represent excellence in management education, not just labour relations. Therefore when they rebranded themselves a few years back, they ensured that the new name – XLRI Xavier School of Management, leveraged on its existing brand value.

Biju Dominic, one of the foremost thought leaders on Behavioural Economics in India today has this to say – “Rebranding exercises are some of the toughest assignments because brands are all about emotions. So companies are extremely careful even when they change the fonts of a brand name. The brand name becomes a part of the language and the identity of thousands of people hence a decision to drop a brand name without taking into consideration the ‘emotional utility’ of the brand should be taken with a lot of caution and restraint.”

Odisha has been at the forefront in recognizing the importance of branding, and the professionalism with which the government went about creating and implementing branding campaigns like Odisha – New Opportunities for the promotion of industrial growth and the Odisha – India’s Best Kept Secret campaign for the Tourism Department, are quoted as examples of excellence in branding practices.

Which is why, it is a matter of surprise that in quick succession, two of Odisha’s most reputed national level educational institutions in which the government has an important stake – a 30+ year old management institute and a 40+ year old engineering college, while in the process of conversion to universities and the resultant renaming, appear to be in the danger of losing their brands.

In both these cases, the brand names with which they have been known over decades have either been mutilated or not used at all. Ironically, the B School ended up losing its 30+ year old brand while trying to leverage it for the university’s growth – something that is sure to become a case study in itself! That such branding missteps could end up creating confusion in the minds of potential students, faculty and recruiters, not to mention disturbing the emotional connect the brands have with their alumni, appears to have been ignored.

It is hoped that at least in the case of the engineering college, when the Act is passed in the Assembly, the value of the forty year old brand that has established a place for itself in the hearts of thousands of alumni spread across the world is given the importance it deserves, and is leveraged for the growth of this great institution instead of being discarded.

This is the age of branding, and no one can afford to take the power of brands lightly. In fact, it has been suggested that there should be a full time consultative body within the government to establish branding hygiene in all government communications, as well as advise in decisions regarding naming or renaming of government led institutions.

As Saji Abraham, a renowned branding expert with over twenty five years of experience in launching and growing national and international brands across categories and currently the founder of Fighting Fit Brands, a brand management company, says “In the era of product similarity and shorter innovation cycles, creating an emotional connection with the customer is essential. This is what brands do. It has been shown beyond doubt now, that we take decisions based on emotions and justify them later even in the most rational of categories. A brand is a composite of emotions and information that we use as a shortcut. Without that shortcut we are asking consumers to spend too much brain power, which most are unwilling to. Therefore if you have a brand, take good care of it – regardless whether it is for a product, educational institution, a state or even a nation.”

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