How would you brand Harvard Business School?

This was the question we were posed last week in my Consumer Marketing class, and what a challenging assignment it turned out to be! In addition to designing a "tagline" or slogan that would completely sum up the special qualitites of our program, we had to develop an elevator pitch that would explain why our tagline was the perfect fit. I practically tore my hair out until I came up with something I liked, but in the end I'm pretty proud of the result. Turns out it's WAY more difficult to brand something than you would think, especially when you are close to the product/service. Read my paper below and post your comments: How well do you think my brand identity fits the school?

what managers do in real life

Consumer Marketing Reflection Paper #6

2. Tell me about the branding phrase you came up with for the branding exercise assignment. You may not have had an opportunity to share your phrase with the rest of the class; this is your opportunity to explain to me in more detail why you think your phrase captures the HBS brand essence.

The branding phrase that I came up with for HBS was “What Managers Do in Real Life.” It’s a very simple idea, but I think it encapsulates the special nature of our school and stands apart enough to avoid a copy-cat attempt from a competing institution.

Before I jump to explaining and defending my slogan, I need to give credit to Professor Jan Hammond who was my inspiration. You see, I was having an incredibly hard time with this assignment and had tried “wordsmithing” to no avail. Sure, the words transformative, discovery, growth, home, and teamwork all describe the HBS experience, but much to my disappointment, nothing quite fit when I tried to form an expression.

I felt that I needed to step outside of myself for a moment and glean insight from how others see HBS, so I spent some time talking to a friend who is a prospective student, and then surfed the internet and read a few articles about the program. Finally, I clicked over to the HBS homepage to watch (for the hundredth time) the short videos the school uses for promotional purposes.

In one of the last videos, entitled “Inside the HBS Case Method,” Jan addresses the efficacy of the teaching style and says, “To me the reason this method is so effective is that it really mirrors what managers do in real life.” I knew at that moment that I had found the perfect phrase for the assignment, but it wasn’t until I gave it deeper thought that I realized just how well it summarized the 360 degrees of the Harvard Business School experience.

Firstly, let’s take the lifeblood of the program: the case method. As Jan so eloquently mentioned, this teaching technique forces students to become managers from day one and make the choices executives make in even the most difficult of business conundrums. And there’s little tolerance for the wishy-washy. In the working world, managers are often challenged to think “on the spot,” and HBS is one of the few institutions that prepares students for dealing with the simultaneous adrenaline rush and sheer horror of making a high-impact choice without time for reflection.

But the idea of doing “what managers do in real life” extends beyond the case method. As students, we must manage small-group dynamics in our learning teams, and quickly understand how to work effectively with 5-6 people that are vastly different from you. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we must learn to manage large-group dynamics in our sections and rapidly recognize each individual’s strengths, weaknesses and “hot buttons.” We do what managers do in real life when we take on a leadership role in a student club. We manage our career trajectories through networked job searches. We even manage our daily calendars to ensure a reasonable balance between education and social activities.

Thinking beyond the MBA experience, this phrase also fits within the executive education program as we see high-level managers flocking back to the school to enhance their business acumen. Moving to the faculty, HBS is one of the few institutions that forces professors to take an entire semester off each school year to research and write cases that, again, aim to highlight exactly what managers do in real life. Whether it’s understanding the purpose of the entrepreneurship initiative, summarizing the role of the alumni network or explaining why so many case protagonists relish attending class to share their experiences, you can see that the institution is grounded in the day to day experience of the manager.

At other schools, you hear, see and learn, but an HBS education transforms. And that, my friend, is something that will stick with you long after traditional book knowledge has faded into oblivion.