Brands aim to convince their customers that they are worth following and worth staying loyal to. That’s why, as Jessie McGuire, has discovered during her Masters in Branding course, it is crucial to forge strong relationships and be a super connector. In the lastest installment of partner-sponsored SVA Alumni interview series, McGuire discusses what she has taken away from her studies and how this will help her as she progresses in her career.
Branding is certainly not a modern notion, it’s centuries old. Why do you think this is such a unique area of study that is now gaining traction in both the creative and business worlds?
As with anything that has existed for centuries, branding has gone through many life cycles and has evolved over time. One of our classes took us on a historical journey of branding from iron brands to Bass beer to President Obama. Historically brands have always been about connecting a product with an owner. Today, however the concept of a product and an owner is constantly in flux. Now we talk about brands as experiences and promises. A product can be tangible or intangible; think daily newspaper or twitter feed. An owner can be timeless or fleeting; Washington Post or Sh*t My Dad Says. Branding is truly the study of the world around us — what connects us, what moves us and how we make meaning. Who wouldn’t want to study that?
What is one common misconception about Branding that you think people have, or you had, before entering the program?
When I told my mother I applied to a Branding program she was thrilled at my prospects as a logo designer. I knew better than that. When I entered the program I thought branding was a career within communication design. I even completed my application essay with that very sentiment. I believed branding was my gateway to something a bit bigger than design and logos. Two things happened while I was in the program. First I realized there are a lot more people both in and out of the industry that have the same misconception of branding as my mother – logos and packages. Second, I was also wrong about what opportunities a Masters in Branding would offer me. Branding for me is not only design, but the opportunity to study human behavior, and understanding what makes us believe in and belong to something bigger than ourselves. The program has helped me to understand that as a brand steward, I have the opportunity to be a dot connector, a relationship builder and the glue that holds an ideal together.
Many graduates of the Branding program go into different fields of strategy. How did the program change your approach to business and brand strategy for small and large businesses?
Prior to the program I always believed strategy was how a brand and company wanted to be seen or consumed, a very extroverted approach. Throughout the program we examined companies, brands, leadership and industries. What became clear was that basic fundamentals and internal cultures are what drive external messages. Whether on the client side or agency side, setting the strategy or executing the strategy, there is a certain amount of introspection that must take place. I believe strategy for any size business is the crystallization of a vision. For brands and businesses to set a clear vision, they must take an honest, internal look at where they’ve been, what they’re doing and what it is that they hope to become.
How has having a Masters in Branding has helped you to further your career?
I have a background in advertising and design. When I entered the program I figured I would continue my work in advertising. My plan was to look for a role in planning or brand strategy within an agency. However, half way through the program my husband asked me a very simple question. He was impressed with the exposure I had to industry thought leaders, so he naturally asked me who inspired me. When I made out a list not one person came from the advertising world, though they all worked with advertising agencies. This made me question my career expectations. It just so happened that everyone on my list worked on the client side: Google, Hershey, Kimberly Clark. With this new perspective my career options opened up and I started looking at company’s big and small, agency and client. I went from thinking I could work within an agency to realizing I could contribute to change within an industry. Today I am the design manager for Kleenex®, a billion dollar brand loved around the world. Every day I contribute to something that lives in the hearts and minds of consumers, a career I never would have imagined before the program.
What was the greatest challenge you faced while in the Branding program? How did you overcome it?
One of the books we read during the semester was The Paradox of Choice. The book details the anxiety we feel when overwhelmed by too many choices. This sums up my biggest challenge with the program, the abundance of information, exposure and choice. Many of our projects tackled larger concepts and hypothetical situations, which were equal parts exciting and daunting. What became difficult to wrap my head around was how to take these larger questions and apply them to the everyday. When it came to detailing our path after the program and years beyond I was overwhelmed by the options and opportunities, not only for me, but for the discipline of branding in general. I’m not sure I have fully overcome this challenge, but I do believe I am where I’m supposed to be, working on world-class brands and constantly questioning this ever-changing industry.
What do you feel is your most valuable experience or memory to come out of the Branding program?
When I first read this question I started making a list of my favorite projects. I begin thinking about which pieces and parts where the most valuable, then I saw a pattern. It wasn’t the content or the process it was the people. There were 24 of us who started the program, all with our own agenda, all slightly nervous and all certain a Master’s degree was exactly what we needed to launch our career. Speaking for myself, the agenda, the nerves and the career opportunities all met my expectations, what exceeded expectations were the friendships and relationships that were built over the year. Some of the best memories happened at the neighborhood bar, where we built hypothetical companies and conceptually changed whole industries. The intensity of those conversations is what continues to inspire me today and drives me to elevate the brands I work on. Not to mention that I speak to a majority of my classmates every day on Gchat.
If you had to offer one key piece of advice to interested applicants, what would it be?
Get a Twitter handle, an iPad and tell your friends you’ll call them in a year.
The Masters in Branding at The School of Visual Arts is a one-year Masters Degree program that examines the relationship between design and strategy, the power of design thinking and the decision-making processes of design and business. They are currently accepting applications until February 23rd 2013. Please contact: J’aime Cohen for more information or Apply here!