In today’s competitive business atmosphere, a company must be more than a snazzy tagline or a pretty picture to keep its consumers consuming. In the latest installment of PSFK’s School of Visual Arts (SVA) Alumni Series, foreign student Lee Changzhi shares his thoughts on what makes a brand and why the area truly deserves the amount of traction and recognition it is currently receiving.
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?
I think the notion of what branding is changed drastically over the last 10 – 15 years, and thus it is such a unique area of study because we have the opportunity to look at it through a new lens and re-invent it all over again.
In the past, branding or the ‘profession of branding’ was often defined within the world of fast moving consumer goods, and a melding of a solid product offering and the advertising image built around it. Today, thanks to the change in the way we communicate and absorb information, branding extends into the world of storytelling. It has evolved to the consultancy of personal image, services and other intangible experiences, nation brands, governments, and cities positioning themselves to attract business, tourism and talent, and many other aspects of the human existence.
In an era where an oversaturation of products and information presents a looming problem, branding helps consumers and communities navigate this world on their own terms, and guides them in the way they choose to live their lives.
Being from outside of the United States, why did you choose the Masters in Branding program?
Well I must admit it was the SVA brand, as well as the New York City brand, and the US brand. No other city in the world has the reputation of building ‘social and career currency’ like New York and as someone from abroad, sometimes the value of this ‘currency’ is very much appreciated. By coming here and by studying in a reputable institution, and learning from highly esteemed individuals who not only thrive but also run successful careers in this city, I knew I was in very good hands. Having chosen to be brave and leave New York after the program has only reinforced the value of the city for me, and the value of the contacts I have made.
What is one common misconception about Branding that you think people have, or you had, before entering the program?
I think we all start out in life thinking branding is the creation of a logo, or a series of graphic designs that sit on a 2D, lifeless computer screen or on a piece of paper. It was during one of the classes that it dawned on me that one of the first brands I’ve ever experienced was Pampers as a baby, and it was because my mother has a sense of trust that that product was best for her child. People seldom think of it, but branding is about the creation of trust, reputation and faith in something or someone.
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?
I think it gave me a much more holistic and mature approach to my area of work, which after all is still in creative direction, with a particular interest for nation branding and service/intangible live experiences. It allowed me to see things from other people’s perspectives, whether it was a business leader/client or another colleague who saw things from a financial angle. It helped me to have a greater appreciation for their agendas and it helped me to shape my creative offerings to be in line with their needs. It’s all about compromise after all, and that is not a bad thing.
How has having a Masters in Branding helped you to further your career?
The program curriculum itself is fantastic, but also, it is the huge resource of contacts, networks and lifelong friends that one makes that is of great, long-term value. Since finishing the program I have moved on to be an Associate Creative Director with a well-known agency and have worked in four global offices, from Beijing, Singapore to London, and I’m currently based in the Sydney branch.
What was the greatest challenge you faced while in the Branding program? How did you overcome it?
I think coming to it with an open mind is often hard. Everyone has a different take on what branding means to them, but once you embrace the differences of opinion and cultural melting pot that the program is, I quickly realized that it was a microcosm of real life. Having to work with people, the politics of working with people especially when you have an economist and designer sitting at the same table, it does not get any more amazing than that. It was a good place to learn about working as a team to bring a fragile idea to fruition.
What do you feel is your most valuable experience or memory to come out of the Branding program?
Absolutely the people. I think the wide range of people that I had an opportunity to interact with was the most valuable experience. Being able to network and be mentored by some very influential people in the industry is priceless. No money can buy those relationships and connections.
If you had to offer one key piece of advice to interested applicants, what would it be?
Be proactive. The program itself, as well as the opportunity to live in New York is only as great as you make it. Be clear about what you want to achieve, but keep an open mind as you learn and grow. Go out to meet as MANY people as you can. Be brave and knock on doors. After all, that would be a great opportunity to build your own personal reputation and brand, and learn about what people value, trust and hope for.
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!