There’s No One Surefire Branding Strategy, But You Should Always Make People Care

SVA Branding alumnus stresses the importance of developing your own style and POV to excel both personally and professionally

As part of an ongoing series, PSFK chats with alumni from the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Masters in Branding program. This week we caught up with former student now strategist at Local Projects David Carofano who says that to make people care you need to “do things with so much passion that it permeates through everything you do.”

What made you decide to enroll in the Master’s in Branding program? What is it about our current society that makes branding so important?

I had always known that I wanted to go back to graduate school, but I was never sure exactly what for. I always had interests in art, design and business and with an undergraduate degree in marketing, and being a music artist for many years, it was difficult for me to find a career that used both my business knowledge and creative passions. However, when I found the Branding program, it seemed like it would be just the right mix for me and it was, and more. What the program taught me about business and culture, and the fundamental human elements of how we interact with brands, has made me see the world in a whole new way.

Branding is important to our society today more than ever because branding gets to “the why?” Why we as consumers should care, why we should choose, and why do we make the decisions we do. One of our professors would repeatedly say to us “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” I have found this to be one of the most important lessons I have learned so far. In today’s world, where there is just so much to choose from, so many distractions, people need to be sold on their emotions, not on their wallets. Brands, now more than ever, have to give people a reason to care again, to feel part of something bigger than themselves.


How has having a Masters in Branding influenced the way you tackle your current job at Local Projects?

It has been a huge influence on the way I approach my job at Local Projects, on so many levels. For one, learning how people connect to one another, and to brands through experiences, has allowed me to continue to design ways to facilitate that critical concept. Although it is easy to see the technology at the forefront of what we do at Local Projects, it is really about the experiences we are creating. We think about the user first, what we want them to think and feel when experiencing something. Once we have defined what that experience is first, we then think of different ways to cultivate those experiences through technology.

The program has also taught me to be ‘okay’ with the ambiguity of the creative world. Not always having the right answer, or getting there right away, but going through the process and the journey is definitely something we all learned in the program.


What was your motivation to joining the program?

Really my motivation for joining the program was to open as many doors for myself as I could. I knew there was a whole different world out there that I had yet to discover and I wanted to be a part of it. I always imagined branding & strategy as something that I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get there. I didn’t have the experience that most companies looked for, but I thought with the right degree and meeting new people I could get there. What I didn’t know was just how big those doors would be when I joined the program. I could have never imagined the opportunities that were presented to us, and one of them is why I am where am today.

What is the most surprising thing you learned about the process of branding during your time in the program?

I think the most surprising thing that I learned about the process of branding, is that there really isn’t just one process, no single way of doing things. Being in strategy and branding is about being able to adapt, learn as you go, synthesize what you’ve learned, and communicate it to the world. That’s the fun part of branding, you don’t always know what the outcome will be. The Branding program does, however, give you the tools to approach problems that may present in various situations. It gives you the scope to learn how people work, how we communicate, and why we do the things we do. These are some of the most powerful tools an individual in this industry can have.

Name two brands you think are standout examples of innovation in terms of their branding strategy, and tell us why.

I have always been a big fan of Nike and what their brand stands for. The ability to be great, overcoming the odds, being the underdog, are all powerful human emotions that I have always identified with. Nike has been doing branding right for so many years, and now with my knowledge and experience with branding, I know how hard that is to do consistently so it is something to be celebrated.

I’ve recently been drawn to the way Audi has positioned themselves in the market. I think their branding strategy is really smart and fresh in an industry that is so competitive and often a “sea of sameness.” Audi cleverly pokes fun at that in some of their recent communications. Their strategy is straight forward, honest, but also fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously, which I like.

If you had to offer one key piece of advice to interested applicants, what would it be?

First, I would tell them to go for it, it will change your life. Second, I would tell them to take it all in, every minute. Talk to your professors they will become your best resources, talk to your classmates they will become your best friends, and talk to everyone else you meet because you never know when an opportunity is right in front of you. Because the program is only one year, things happen so fast, so much is thrown your way and you don’t always know the meaning of it, but trust me, you will when it’s all over. When the year is over everything just comes together, everything becomes so much clearer and all of the work and late hours you put in sure do pay off.


What piece of advice during your time in the program had the greatest impact on your professional but also personal life?

One of the best pieces of advice I received during my time in the program was from a former student. He told me that no matter what, in the end, make sure you have a point of view. Make sure you take everything that you learned and make it your own. Everyone will develop their own style, their own approaches, make sure to find yours. Because at the end of the day, when you’re in front of clients selling ideas they not only have to believe in your ideas, they have to believe in you, and the only way to do that is to make sure that you believe in what you’re doing and who you are. From that moment I definitely made sure to think about how I would use all of the things we were learning to help shape my own view.


Register for SVA’s Masters in Branding Program OPEN HOUSE