For SVA Masters In Branding grad Jenna Halbert, building brand strategies at Reddit is a natural extension of her background in marketing and design
Though she started out as a graphic designer for advertising and marketing clients, Jenna Halbert's natural understanding of what makes a brand resonate led her to explore her interest in strategy as well. This led her to the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Masters in Branding Program, and later to a role as Brand Strategist at Reddit.
In the first interview of a series in partnership with SVA, PSFK spoke to Halbert about how her experience in the program influences her current work. SVA’s Masters in Branding program allows students to create frameworks to guide brand, design and business development, critically evaluate brand, business, marketing and design strategies and master the intellectual link between leadership and creativity.
PSFK: Where did your interest in branding begin, and what led you to choose SVA’s Masters in Branding program?
Jenna Halbert: I’ve always had an interest in branding without necessarily knowing it. As a kid I remember being brand loyal because certain brands represented things to me— my choice to pick something off of a shelf was always intentional, though at the time I couldn’t express why. This interest manifested into my career in branding that started with design. I understood the impact that visual identity had in branding, but wanted to broaden my understanding by learning what else was involved in building successful brands. I saw the Masters in Branding degree as the perfect bridge between my design background and the strategy experience that I hoped to gain.
What surprised you most while you completed the one-year graduate degree?
I am still amazed by how much I was able to see myself grow in such a short amount of time. On the very first day of the program, I shared that my biggest fear was public speaking (oblivious to the fact that every project in the program culminated in a presentation!). This was quite a tough adjustment for me at first, but being forced to flex the muscles that I so often avoided using helped me to improve very quickly. So much about brand strategy relies on the ability to tell a great story, and I would never have gotten better had I not had so many opportunities to practice my presentation skills throughout my year in the program. I am forever grateful for that.
You currently work as a Brand Strategist at Reddit. What are some of the lessons from the branding program that helped prepare you for it?
The foundation of the program in the first semester introduced us to branding through different lenses. I became absolutely enamored of the way that psychology and human behavior can shape branding and affect consumer decisions, and knew this was an avenue of the discipline that I wanted to pursue. Learning how we as people are predisposed to certain responses made me realize how powerful branding can be at both a conscious and subconscious level. The idea that a brand’s strategy can be rooted in human truths—something that people can really connect with—is what I’m most interested in.
I feel very lucky to have found a role where I can apply that understanding to work that aims to connect very passionate audiences with brands in the most authentic way. It’s my goal to tell brand stories that are genuine, and that really resonate with the audience that they are speaking to.
You started out as a graphic designer in advertising and marketing. What made you choose to pursue branding, and how does your previous design experience inform your work?
I guess you could say that I was one to judge a book by its cover, because I got my start in branding by initially connecting to the way that design would draw me to choose one brand over another. The way I have always approached my own design work is very logical and intentional— I liked having a reason behind all of my creative decisions, and this type of thinking is what sparked my interest in Brand Strategy. Realizing that I could use a lot of the same research and reasoning behind my design choices to tell a compelling brand story was very powerful to me.
Could you tell us briefly about your process? What do you particularly like about the work that you are doing now?
I always say that if you want me to color outside of the lines, you need to give me the lines to color outside of first. This really sums up the way that I like to approach my work—creating a very clear foundation that I can hang any creative ideas from. Working as a Brand Strategist, I really love doing research to create this kind of foundation. Whether it’s a statistic or a uniquely interesting piece of brand history, I always find that really thorough research leads to much more thoughtful insights that help to inform the brand stories that I am trying to tell. To me, this always helps to make the most authentic brand narratives.
What’s one thing you wish more people understood about branding?
That it’s so multidimensional, almost like a science of its own. In the program, I was exposed to so many different ways of approaching branding that I didn’t even realized existed. Some really resonated with me while others did not, but understanding the broader scope of what processes and disciplines influence branding was invaluable to my experience. I really wish people understood how complex it can be!