jcpenney, formerly J.C. Penney, is generating a lot of buzz this year. Forbes  reports that company officials are revising their pricing, changing their logo, and redesigning the inside of their stores. They are trying to remain competitive by reinventing their brand.
Higher education institutions are doing this as well. In a market as dynamic as higher education, institutions are constantly evolving. Ideally, we want the public’s perception of our institution to evolve with our institution. However, when an institution’s new focus faces an outdated reputation, they might choose to visibly redefine their brand.
Wharton has done just that, as the Wall Street Journal  reports this month. According to Dean Thomas Robertson, “It was important that we clarify and achieve consistency for the Wharton brand. It was a matter of finding a shared understanding of what the brand is all about.” After a multi-year effort, they are revealing their new approach this month. Their process involved a respectable amount of strategically designed research and in the end, a concept that emphasizes ‘knowledge.’ See the Wharton video here .
Wharton is not alone. Many other higher ed institutions report on their own ‘rebranding’ efforts:
Last month, reported that The University of Western Ontario is changing its name and rebranding itself as Western University.
This year, Long Island University  rebranded itself ‘LIU’ to “…present the University in a more contemporary way—to appeal more strongly to future students and other stakeholders,” says LIU’s president Dr. David J. Steinberg.
Also this year, Douglas College  rebranded itself with the goal of trying to communicate more with prospective students about what the college represents.
In 2007, RPI  went through a rebranding exercise, creating the tagline “why not change the world?™”
What it means to rebrand can be interpreted in different ways. However, at the heart of such an endeavor is often a purposeful examination of an institution’s values, culture and competitive advantage. Starting with research, and basing changes on the input of current and prospective students is often insightful.
Rebranding can be risky business, so institutions are not doing this to change their name for its own sake. Rebranding is based on the need to critically reexamine what makes an organization unique relative to its competitors, and used to craft and deliver a cohesive, meaningful message to the market.