The power of branding

Imagine you worked hard to organize a group to advocate for changes that will improve your work life. You got a bit of momentum but that is not enough. To be truly impactful you must be noticed, both by postdocs and by the administration. How can you make sure that your audience notices your group, who you are, and what you are doing?

First off, it is important to realize that people are busy and simply miss out on communications because they are focused elsewhere. It’s not you; it’s the pressure of deadlines. You know the feeling. When I started volunteering in postdoc leadership my schedule became hectic and I realized I really needed to focus in order not to miss the most important communications and emails. However, there are a number of things you can do to facilitate recognition.

Number one: build your brand. The Stanford University Postdoctoral Association started with a distinct acronym, SUPD. While it was funny to be mistaken for the Stanford University Police Department, the brand name confused and distracted our audience from our serious advocacy goals. Postdocs did not hear about us and when they did, they were often perplexed: why were we named after the police department? We weren’t of course; the Stanford police department is called Stanford Department of Public Safety. They were not the only ones: during a tailgate organized for postdocs, patrolling police officers walking by commented that they were unaware that the police had organized a tailgate! 

This incidence underlined the need for change. We needed to be unambiguously recognized by those we represented and distinctly identified by outsiders. To overcome this we sought help from branding experts affiliated with the Stanford graduate school of business. The council wanted a new name and adopted the acronym SURPAS. It resembles the word “surpass,” which has a positive association and connects well with the goals of the association to help postdocs surpass themselves.  

Number two: market your brand. As soon as we found our new name, we contacted professional designers who helped to create a clear and impactful logo for SURPAS. We then formed associations with others brands at the university that were more established and targeted similar audiences. For example, we reached out to the director of the career center with the idea of co-hosting events. We approached the office of postdoctoral affairs with the idea of helping incoming postdocs. We connected with other associations at Stanford and nearby institutions to learn from them, discover shared interests and in this way maximize our exposure and impact. 

Finally: use your brand. We created mailing lists that build on the brand name to help postdocs connect. Our website prominently showed the name and mission. And most importantly, we communicated name and mission to university administrators who helped us gain exposure during official events for postdocs. Thanks to all these, voluntary mailing list subscription went up from around 60% to 90% of postdocs, reaching almost 2,000 subscribers. Ever since, each email has the brand name. We set up a large banner with SURPAS’s group name in all our events. And people have started to recognize who we are and what we stand for. Now all postdocs at Stanford know that SURPAS helps postdocs surpass themselves. 

As you work on your outreach, think about your branding so that people will notice what you stand for. 

Antoine de Morree