December 1, 2013 10:02 pm

Baffling business school names

Deciding on the name of a business school. Illustration by Nick Lowndes©Nick Lowndes

I am thinking of becoming a brand consultant. This urge was prompted by the rush in Europe for business schools to rebrand, particularly in France where grandes écoles have been merging left, right and centre.

They have learnt from the lessons of the merger between the Parisian schools ESCP and EAP back in 1999. It took nearly 10 years for the school to change its name from ESCP-EAP, one of the longest acronyms in business school branding, to the more manageable ESCP Europe.

Brevity has become the name of the game. The first to come up with a new name back in 2009 was Skema, created through the merger of Ceram and ESC Lille. It created the trend for snappy five-letter names, which others dutifully followed.

When the business schools in Bordeaux and Marseilles merged, they became Kedge, and as for Rouen and Reims, they became Neoma.

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Kedge has one big advantage over Skema and Neoma for me in that I know how to pronounce it. As to Skema (is it pronounced skeema or skayma?) and Neoma (where on earth is the accent?) I am at a loss.

Of course Kedge brings its own problems. “Is that like ledge but with a ‘k’?” was one query I got when I told people about the new name in the office. And “you mean like kedgeree?” asked another, referring to the Indian-inspired rice, fish and egg breakfast dish.

In English, apparently, Kedge is an anchor, though only the sailing types I know had ever heard of the word. It was pointed out to me that the word is an abbreviation of the word knowledge – that is, knowledge with “now” taken out (well, plus an “l”). But shouldn’t the idea be to put “now” in, rather than take it out?

This is Neoma’s message: new management it stands for, apparently – not that anything is quite that simple. According to the press release, “neo” refers to what’s new, to create or renew, calling for “new challenges with a dimension of social responsibility and sustainable development”. Meanwhile “ma” is “a direct reference to management, breathing elegance and femininity into the brand”.

Elegance and femininity? I’m not so sure…

“Branding is part of supporting a strategy, so if you don’t know where you’re going, it will be harder to build a strong and effective brand to get you there.”

- Andrew Crisp, CarringtonCrisp, education marketing specialists

The big problem I have with all three names is that I have no idea where they are. Of course, business schools think this is good news, as they are now all global, apparently, with multiple locations. But I do hanker for a good old London Business School, HEC Paris or Stockholm School of Economics.

But my biggest concern is how potential applicants and alumni will view the new names. Is Kedge Business School or Neoma a name you want to put on your curriculum vitae? Of course, 10 or 20 years from now they might be fantastic brands, but the schools have to get there first.

So here are my four easy rules for rebranding a business school:

1. If you already have a strong brand, build on it.

2. Make sure the pronunciation is obvious in the country in which the school is located and in any other country from which you are hoping to attract students.

3. Give some idea of where the school is situated.

4. If you go for a new brand, make sure it means something sensible.

Then, of course, there is the whole crazy world of branding messages. These usually have some gung-ho theme around leadership or courage. So here’s a quick quiz. How many of these European business schools can you match with their slogans?

Here are the slogans: Educating entrepreneurs for the world; Empowering management; Go beyond; Original thinking applied; The business school for the world; The more you know the more you dare; You have the answer.

And here are the business schools: EMLyon, Essec, HEC Paris, IE Business School, Insead, Manchester Business School, Neoma.

Not easy is it?

In the US, the Simon school at the University of Rochester recently announced its new slogan, which should make it stand out in a crowd: “Toughen up”. When I spoke to Keir Meisner, a professor at Simon, he said that in market research, the new branding was particularly popular with women. I wasn’t convinced, so I decided to do a quick survey round the office. Of nine women, only two said the slogan would be more likely to get them to apply there. For seven the phrase was a turn-off – the word “boot camp” was mentioned.

Then again, none of the sample were in the 25 to 30 age range usual for applicants to MBA programmes. Maybe we have just all missed the boat. Or lost the kedge.

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