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Berkeley Confidential: “I love the B word!”

Claire Holmes

Claire Holmes (Peg Skorpinski photo)

It’s true! I gravitate to brands that understand my needs and meet them, time after time. I am an evangelist and student of others’ great work. So, when I arrived here four years ago, I blabbed about a number of brands I admired and wanted to use as illustrations of how good work happens. It took only a few meetings for me to experience the whispers and rolling of eyes that took place each time I uttered the “B” word. It somehow offended and alienated audiences.

I set out to understand why and discovered that to many people at Berkeley, the B word had come to mean a veneer-of-fake-stuff-that-trivializes-the-real-meaning-of-our-mission. When they heard the word brand, they saw trite phrases, tag lines and logo designs. A sentiment that was epitomized by the spray-painted phrase on the Thanks to Berkeley wall near Dwinelle back in 2008 that read, “We are not a brand.”

B for bummer, I thought, because to me, a B is so much more. Our B is all about the experience of Berkeley—the butterflies in the stomach when the band plays at a football game, when we bask in global adulation at winning yet another Nobel Prize, or when a student overcomes incredible obstacles to cross the stage at graduation. A brand to me is about the gut and emotion, not just about typeface, color, logo, type treatment, or tag line.

The fact is, whether we like the B word or not, Berkeley has a very strong B. Both at a personal level—the “complex, messy, chaotic, exciting, vibrant” emotion you feel for the university as a student, faculty member, staff or visitor (ref: a recent perception study my department conducted)—and at the international level, where it has consistently appeared in the Global Top 5 lists.

That, to me, is what B is all about, and that is what I am striving to convey in the current set of positioning and messaging work undertaken by my department. We want to capture the authentic, emotional voice, words, tone, and images that express what is uniquely Berkeley to the world. We have an opportunity to embrace and reflect our highest aspirations and truest selves in a more cohesive way. Simply said, we have a chance to “own” our B.

I hereby promise that, whatever happens, our B will not be a synthetic cover or a commercial endeavor. It will be as unique as each one of you is. It will help differentiate us from our competitors and yet be flexible enough so there is room for personal creative expression and allows us to embrace the diversity of experiences and passion and inspires us all.

I am very excited about meeting so many colleagues and talking about this and a number of other topics at our upcoming conference on June 14. I invite you to share your thoughts here and now about what excites you about working here. What emotion does Berkeley conjure for you, and how do you experience our B?

I look forward to hearing what is likely to be a variety of opinions about this effort. I would expect nothing less from Berkeley.

2 thoughts on “Berkeley Confidential: “I love the B word!”

  1. It’s funny, After 20 years of turning products into Brands, I’ve arrived at a Brand that would rather be a product. Love it!

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