Tuesday, November 4, 2008

We Salute Minot State University at Bottineau

What happens when a friendly little university starts thinking about changing its big, clumsy name? Here is a poignant example: Way up in Bottinneau, North Dakota, a little town on the Northern Plains a stone's throw from Canada, Minot State University-Bottinneau is pondering its brand identity. 

About 550 smiling, hardy students call Minot State University-Bottinnea their citadel of higher education, and some have voted to change the name Minot State University-Bottinneau to something briefer, we presume, and "more distinctive," according to university officials who've posed the question. 

At the same time, other students – as well as some teachers, staff and alums – oppose changing the name. So far, no consensus has been reached.  

Brandsinger salutes the gallant participants in this struggle. As a grizzled veteran of many agonizing debates over whether to change an institution's name, I have seen the captives of nostalgia battle the eye-rollers of reason. One group honors the past and respects the inherited name. The other cringes indignantly at a name that broadcasts a dated, irrelevant image. 

It's not fun! And now that a survey of interested parties has been conducted, it ain't going to be easy. 

Branding professionals recommend conducting a thorough analysis of the current name – its origins, uses, value and disadvantages – and then evaluating a series of strategic options that would address identified problems. 

In this case – in every case! – the ultimate solution depends on what the institution wants to be – and who the audiences for its programs are. If little Bottinneau is stable... the college functioning peacefully... people content... little change ahead... then the clumsy name can stay at little harm.

But perhaps Minot State University-Bottinneau lies in a region bursting with growth. Perhaps its curriculum is evolving to meet market needs... Perhaps  expansion is in the winds... with new funding... and plans to attract students from, say, faraway Florida? If strategy demands the support of a new brand image, then a new name is needed. 

Though unasked, brandsinger endorses the word Bottinneau. We savor the sound... the Frenchy-ness... the bursting B and the cavalier ending. A lot can be done with this word... There is something rock-solid and noble-sounding in Bottinneau State or Bottinneau Polytechnic or Bottinneau Institute of Natural Studies or The Bottinneau School of the Arts... or perhaps THE BOTTINEAU SCHOOL OF BRAND SCIENCE.

If strategic change is in the wind, brandsinger urges the university to drop the "Minot State" part – What is this, imperial domination of a sister town? – and build the big, beautiful, boisterous Bottinneau brand. 



Jeffry Pilcher said...

The name of the college means as much to alumni -- both current and future. When you list your college or university on your resume, you want a proud, intelligent sounding name. Similarly when people ask you where you went to school, you want something that makes you sound smart and educated.

It's not just about branding the school in a way that appeals to new students. It's about how all students (including those who attended previously) want to brand themselves through their association with the institution.

brandsinger said...

Excellent point - thanks, Jeffry. You make a strong case for change.
But just to explore the issue, let me ask you this: What if you take pride in having graduated from a tiny, insular college on the outskirts of civilization where small-town values rule and people carry guns, not grudges? Sometimes featuring your presumed weaknesses can be an assertion of confidence.

Brian Kirschner said...

Thanks for sharing your always interesting take. I kind of like Minot State and think it can built out to Minotaur State - think of how intimidating that would be (he said with tongue in cheek).

brandsinger said...

Brilliant, Brian! Thanks for the playfully provocative comment. This should energize the MSU-B students to think broadly about creating and expressing their new brand.


Bob said...

A couple of comments and questions. Started as ND School of Forestry in 1906. Specialties in forestry, horticulture, wildlife and fisheries management and allied health classes. Set in Turtle Mt. area of ND, area rich in outdoor activities, gun lockers in dorms! NDSF or Institute of Forestry in name until mid 90's (when out of state numbers in natural resource fields started to decline). Still "The Forestry" to older alumni.
Currently about 70% of students are taking generals, is this a group that can be drawn beyond the nearest institution? Big draw is hockey (National Champions regularly), football, basketball and other sports; the players and their friends.
What is the unique teaser to draw students in?


brandsinger said...

Hi Bob:
I didn't see your question until just now - Dec. 22. Obviously I can't properly position your brand based on 5 or 6 sentences, valid though they may be.

You seem to be torn between emphasizing the unique heritage of natural resources and the immediate relevance of general studies and sports. A true brand positioning would require focusing on one or the other... but then, there might be a tie between the two, a theme or trait that the heritage and general studies share. Just as examples: Adventure... the adventure of shooting ducks and bird-dogging Aristotle... the thrill of planting fir trees and studying the history of the U.S. fur trade. Or the idea of naturalness -- Your school has a heritage of nature studies and a culture of being open, unpretentious and natural in human relationships. You draw inspiration from the proximity to untamed nature, to cultivated landscapes and from the natural talents of your students and faculty.
These themes just came to me as examples of the thematic possibilities... which then have to be expressed in communications and incorporated into programs and policies.
Best regards, brandsinger