We offered an example related to “messaging” and “theme” recently and wanted to explore it a bit further.
“Messaging” is a brand concept. It’s from marketing. Remember, your bschool application is essentially a marketing document: You are presenting an image of yourself that expresses certain qualities which you hope to resonate with the consumer (the adcom), and you are working to get them to take a particular action on your pitch.
Now, before we go too far with this, we have to warn you not to go too far with this. Sometimes people take this to an extreme and they think they need to be all polished and professional about it — and they come across as a slickster. If marketing is not your shtick, don’t try to gussie-up your essays with fancy words and hype. This is not about hype. It’s about expressing the essence of who you are. It’s actually about TRUTH.
So much of marketing and advertising seems to be about pulling the wool over the consumers’ eyes, pulling a scam to get them to part with their money in ways they later regret. That’s not what we’re about here. Your applications need to be honest and authentic. Paying attention to “messaging” does not mean using $100-words and super-long sentences. Writing in simple terms with direct statements is almost always the best way to tell your story and make your point.
But the advertising analogy does work to a degree. Let’s look at this example.
Big consumer brands pay close attention to the perception they create about their products — not just the reality of using their product, but the images associated with it, and the emotions triggered by it. Think of any iconic brand and you instantly have a “feeling” about it – Nike, Coke, Apple. The taglines of these companies probably pop instantly to mind just when you see the name.
One way that these brands reinforce the identity that they strive for (identity is created by the way – but that’s a topic for another day) is through their actions. What does the company/brand DO and how can we interpret those actions? What do they tell us about the company?
Nike sponsors athletes — a lot of them. They don’t sponsor Martha Stewart. They don’t sponsor Danica Patrick. They’re consistent to their brand image of iconic winners in the athletic space. Yes they’ve sponsored things outside of the standard football, baseball, track and field arenas but they are selective.
Based on cutting-edge design and massive innovation, both in its products and in its marketing campaigns as well, Apple has established its brand as cool and hip — but there’s also flavors of arrogance associated with the company. Perhaps it’s just human nature for that to creep in along with high achievement — and this is something that adcoms will be on the lookout for. When there was news about poor working conditions in the Chinese factories where Apple products are produced, the company had to take steps to publicize the efforts they’ve made to monitor the situation and enforce standards of living. They needed to take action to counteract the negative publicity that was potentially damaging their brand. Apple has never been about giving back – this is not the Tom’s Shoes model of consumerism, Steve Jobs was not Bill Gates in being a public philanthropist — but still, they needed to show that they care.
OK we’re sort of off on tangents here. The main point is that in your application, one way you communicate who you are is through the stories you choose to tell — and then in the telling of those stories, the actions that you convey are largely what form the reader’s impressions. The choices you make communicate volumes about who you are, and how you write about those choices is what you have control over, in building the perceptions and takeaway messages that the adcom will have.