We were thrilled when we saw Kellogg’s essay questions this year, where they had dropped their “Think Bravely” concept from the prompts and weren’t forcing applicants to shoehorn their stories into some uncomfortable mold in an attempt to match the school’s branding. Last year we had seen many very good stories get perverted in the essay-drafting process. BSers had to jump through hoops to make sure that what they were writing about was appropriately reflecting the Kellogg tagline, per the way that the school had asked their questions.
But the Kellogg tagline was always slippery at best – when it was originally announced, there was all kinds of marketing hoopla about it and they published this video with Dean Blount explaining it . She talked about it in terms of collaboration and markets and innovation and broader wisdom (or is it the “public-private interface”?).
Here’s a Pro Tip for organizations of any type: If your CEO needs to spend almost 2 minutes interpreting your tagline to your audience, then maybe the tagline isn’t that good.
Shoot – even the tagline had a tagline:
The other problem with “Think Bravely” was that it was completely undifferentiated from all the other schools exhorting everyone to “think”. Kellogg and Think Bravely were just part of a trend of bschool branding babble.
Now Kellogg has ditched “Think Bravely” completely – today they’re “Growth Minded” . And here’s the kicker: Dean Blount has claimed that “Think Bravely”, even with all its hoopla and slick marketing materials and fancy new website at the time, that that was just meant as a placeholder until the “real” brand was defined.
If this was a public corporation, we can only imagine the types of questions that the CEO would be fielding on their next quarterly earnings call if they tried this move. Talk about revisionist history.
It’s kinda like when a Brave Supplicant (no relationship to “Think Bravely”) tries to explain away their poor grades in college by saying that they were actively pursuing opportunities to try new things and test their boundaries, and in the process of all that risk-taking that they were doing, there were some casualties (namely, their GPA). But that their low GPA doesn’t accurately reflect their abilities. Nice try at whitewashing but please, do you really expect us to buy this?
Anyone perusing this blahg for any length of time (and gawd we hope we don’t catch anyone use the word “perusing” in their essays) will know that we can never resist an opportunity to call out a school. We wouldn’t much care about this change of heart in Kellogg’s brand identity – especially since it doesn’t affect this year’s applicants.
OR DOES IT?
Here’s the deal: When a school starts broadcasting who it is so loudly, then that’s a pretty strong signal that this who-they-are thing is something they care about in their students – which means, perchance, that this might be something that they are GOING TO BE LOOKING FOR IN THEIR APPLICANTS.
Kellogg has already quite directly used its branding in the screening process, by integrating their tagline in their essay prompts in past years.
Any astute observer of the Kellogg landscape is going to only wonder how much they will be screening this year’s crop of Brave Supplicants for this “growth” mindset.
None of their questions are literally asking about “growth.”
It’s not like anyone would KNOW that they should be talking about “growth” in their essays. Not, at least, from how the essay questions are phrased.
And hopefully (HOPEFULLY!) nobody will be given preferential treatment just because they end up using a story focusing on “growth” in one of their two Kellogg essays.
We are certainly not suggesting that any Kellogg applicant should switch out their strategy and try to finnagle a set of essays that are talking about “growth” – definitely do not do this if you’re already set on your stories and feeling confident in what you’re presenting about yourself. Which hopefully you are, given this late date.
It’s the “this late date” part that we’re so miffed about. Kellogg created a massive amount of unnecessary stress for its applicants last year by changing the rules multiple times right at the time when their first-round apps were due – they significantly changed their process last year (they used to have a quite confusing two-step app that was non-standard with a whole decision-tree mess of a set of submission dates and if-this/then-that rules that you had to figure out) but they clearly had not mapped things out for themselves very well and they tossed up some real wringers at Brave Supplicants. Plus, they introduced the video essays and their tech was not fully tested or something so many people struggled with that too.
We had thought that they’d learned the lesson.
But no. Here again we get them launching some major school-specific change right when Round 1 is upon us.
Do you really think that this won’t stress people out, in wondering if their Kellogg strategy is still sound?
For a school that proclaims itself to be so “intensely focused” on the customer… you have to wonder.
Dean Blount has been there for four years now. We sure hope that there are bigger changes coming out of Evanston in the very near future than just another rebranding campaign. From our limited view on things from here in Snarkville, we’re not seeing interest in Kellogg on the rise.
Please tell us: What does that empty chair in a moved-out office in the opening shot have to do with anything? That image looks like failure, not growth.
Update 2016: Here’s an EssaySnark post about Duke and the CEO of Caterpillar talking about growth (be sure to check the comments), and we can also direct you to what a Kellogg student had to say about “growth”, too .
Here's what others have said about this:
This change makes me sad. Growth is not a business strategy. It’s one byproduct of success. Sure, you can wave your hands, talk about personal or professional development, and pretend that’s what you mean, but a CEO will hear growth and think of revenue, market share, and share price.
Furthermore, a growth focus can be ruinous for professionals like auditors, consultants, lawyers, doctors, etc.. It’s not how you compete:
Professional values demand putting the client first, and values have a cost; a firm must be willing to turn down profitable opportunities that are not in the best interest of their clients. Otherwise, they cannot claim to hold those values. A growth focus won’t encourage values-based sacrifices.
Sigh. Sorry. Clearly I have a chip on my shoulder.
Thanks for that link; agree with it completely.
And as a near-perfect follow-up (or not): Here is one of the most ridiculous spin-pieces we’ve seen in awhile: For companies to grow, why bigger is not always better by Dean Blount. The title does not even match the points raised in the article, and there are so many assertions here that just seem ludicrous. Airbnb created a new market? No, they created a new source of supply – the market is the same (people looking for a place to stay). And she says “they did it by studying the emergence of the ‘sharing economy.'” Uh, no; Airbnb was the emergence of the sharing economy. They practically created it. Along with Zipcar and now Uber and everybody. But Airbnb was one of the originals. You’d think she’d have had it fact-checked or vetted by someone before publishing.
“Sigh” is right.