Unless you’ve been living under a hole or not stepped foot on campus at all in the last few weeks, you should know about the SUSU Brand Review. SUSU are reviewing their name and logo in order to improve the general perception of the union. However, the brand review has faced a little bit of backlash. I spoke to your Union President, Ben Franklin to find out the real story.
Why is SUSU rebranding – is this more about SUSU, or your ego?
The brand review idea is not a new one – for a few years, it’s been on the radar as an upcoming potential project. It’s to do with the feelings surrounding SUSU that it’s out of date, irrelevant, the poor translation of the word ‘SUSU’ in our international communities… It’s been a long time coming; it was actually taken to council and trustee board before I was President.
So not your ego then?
Nope! The oddest thing I’ve seen so far is that I’ve launched this because I want to put a rebranding project on my CV. Not only did I inherit this project, I’m not thinking of a career in the creative sector. It’s also one of those things that’s likely to stir up dissent – if I was after a quick win for my ego I’d do something daft like make The Stag’s offer free booze.
Why is SUSU spending our money on this?
To make sure it’s done right. The company we’re consulting with led another students’ union through a successful rebranding exercise, and we’re hoping for similarly positive results here. We’re essentially paying for years of successful branding expertise to make sure that we don’t spend time, effort and money (sadly, everything costs money) on something that fails because we didn’t know exactly what we were doing.
But why is SUSU spending money on this?
Oh! Because it’s about the long-term growth of the Union. I frequently see the phrase, ‘Why can’t we spend the money on ____ instead?’ banded around, with regards to anything we spend money on that isn’t drinks prices and student groups. There is this unfortunate perception that we use students to try to make a ‘profit’ – even though, as a registered charity, we are legally not allowed to make profits.
Given that a lot of income comes from our trading activity, we really are operating at the lowest price for all students. I’m not sure what nefarious evil plans people think the Union has, but it usually has to do with money hoarding and making students broke, which is silly. We could do nothing but spend all the money on cheap food and drink, but if we did, the Union would rapidly stop being able to offer a diverse range of services in the way it currently does.
OK, but back to the brand review… Is anything even wrong with our current name and logo? Does anyone actually care?
No, and that’s exactly the problem. Lots of the responses to the survey – which I accept is not perfect – are that there isn’t an option to say, ‘It’s fine’. In terms of branding, a neutral response is as bad as a bad one. Loughborough Uni tried to change their logo, and it led to national coverage and student protests. I want people to feel that passionate about SUSU, and currently, they don’t, which hopefully this will fix by encouraging students to participate in the creation of our identity, rather than having it fed to them.
If something goes well, the University are credited; if something goes badly, it’s usually seen as SUSU’s fault. That’s entirely to do with the way people feel about us, and is clearly something they care about. And that’s what this branding thing is about. A new name and logo will be nice, but at the end of the day, this is about creating a stronger presence in the mind of our members when we’ve benefitted them, which despite chatter to the contrary, we do on a daily basis.
There is this unfortunate perception that we use students to try to make a ‘profit’ – even though, as a registered charity, we are legally not allowed to make profits.
The survey seems very leading. Tell us a bit about why that is.
I am very aware that the survey is imperfect. This is partially because of what we’re trying to ascertain with each question though the feedback is often about the whole survey.
From a branding perspective, a neutral/inert ‘It’s fine’ is a bad thing, so the option for ‘It’s fine’ is notably missing – we wanted feedback that showed how people felt strongly. To that end, I think not having a ‘neutral’ option is good, as it is making people think more about how they actually do feel. A handful of people even feel strongly enough that it’s distinctly ‘OK’ that they’ve emailed me, which is great feedback.
Then, there are quantitative questions, like the number of words on the website. Here, I can accept that an option of ‘It’s just right as it is’ is probably lacking, and I wish I’d caught that sooner.
Finally, there are the ‘If SUSU was a…’ questions, comparing SUSU to an animal, a sprinter, among other things. These were suggested by the branding agency and are helpful in ascertaining the way we are perceived – brand is, after all, about feeling. It’s just a more light-hearted way of asking things about whether they think we’re reactive, responsive, creative, etc.
A lot of people see this as just the latest in a long line of bad decisions made by SUSU. Why does this keep happening?
Ouch. I think for every controversial decision that is made, a thousand brilliant ones are made by the student leaders and volunteers who interact with us. I didn’t run to be a Sabb because I wanted to do a bad job. At the end of the day, we’re trying to do what is best.
We also get accused of ‘trying and failing’ to be relevant. Not only does this brand review (and the reactions to it, good and bad) show that we aren’t totally irrelevant, it challenges that view and asks how we can fix it. When people devote energy to wilfully misunderstanding our aims, I’d much rather they just came and calmly had a chat – I’d (quite boldly) claim that 80% of the time a student talks to us face-to-face, things get cleared up and they leave at the very least reassured that there was balance to the decision-making. Hopefully, this interview will do similar?
We’ll see. Thanks for taking the time to chat!