SMC brand gets a facelift

Ask anyone to name a brand and they can probably rattle off a few dozen. Companies such as Apple, McDonalds, and Nike, as well schools like UCLA and USC are household names; so, Santa Monica College is working to gain the same name recognition with its brand. The Santa Monica Community College Board of Trustees recently approved a contract with AdamsMorioka, an internationally recognized design firm, to increase the school's overall brand value.

The project, which is expected to cost $110 thousand, will consist of five phases in dual parts, the first of which is projected to last about 3 months and be ready for the start of the fall semester. This involves identifying the college's current brand, creating strategies, and a "cohesive visual identity system."

The second part of the project would involve applying that visual identity to signage, digital media, and other efforts such as The Broad Stage, KCRW, Emeritus College, and five construction projects currently in development.

In an increasingly competitive market for international and out-of-state students, name and visual identity has become a more vital source of income for schools in the midst of the looming state budget cuts, and while SMC already enjoys a certain amount of name recognition, the goal would be to further increase that value to bring in more revenue.

According to Donald Girard, Senior Director of Government Relations and Institutional Communications for SMC, 12.5 percent of the total general fund comes from student tuition,  with that number set to break 18 percent this year.

"This is a way to not only, we hope, preserve our share and the revenue from our share, but to a small degree, perhaps expand it and be able to provide more classes than we would otherwise," said Girard.

However, some are asking why the school would spend this type of money given the financial crisis the school and state are currently facing.

But in public comments made to the Board of Trustees, SMC President and Superintendent Chui L. Tsang indicated that the school is currently looking into offering a winter session, which would be funded completely by student tuitions, and that this strategy could help generate an estimated value of over four million for winter session that was originally defunded because of state reductions.

"We need to make sure that we project our image right, and we send the right messages out to the students who will be coming to take these courses," said Tsang.

Additionally, the costs of this venture are coming out of funds already established for marketing.

Many, including Tsang, believe that SMC underachieves when it comes to representing the value that the school has to offer.

"Our problem is that we're better than we present ourselves," said Ruth Seymour, former station manager of KCRW who has been retained by the district on the recommendation of President Tsang and the Board to assist in SMC's effort to increase its brand.

Some have pointed out the importance of distinguishing between generic brand versus name brand, and how the two are essentially the same product but have different costs.

Recently, Apple eclipsed Google as the world's most valuable brand being worth $153 billion, according to a new study by global brand research agency Millward Brown.

"If you look at an Apple logo, what do you think of? You think of innovation, you think of cool ideas, you think of things that you want to have and own," said Noreen Morioka, co-founder of AdamsMorioka.

Morioka believes a school like SMC is in direct competition with not just other community colleges, but every other university and college in the country.

"Every 4 year college and university has double-digits in students who, by their sophomore year, transfer to another school," said Morioka, referring to SMC's status as the number one transfer institution to UCLA and USC.

"If you're in direct competition with people like that, why aren't you playing at the same level, visually?"

Just how much branding matters to students is left to debate, but ask Chloe Zomorodi, 18, why she enrolled into SMC and the answer is short and concise.

"Because of the reputation."