Wharton Brand Refresh Isn’t Just Academic


Joseph Wharton founded the world’s first business school more than 130 years ago, building on University of Pennsylvania founder Benjamin Franklin’s belief that the desire and ability to serve mankind should be “the great aim and end of all learning.”

Now Penn’s famed Wharton School has turned its management focus onto intself to come up with a new brand platform, “Knowledge for… “, proffering its resources and assets around themes including “Knowledge for Life,” “Knowledge for Global Impact” and “Knowledge for Action.”[more]

The branding campaign uses multimedia to highlight three strategic initiatives: innovation, social impact and global presence. To that end, the prestigious B-school has a broadly published faculty, the largest global alumni network and six language editions of its Knowledge@Wharton online journal, which has a readership of more than 1.8 million subscribers.

The knowledge-based positioning is in sync with the school’s mission statement “to create knowledge with consequence for the world.” With 88,000 alumni in 150 countries, 225+ faculty teaching 5,000 students every year, Wharton’s reach and impact is prodigious, to be sure.

“Knowledge for Action is really a theme that serves as a flexible foundation allowing the various divisions, departments and groups of Wharton to select words that describe their strengths — Knowledge for Life, Knowledge for Global Impact, Knowledge for Consequence and so on,” Wharton Dean Thomas Robertson commented to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

“What makes Wharton such a global powerhouse is its people,” he added in an interview. “Our faculty, students and alumni collectively develop the knowledge and abilities that enable organizations to run effectively and efficiently. This productivity leads to greater economic and social welfare, making business a ‘force for good.’”

Thinking local, the school charged Philadelphia agency, Karma, with designing the campaign around a series of infographics created by award-winning designer Carl DeTorres that use quantitative and qualitative data to depict the impact of Wharton knowledge. (See examples, below.)

“The power of an infographic is that it takes otherwise seemingly dull or disparate information and creates a visually appealing product that fosters an understanding of the story,” says Ira Rubien, Wharton’s executive director of marketing and communications. “Each Wharton infographic is an ownable expression of data that contains layers of information, showing the unparalleled consequence that the institution has in the world—a perfect representation for a brand built on rigorous analysis.”

Wharton joins other B-schools with new positioning campaigns including Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which refreshed its brand with the tagline, “Think Bravely: We believe that business can be bravely led, passionately collaborative and world changing.” At Harvard the brand mission is, “We educate leaders who make a difference in the world.” And at Stanford, “Change lives. Change Organizations. Change the World.”

Wharton began its branding journey in 2009, when Dean Robertson told The Wall Street Journal, “One of the challenges was to look at (the websites of) the top 20 schools, take off the brand names and see if you could tell which school was which. Even putting Wharton in there, they all look very much alike.”

Robertson convened an 11-person faculty committee and using proprietary software, crowdsourced several thousand stakeholders, framing the challenge of creating a brand position with 1) Does it differentiate us? 2) Is it compelling? 3) Is it credible and authentic?

Some 260 tagline suggestions later, the new campaign was born. “It was a remarkable exercise to turn the lens on ourselves. We brought the same rigor and analysis we bring to our research, gathering and then filtering many perspectives and experiences to get to a shared set of Wharton values,” said Patti Williams, Ira A. Lipman Associate Professor of Marketing. “It’s not about which management style is in vogue. It’s about what works.”

Business school branding expert Tim Westerbeck, founder of Chicago-based consulting firm Eduvantis, commented to Poet & Quants editor John A. Byrne that Wharton’s effort is “a sensible attempt to draw an even closer association with the idea in the mind of the marketplace. What remains to be seen in all of management education is whether these kinds of efforts ultimately matter.”