Living up to RSM’s brand promise

Strong brands have a recognisable logo or a punchy tagline – but that's not what makes a brand strong. A brand's strength lies in what people think of when they hear your brand name, and this perception is as much about what you do as an organisation as it is about how well you market it. Understanding this, RSM's new mission will differentiate the brand within the business school market in powerful and innovative ways.

Story by Rebecca Morris


‘Brand management is about much more than cosmetics, it should go to the very heart of what you do as an organisation,’ says Stefano Puntoni, professor of marketing at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). Prof. Puntoni’s teaching expertise is in the areas of brand management, marketing strategy, and consumer behaviour, and a member of the committee that defined the school's new mission. ‘A strong brand has an alignment between its internal activities and its brand promise,’ he added.

This is the key for how RSM will differentiate its brand in a market where most business schools make reference to CSR or sustainability in their brand communications. In other words – RSM will differentiate its brand promise by living up to it. ‘We already have a great deal in terms of our activities to back up our mission statement, activities that we will continue to build on,’ says Prof. Puntoni. ‘We also have an innovative plan for how to internally design and communicate our activities that will reflect how seriously we are taking this new mission.’


Challenges of differentiation

Business schools are particularly difficult to differentiate. Most offer similar degrees – MBAs, executive programmes, masters, and bachelors. Most teach the same disciplines. Even soft skill development has become pervasive, right down to the bachelor and master level. Given the difficulty of creating a functional or “horizontal” differentiation based on content or activities, most schools rely on “vertical differentiation” to attract students – emphasising how good they are compared to their competitors by publicising their rankings results.

RSM's new strategy (as outlined here by RSM’s dean, Prof. Steef van de Velde), presents a rare opportunity for horizontal differentiation. ‘This is a chance to differentiate ourselves in a new way,’ says Prof. Puntoni. ‘RSM’s new mission gives us the possibility of saying, not only are we among the best, but we offer something different: we are driving social change.’


Contributing to society

As a brand promise, RSM's is not necessarily unique. But RSM plans to take ownership of this positioning in the market in several ways. ‘RSM's new mission will now serve as a “benchmark” against which all future decisions will be made, ensuring the brand becomes part of our DNA. Our mission will guide every decision we make. We are currently looking at what it will mean for our programme portfolio, our research projects, research centres, recruitment and so on,’ says Prof. Puntoni.

A strong track record in sustainability already brings credibility to RSM's mission. It “walks the talk” as long-standing members of the UN's Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME). The school has research centres dedicated to advancing sustainable development, and has one of the world's most sustainable MBAs. RSM's unique I WILL manifesto – in which RSM community members are asked to specify how they will make a contribution to society – reflects the school’s focus on action for achieving goals. ‘I WILL is a call for action,’ says Prof. Puntoni. ‘It ties in with our location in Rotterdam, a city famous for rolling its sleeves up and getting things done.’

As one of the few (primarily) publicly funded business school among many privately funded international competitors, RSM embodies the ethos of social equality: that everybody deserves access to the best business education. A programme in development – Inclusive Prosperity – combines law, philosophy and business, and will exemplify this.

‘While our competitors may say similar things, when you put these aspects together,’ says Prof. Puntoni, ‘it is clear that we can live this mission better than our competitors.’


Sustainable development goals 

Outside of rankings, it is difficult for a business school to quantify its progress towards intangible goals such as creating socially aware leaders or contributing to the common good. But RSM now has a way to do this by utilising the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals to benchmark, design, and communicate the school's sustainability activities. The benefits of this approach are considerable. It breaks down a vast and complicated subject matter into clearly defined areas and goals. As a communication tool and an internal directive, it simplifies and clarifies, and gives the school a concrete way of measuring progress.

‘By linking our mission to the UN Sustainable Development Goals we will make the brand strong and believable and live up to our brand promise,’ says Prof. Puntoni. ‘It shows we mean business. I've never seen a business school talk about this as a tool for steering objectives, let alone do it.’


This article was first published in RSM Outlook summer 2017 – RSM’s alumni and corporate relations magazine. You can download RSM Outlook here.

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