Powerful Brand Storytelling from USC Graduate Students

This week I had the pleasure of sitting on the capstone projects of graduate students for the Communications Management program @USCAnnenberg , where I am an Adjunct Professor teaching Branding and Integrated Marketing.

What a privilege to be invited to share my feedback and offer advice to these great students! But as in the past when I’ve participated in these sessions, I feel that I got the better end of the deal. We teachers have a lot to learn from our students.

There were eight excellent presentations in total, some of which were truly inspiring.

Students were given great latitude for these two-semester-long independent study projects. Final deliverables could range from a product or service to an app, a documentary film or even a novel. A team of two young women set out to be social media influencers. And will likely succeed.

It was a great lesson in branding that reinforced the power of storytelling and authenticity. A project on Women & Leadership was inspired by the student’s mother, who left behind the day-to-day drudgery of a job in the medical field to start, against all odds, a successful headhunting business.

A student’s broad interest in the history of the Chinese in the United States, including the deplorable Chinese Exclusion Act, led to the origins of L.A.’s Chinatown which in turn led her to the neighborhood’s iconic Phoenix Bakery. In a documentary film, she interviews the family who has owned this popular business since its founding 80 years ago, telling the story of the bakery through the eyes of three generations.

Baffled by their own disappointments in the dating world, a team of two women took on the ever mysterious, unfathomable subject of romance. My favorite part was how they revealed, backed by quantitative evidence, how men and women are so fundamentally unaligned.

The presentations were riveting and provocative. They evoked strong emotion. A professor actually cried at the end of one.

This all reinforced a basic tenet of great branding and marketing. Be sincere, get personal and tell the truth. A great story grabs you at the very beginning and never lets go.

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