Dr. Brian Brown, Ph.D.

Dr. Brian Brown, Ph.D., professor at VCU, talks about his work to rebrand Virginia community colleges, the process to do it, and what he’s reading.

What is your role at Brand Federation?

I’m on its advisory board and a member of the consulting team as an independent brand strategist. I absolutely love the opportunity to contribute on such meaningful work.

What work are you doing and why do you love it?

I’ve been involved with rebranding three of Virginia’s community colleges due to their problematic or controversial namesakes. The Washington Post recently ran an overview of the effort here. Rebranding these institutions ensures that their names reflect more positive values and that all their students, faculty, and community stakeholders feel welcome and included.

These projects matter and have purpose. It’s meaningful to work with entities that have a mission to provide educational opportunities to everyone regardless of background and help them advance a more honest narrative – especially at this moment in history with the renewed focus on social justice.

How did you and Brand Federation accomplish this task?

We’re a guide. We don’t endorse names but help the colleges land on the right one. After all, they need to own it, promote it, and celebrate it. The process is objective, based on research and listening -- listening intently to students, faculty, the business community, and task force members. We coordinated surveys, roundtables, open forums, and more. There truly is an amazing amount of collaboration, input, and creativity necessary to generate the hundreds of potential names, all based on what the community is saying about the attributes that represent the schools. There’s nothing random or arbitrary about the process.

Rebranding these institutions ensures that their names reflect more positive values and that all their students, facultry, and community stakeholders feel welcome and included.

What challenges needed to be overcome in the process?

There’s a political context that’s real and can’t be ignored so there’s a public relations aspect, not to mention actually settling on a single name! These entities appreciate what our team offers in terms of holding hands and partnering on great work that connects and matters, and it helps them tell their distinct, more inclusive stories in their communities.

You’re also a business professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. How does that complement your work at Brand Federation?

Before becoming a professor, I held a number of marketing roles including one as a brand manager for Coke. All my experience brings a different perspective to the team and a bit of credibility to clients. It gives our clients confidence that we can help them navigate the challenges ahead. Our work also informs my teaching, allowing me to bring real-world experience into the classroom for my students.

What book are you reading?

Small Island by Andrea Levy. It’s a novel about Jamaican immigrants in the UK after World War II. My family is from Jamaica, so it’s particularly relevant. It’s a sobering story that sheds light on racism and the challenges of the immigrant experience. Sadly, I’m not sure things have changed all that much. But it’s a witty, funny story at the same time.

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