Rebranding Pomona, For Whom?

The debate over rebranding Pomona College is getting more and more intense. The pro side argues that it’s more important for Pomona to stress its challenging academic offerings, high education quality, well-connected internship programs, and more issues representing “success” while the other side stresses that the laid-back attitude, California climate, and one-and-only Ski Beach Day are what make Pomona stand out. 

I find myself persuaded by both sides. I nodded in agreement when I read the arguments of the pro side and shouted “Yes!” when I saw the articles aiming to keep our existing image. In other words, I got confused about what should be our priority when forming Pomona’s image.

Fortunately, I got my answer when I saw the new advertisement for the iPad. The new ad consists of two fancy photos of the iPad along with a sentence: “300,000 apps for everything you love.” Apple does not tell what the iPad is at all. We all know the iPad, so by definition there is no need to introduce the tablet. Instead, Apple focuses on the great variety of apps available for the iPad and starts from there. 

I suddenly realize that the rebranding debate is not simply a debate over which image is more important for Pomona to present to the world, but a debate over which audience we are talking to. To sell an iPad to people who don’t know what a tablet is, you should begin by comparing an iPad to a laptop to show its compact size and compare an iPad to a Samsung tablet to show its user-friendly interface. Similarly, for those who don’t know what liberal arts colleges are, those who don’t know the difference between Pomona College and Cal Poly Pomona, those who don’t check the admission numbers themselves in U.S. News and World Report, or those who don’t know how to choose between Pomona and Columbia University, the most vital thing is to tell them how good we are. We show that we are awesome by our close and personalized education, abundant academic offerings, impressive graduation rates, and beneficial internship programs, not by our nice outdoor adventures or laid-back environment. 

But if I know what an iPad is exactly, you can only allure me by telling me how many apps I can get for my iPad and how fast the speed is with a new iPad, not what a tablet is. Comparatively, when it comes to a top student who gets accepted to Williams College, Amherst College, Pomona, and Swarthmore College, what is the thing he cares about the most? The 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio? Williams has the same thing. Impressive starting salaries? So does Amherst. The high percentage of students going to top graduate schools? Swarthmore is not worse at all. What makes him choose Pomona is probably the study-hard-together attitudes, the California-shines-while-Massachusetts-is-frozen climate, and the could-not-be-happier college life, not those numbers or “successes.”

So the question is, whom should we care about the most? Who is the target audience Pomona wants to show the image to? Who is the one we want to hear “Pomona is awesome” from? Yet it’s not easy to answer those questions simply by intuition. We need data. For admission, which audience has more people we want to attract? By targeting which audience can Pomona get a more insightful and diverse student class? For reputation, which audience exerts more power toward the prestige of a college? Which audience influences the graduate school admissions or job recruiting for Sagehens? To rebrand or de-rebrand Pomona, we need to answer those questions, and to answer those questions we need to investigate, search, and interview scientifically to get sufficient data and facts. 

It’s not enough simply to argue in theory. It’s time for Pomona to research the right audience, and make decisions on the method to attract the target audience in the same way as Apple attracts us.

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