brandsThis here is the first of many posts about branding and identity of Jewish organizations. I should write hopefully, because if I get a weak response, I’m going straight back to redoing the flooring in my parents crystal meth lab. With all the money poured into research and consulting, I’m curious to see tangible and concrete ideas. No more statistical bs, theories, or formulas. This isn’t rocket science. Every business, NGO, even some people (think Kobe Bryant) have establish a brand. So here’s the game my friends, in 4 easy steps!

  1. Pick an organization we’re familiar with (JDub Records, Hazon, PresentTense, the kingdom of Ariel Beery, etc)
  2. Investigate their language, mission, values. Ask some marketing q’s.
  3. Go scalpel crazy in the comments, try and assess What is the Brand? and see whether the message/brand matches up to the public, i.e. me and you.
  4. Sacrifice goat or thick haired mammal.

So to start things right, let’s pick: Hillel.

Through my own experience, Hillel comes up with new taglines and missions fairly often. Meaningful Jewish experiences, Connecting Community, others that I couldn’t locate on their website. Shame. They’re probably more telling than ‘Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.’ But it looks like each Hillel adds their own copy giving a local spin on the Mission. Ex: ‘Empowering a vibrant community,’ (UCLA) or ‘Develop leadership potential and express Jewishness in many traditional and creative ways.’ (IU) Berkeley Hillel’s mission is more blunt: ‘A place for students to put down their heavy bags after a long day and philter through the refrigerator.’ Sounds delicious. So Hillel has been called tons of things. But what exactly is their message, and how effective is Hillel in getting that message across? In your mind, what the hell does this organization stand for?

I’m throwing down some more questions, just in case you don’t do well with the rants that typify most of my writing. And I promise, these will get better as time goes on. Feel free to ask your own too, and answer what interests you. Go off on tangents. Who cares. It’s the INTERNET. We’ve not using paper.

  1. How do you perceive Hillel’s brand? Is it clear and focused?
  2. Has your opinion of the brand changed? What problems do you have with it?
  3. What do you associate with the brand? Things, music, food, types of people, art, colors, anything. If someone says I’m going to Hillel, what images pop up into your head?
  4. Does the Hillel brand have a personality? Is it fun? Boring? Lame? Would yo want to go on a date with it?
  5. What type of culture does Hillel try, or has already, created? What kind of feeling or attitude do you have towards that culture? (Ex: Apple users associate hip, trendy, gadgetry with the Apple culture, not necessarily the products themselves)

And I should say that I’m not being paid by or connected to Hillel in any way. I’m doing this to satisfy my own curiosities. But yes, I do want this to be read and looked at. We’ve gt the medium…So let’s use it wisely.

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  • I think each Hillel has a different attitude. I went to school in Michigan, where the Hillel was largely run according to the personal beliefs of the director. He thought that Hillel’s goal was to promote Jews doing things with other Jews. To this end, Hillel sponsored a large number of events, often with no real connection to anything Jewish.
    Also, Michigan’s Hillel didn’t believe in doing things in the Hillel building. I think this was because they thought the building had a stigma attached to it, and that non-affiliated Jews would never enter the building. Instead, most of their events were held somewhere else. Accordingly, the architecture of the building was foreboding and unwelcoming.

  • Hillel has two brands. One directed towards funders which is very effective and one directed towards students which is much less so. It exists similar to the synagogue model, where people pay an identity tax not to attend. If Hillel was dependent for its survival on the support of people who actually use Hillel, it would have to shut down. Like most organizations within the Jewish world it is selling the Emperor’s clothes. Let’s not look too closely.

  • Today one of my classmates asked me if Chabad and Hillel were the same thing. And this is NYU, so I’m guessing Hillel’s “brand” could use some work.

  • Hillel doesn’t really have one brand – it’s totally different on each campus. Nike shoes are the same wherever you buy them. PresenTense is the same whether you read it in New York or Jerusalem. Hillels are not – they’re shaped by their student populations. They could work on better branding for the organization as a whole, but it wouldn’t do much for the individual campuses, just create some catchphrase that will be revered, ignored, or ridiculed depending on the university.

  • Josh and Simi-

    Great points. And I totally agree with you. Each building makes its own brand. I’m curious to know how you related to that, and what kind of reaction you’d see when people talked about ‘Hillel.’ In my own experience, I’d say that it was mixture of cool and dork at the same time. I felt ‘safe’ to be talk about it with my non Jewish roommates, but I felt more self-conscious of my involvement when discussing it with other Jews. I think it would help to compare and contrast it with other Jewish orgs too… Just my thought

    Goldberg (THE GOALIE)

    The donors. They’re only one battle the outreachers have to face. Interesting though, that dichotomy of what Hillel ‘sells’ to donors and what they actually do with their ‘core’ (the students).

    But I wasn’t referring to financial support. I’m talking about lifeline support, blood support. Hillel is concerned with growth, ALL the time. Are they succeeding? If so, why? And if not, why not?

    What’s their current reputation on college campuses?

  • I think it depends on what Hillel’s “brand” is aiming for. If they would recognize that they are a niche player, serving a segment of the Jewish community, they would be doing well. However, their intention and goal is to BE the Jewish community on a college campus. This is how they present themselves to the funders, who have no idea what is happening on campus. That Hillel is Judaism on campus is why the Jim Joseph foundation just gave them 10 million dollars.

    Yet, if Hillel were doing well in terms of their brand, they wouldn’t be the #4 provider for Birthright. Perhaps that 10 million dollars would have been better spent, given to Oranim? Oranim is attracting 5 or 6 times the amount of students that Hillel does.

    This is not a criticism of Hillel. They serve an important function on campus. But, the model of funding a monopolistic dinosaur is just so dated. The success of Birthright has shown that when organizations compete, individuals benefit. Let’s try this on a national level for campus

  • I hear that. I’m not so familiar with Oranim but 9 times out of 10, when I asked my friends what trip they were going on, they said Oranim. They’ve managed to kick ass and gain a solid rep.

    I think Daft Punk should start a Jewish student center on all campuses.