Brotherhood of the Brand

How Smart Grassroots Marketing Revitalized a Fraternity [youtube=]

College fraternities are typically associated with mass inebriation and creative hazing, not smart branding and marketing. But the brothers at the Psi Triton chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa are changing all that and demonstrating once again why I believe the next generation of business leaders will be more serious and savvy marketers...

When I graduated from Hobart College in 1990 Phi Sig was entering decline, and within a few years the fraternity was gone, succumbing to a more aggressive "anti-greek" mentality sweeping the campuses and administrations of many colleges...

Then about four years ago, a new generation of students at Hobart, along with some key alumni, made the effort to restart Psi Triton. Led by former house President Julian LoPresti and current president Andy Fosbrook they decided to re-create Phi Sig as a different kind of fraternity. They astutely recognized the campus community's general distaste for intra-fraternity rivalry and irresponsible antics, and determined that they needed to separate themselves from the clique-driven reputation of fraternities at Hobart (Kappa Sigma = Football Players, Sigma Phi = "deadheads", etc...).

And so they developed and applied a smart set of marketing and branding principals as the foundation of a new fraternity. First they developed a tag line and theme that could be reused in varied ways to build an identity. The line they created was, get this:

"We Are The Change"

It may sound cliched now, but keep in mind - they came up with this message fully 2 years before the Obama campaign kicked off! And the brothers now fondly joke now that Obama ripped off the change slogan from them!

The tag line was applied to T-shirts and posters that were distributed around campus and handed out at events. It has evolved several times since but the core theme of "change" has remained and no doubt benefited from the Obama phenomenon (lucky timing helps turn good marketing into great marketing).

The second thing they did was to dedicated themselves to a set of events and causes atypical of most fraternities. From conceiving and sponsoring the Turkey Trot race (one of the most successful fundraisers ever conducted on the Hobart campus) to their attempts to bring back the legendary Folk Festival on campus this spring, the goal has been to associate the Phi Sigma Kappa brand with every positive, noteworthy event or cause on campus or in the community.

In each case they created posters and t-shirts to promote the events and even arranged for local businesses to "sponsor" the production costs in return for logo placement. And in a politically smart move they even chose the personal charity of the College President's wife as beneficiary of the Turkey Trot race. She now bakes and delivers a plate of cookies each weekend to the house. Talk about building brand loyalty!

And to demonstrate the depth of their commitment to the community, they have even extended their marketing and branding expertise beyond just their own house, in an attempt to revitalize the image of fraternities overall. In their first year of eligibility, Phi Sigs ran and were elected to senior positions on the Hobart Inter Fraternity Council including the VP position and a newly established "IFC Marketing" position with a healthy budget that will be used to promote the positive aspects of "Greek life" on campus. These guys aren't just building a "company" brand, their promoting an entire "industry" brand.

Beyond the personal gratification of seeing my former fraternity revived and demonstrating real leadership, I think its a great example of back-to-basics marketing and brand advocacy, and I'm captivated by the organic manner in which it evolved among this young generation.

Damn Proud!

JPL Hobart, PSK '90


Plymouth, MA  -  USA  -  Earth