Presenting and Teaching

How COVID is Sparking Innovation in Kellogg’s Branding Program

8 Jul 2020  

COVID 19 is causing disruption for brands all over the world. It is also sparking innovation. Recently I’ve seen this happen with the executive education branding program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Disruption and Innovation

Perhaps my favorite topic to teach is defensive strategy. When competitors attack, brands have to defend aggressively. Failing to respond leaves the established brand vulnerable to massive losses. I wrote a book on the topic, Defending Your Brand.

Defensive thinking spurs companies to innovate. The reality is that change and innovation are difficult and costly. It can be hard to justify changing things when the status quo is appealing. Innovation comes from disruption.

One of the few positive things about COVID 19 is that the virus is forcing brands to innovate, do new things, learn and adjust. In the long run, this will make us stronger.

Recently, I’ve seen this dynamic at work. I am co-academic director of the branding program at Kellogg, and COVID is completely changing our product offerings. In the process, it is creating opportunities for long-term growth.

The Established Model

For more than a decade, Professor Alice Tybout and I have led Kellogg on Branding, an open-enrollment executive education program on brand strategy. It started as a three day, in-person program held in Evanston. When we noticed that many people were traveling from distant places to attend, we decided to make it a five day offering.

It has been a very successful program, attracting thirty or forty brand leaders to each session. The program covers brand fundamentals, digital branding, managing global brands and many other important topics.

The New World

Over the past several weeks, the branding program has gone through a complete transformation due to COVID 19. What was once an occasional, relatively small in-person program is turning into a portfolio of different offerings with the potential for enormous growth.

We are now rolling out three different offerings.


On-Line, Asynchronous

Earlier this year, we rolled out an on-line program on branding called Strategies that Build Winning Brands. Professor Julie Hennessy and I worked with a partner firm to design and produce it. It is a six week program that combines professional videos, exercises, office hours with program teaching assistants, and live webinars with me and Julie.

We started work on this before COVID 19, but it has quickly become apparent that the program is an important priority. We have intensified our efforts to make this the best program of its kind in the world. The vision is that this program will be offered several times during the year.

You can learn more about it and sign up for the next session here.


On-Line, Synchronous

In October, we will launch a three-week program featuring synchronous class sessions. This program, called Kellogg on Branding, is essentially the in-person class redesigned for a Zoom world. It features multiple professors, a simulation exercise, individual coaching and live class sessions three days a week.

You can learn more about this offering here.


In-Person, Synchronous

The traditional one week in-person program, the classic offering, remains on the schedule, with the next session set for May 2021. It will feature live, in-person classes in Evanston with a simulation exercise, a team of outstanding professors and coaching.

You can learn more about this program here.


A Better Portfolio

The emerging collection of programs will expand the reach and scale of Kellogg’s branding offerings. There are now different programs that will work for different people.

The live, in-person class remains the top offering. There is nothing like going to a college campus and immersing yourself in a week of learning. You form relationships with faculty and participants. It is sometimes a life-changing experience. Of course, it requires a real investment: travel, time, expense.

The virtual, asynchronous program is the most accessible and flexible offering. People can take the program anywhere and complete the work on their own schedule. If someone is working all day, they can watch the videos and do the exercises in the evening. This is also the least expensive offering.

The virtual, synchronous program is something of a balance. It has the energy of a live, synchronous course along with an engaging simulation exercise. There are multiple faculty instructors, and personal coaching. There is no travel and it doesn’t force people to take time off work – it is three mornings a week.


Moving Forward

I am excited about the new offerings. We will have different programs running each year and the potential to reach many more people than ever before. Ultimately, we will be able to help more people build and lead great brands.

The only reason all this happened, however, is COVID 19. The virus inspired innovation and change in ways that were unimaginable just weeks ago. I suspect this is happening to brands and businesses all over the world.


2 Responses

  1. emita Hill says:

    Brilliant. In another universe I would sign up.

  2. Great post, Professor. Similarly, we are deciding about Virtual high school vs. In-Person high school for this year. I hyphothesize that there’s a handful of high school classes that benefit from visual aids and simulations that are better online than in-person. In the coming years, we may find that high schools recommend those specific classes be online AND that learning how to successfull educate yourself with an online class is a skill all students should master. Time will tell, but I also believe there is good to come.

Join the conversation