Northern Michigan University will change its branding campaign from the popular long-running Northern Naturally to Fearless Minds. This is expected to take place in January 2014. The first news of the change came through a single-article blog called Long Live Northern Naturally on October 20. The site was shared through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter and sparked a Change.org petition with over 500 signatures at time of publishing. MQTSocialScene talked with the blog creator, NMU junior Chandler Countryman, about why she created the website.
CC: I got the initial scoop on the brand change the same way most information travels, through rumors. I am a member of the Student Leader Fellowship Program (SLFP) on campus and through that I will partake in a 100-hour community service project of my choosing, so I decided to focus my project on making campus more sustainable and eco-friendly. These recent conversations nearly always lead to something about the new Jamrich building and the controversy between building a new structure vs remodeling an old one and what students would like to see both in the new building and in the place of where old Jamrich is being torn down. These conversations then lead to other changes on campus which nearly always results in a conversation about (NMU Interim) President (David) Haynes and money spending and everyone has an opinion on how the university should spend their money.
So when some students told me that there had been meetings and surveys about a new branding campaign I took notice. Most comments were on how branding is a waste of money and how the money spent on it should be used elsewhere. I did not hear anyone talking about (the marketing study) unless I directly asked about it and could not find any information on it in our school newspaper or on our school website.
Students have a lot to say for what they see as important issues on campus and a lot of students were eager to talk about all aspects of campus life. All it took was a couple of students to drop hints about a proposed brand change to catch my attention. From there it was easy to get nosy and ask
other people about it, including faculty. The more I asked, the more pieces I put together.
Since all of the responses I was receiving about the topic were negative and people seemed like there was nothing that could be done, I was inspired to ask President Haynes myself. This was made easy because he gave a speech in my SLFP class last week on leadership. He made it very clear in his lesson that he was there for the students and considered the culture of the community to be one of the most important things to understand as a leader.
To me, a good leader involves the people they are supposed to be representing, so it seemed like a perfect time to bring it up and ask about it in front of an audience. Seeing that almost no one in my class had even heard about the brand change slightly annoyed me because things as simple as a brand should reflect the culture of the establishment. That involves the opinions of a lot of people, not just a select few groups.
MQTSS: The page has garnished a considerable amount of social media views. There's even a petition on Change.org about it. What do you think about all the attention around this?
CC: I think the attention is great. I love to see students engaging in conversation about things they care about. It was really nice to see that students shared my views. Admittedly, for a while I thought it was silly to care so much about something as simple as a logo or a school motto, so it felt great when I started seeing comments from people who were considerably more passionate about the change than I was.
I was helped a lot by my friends and roommates who initially shared it on Facebook to their friends to get the word out.
My link was up for hardly a couple hours before (ASNMU President) Amber Lapota took notice and emailed me. She responded exactly like a leader of a student body should with encouragement and open-mindedness and assured me that the topic would be raised in their meetings this week and that I would be kept updated via email.
It was also really nice to hear people that I didn’t even know in my classes talking about (the rebranding) the
MQT Social Scene did some additional reporting on the rebranding with NMU Marketing Director Anne Stark An interview request through email with both Interim President Haynes and Vice President Martha Haynes received no response by time of publishing.
MQTSS: Why was the blog originally posted anonymously with no contact information?
CC: Honestly, I wasn’t sure how many people would actually care about it. I think a part of me wanted it to be a little secretive as to where the information was coming from because I knew that it was supposed to be kept on the down low until it launches in January since everything has to have a grand opening. After the link got shared a few times, I had people ask for my contact information so I just started giving it out. I would love to hear from people though and if anyone wants to talk to me they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MQTSS: Do you consider yourself a leader? A whistle blower? How do you consider yourself after posting this?
CC: Yes and no. I am working on my leadership skills and have already learned a lot about leadership and about myself though my Leadership Theory and Practice class, which is part of the SLFP. One thing I have learned is that there are many different types of leaders and they are all important. I am a very quiet person and am much better at motivating and inspiring other people to take action. I am very passionate about a lot of things and would love to see a lot of things changed but it is more in my personality to gather the facts, present them along with my opinion, and see what other more brilliant people can come up with. So a simplistic website was perfect for me.
I have never really thought of myself as a whistle blower but doing something as simple as raising awareness of the brand change has made me wonder why I have never done anything like this before. It was easy and it lets people be heard. People love sharing their opinion and I love listening to all different views on things. I do not typically like when things are kept hushed in certain circumstances and it seemed like there were a lot of disgruntled students and faculty about recent changes at NMU and it was weird to me that people seemed uncomfortable talking about these issues. It felt like someone needed to do something, so I did.
MQTSS: Have you experienced or thought about any repercussions from posting your website?
CC: I will be honest, when (Lopota) asked for my contact information, I was a bit nervous. I turned to my friend and said “I’m not doing anything wrong, am I?”, to which they responded something sarcastic about me getting suspended. I was nervous that someone would be mad that I undermined and exposed the hushed campaign. But now I feel much more confident about it and I hope it will help instill confidence in me in the future if I ever decide to raise awareness about issues that are more serious. If I was this nervous to launch such a trivial opinion website, then no wonder things like this don’t happen more often. It is hard to put your opinions out there to be openly judged. I don’t see any negative repercussions. If people keep talking about it and enough people email and sign the petition then I am optimistic that something besides Fearless Minds will be chosen. Who knows, maybe it will spark more involvement and correspondence between students and ASNMU and between students and faculty.