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Buses, billboards, buildings: ASU talks innovation

Innovation ranking prompts branding discussions


"For the University, innovation is not only a skill, but also a lifestyle." Illustration published on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. 

With the addition of the ASU Spark sessions to the second Innovation Day on Nov. 1, innovation can be seen everywhere — from the sides of buses to program descriptors. 

With massive billboards and a plethora of social media posts dedicated to the school’s ranking, innovation plays a significant role in ASU's branding. As ASU revels in its fifth consecutive year as No. 1 in innovation, school officials say they hope to keep their adopted mantra. 

For the University, innovation is not only a skill, but also a lifestyle. Initiatives including the ASU Spark sessions work to foster innovation on a day-to-day basis, teaching faculty and staff to hone their brainstorming skills through a two-hour session. 

The initiative, which will be featured at Innovation Day, will be the first of its kind to focus on the "doing" behind innovation. 

Cary Lopez, graduate student and director of strategic initiatives in ASU's Office of the Knowledge Enterprise Architect, said the program will make this year's Innovation Day completely different from last year. 

"At the core of the program, it's much more inclusive," Lopez said. "There is something about ASU culture that is inherently innovative and this program encourages all groups of the ASU community to practice that." 

She said student training for the new initiative is opening next week and the Spark sessions will continue past Innovation Day to foster creative problem solving in individuals throughout the year. 

Ann Toca, deputy vice president and managing director of branding at the Enterprise Marketing Hub said the concept of innovation plays a key role in ASU’s brand because of its authenticity. 

“A brand only exists as people’s experience of it,” Toca said. “Innovation is happening here all the time; it’s part of the DNA of the school.” 

Regardless of experience, ASU competes against other schools for the title of "most innovative" by U.S. News & World Report every year. 

Douglas Olsen, an associate professor with the W.P. Carey School of Business and Thunderbird School of Global Management, said relying too much on being No. 1 can be a risk.

“One of the benefits of being No. 1 is that it becomes your brand flag, which is something we’ve seen with ASU,” Olsen said. “(But) we have to be ever-vigilant. If we ever slip or fall behind, others will be very quick to capitalize on that.”

Toca said that though the title of No. 1 in innovation was a boost for ASU’s reputation, the ranking “does not make the brand.” 

Even with all the ASU buses that line up around various campuses touting ASU’s ranking, she said innovation would not stop if another university beat ASU to the title. 

“With or without the badge, the ranking is secondary now. It’s the depth of ASU’s story that drives the marketing," Toca said. 

Anything from a Google search to a social media deep dive shows that many students have both embraced and found humor in the saturated use of innovation in ASU’s advertising. 

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Bret Hovell, an ASU spokesperson, said the online jokes bring humor and familiarity to the brand. 

He said innovation can be found in both small and large feats, an idea that is often represented in online posts. 

One popular destination for ASU and innovation-related posts is the ASU subreddit, which has 17.5 thousand members at the time of publication. 

The forum was created almost 10 years ago on Jan. 24 and features questions, discussions about classes and references to innovation throughout. 

“It doesn’t take long to find a post about it online and I think people do joke because innovation is something that is very secure and comfortable at ASU,” Hovell said. 

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