From 1 September 2016 Wageningen University & Research will be the only brand name in use. Institute names such as LEI, Alterra and Imares will disappear. That might hurt a bit but the organization considers it necessary to avoid confusion.
Illustration Geert-Jan Bruins
Stranded whales, a humpback whale in the Eastern Scheldt, mutilated porpoises… Marine biologist Mardik Leopold has been sought after by the media several times in the past few years, to talk about extraordinary phenomena in the sea. On these occasions where exactly Leopold works often remained a bit of a mystery. At ‘Imares research institute,’ also sometimes written as IMARES, or at Wageningen University, which apparently comes under Wageningen University & Research Centre?
Wageningen UR wants to put an end to this confusion about names. ‘Currently we have one parent brand and 11 sub-brands,’ says Marc Lamers, director of Corporate Communications & Marketing. ‘With that complexity Wageningen does not project a strong image to the outside world.’ Lamers wants to change that. A strong brand will help Wageningen address the challenges ahead, he believes. Contract researchers, for example, are forced by declining government funding to look for more and more assignments in the private sector. What is more, the biggest growth market is abroad, where the brand ‘Wageningen’ is far better known than sub-brands such as LEI or Alterra.
So from 1 September, Lamers wants one face and one brand presented to the outside world: Wageningen University & Research, covering all the education and research. If employees want to be more specific about their expertise they can use one of the new domain names. ‘Wageningen Plant Research’, for instance, instead of Plant Research International, and ‘Wageningen Bioveterinary Research’ instead of the Central Veterinary Institute.
A sensible change to make, says Ernst van de Ende, director of the Plant Sciences Group and a supporter of the policy change. ‘This is a very logical consequence of the new strategic plan. If you decide to become ‘One Wageningen’, you can’t carry on using 95 different names, as it were.’ Van de Ende thinks it is particularly important to have the word ‘Wageningen’ in the new brand and domain names. ‘That name opens doors, internationally especially.’
Not all employees will applaud the change, of course, as Van de Ende knows. ‘We have discussed this often over the years and opinions vary about the brand name.’ People wonder, for instance, whether employees working at a distance from Wageningen will feel at home under the new name. Van de Ende himself worked for many years for Applied Plant Research (PPO), outside Wageningen. In such situations it can sometimes feel a bit odd to have ‘Wageningen’ in the name on the building. ‘Outsiders won’t care at all. That is an internal issue,’ says Van de Ende. He thinks there should be consideration for employees outside Wageningen when the new names are introduced, by doing it gradually for instance.
Marian Stuiver, chair of the WUR council, notes that the branding policy provokes a wide range of responses. She does not expect such heated discussions as those that followed the change of name from Agricultural University to Wageningen University. ‘Behind that was a complete change of direction, from agriculture to life sciences. That was much more far-reaching.’
This time the consultative body did not get a say in the new policy, but did have some criticisms, for example that it is not always clear to outsiders which type of research is in question. After all, applied contract research comes with different demands and expectations than a fundamental academic study.
Lamers understands where the concerns are coming from. Wageningen research results on relevant social issues are all-too-readily labelled ‘science to order’. This phenomenon is not likely to disappear, he thinks, but it does require an open dialogue with a wider public. ‘The combination of applied and fundamental science is in Wageningen’s DNA. We mustn’t be scared.’
Alterra, LEI and Imares
When the parent brand name is changed in September, a number of old names will disappear. How attached people are to these names varies. Nobody seems to mourn the quietly abandoned term ‘DLO’. But there are more appealing names such as Alterra, LEI and Imares. Lamers understand that employees find it hard to say goodbye to these names. ‘But it becomes easier to accept if we explain the underlying arguments for it properly. I hope people will say, “I don’t like it but I do understand it.” The disappearance of a brand doesn’t have to spell the disappearance of its value, reckons Lamers. He cites the example of the change from the Dutch Postbank to the ING Bank – ‘from blue lion to orange lion’.
But not everyone sees it this way. ‘It is a great shame to throw away a good brand,’ says Peeter Verlegh, professor of Marketing at the VU University in Amsterdam. ‘You have to work hard to get a concept into people’s heads.’ He does understand the choice, however. After the merger of DLO and Wageningen University, the decision was made to have an interim period with a number of sub-brands. Years later it is logical to take the step towards one clear brand. And it is a comforting thought that the old names never disappear completely from people’s memories, says Verlegh. ‘People still talk about the Agricultural University. With your brand you primarily target new contacts and markets.’
The changes will be implemented soon without any fanfare. From September the new name and logo will appear on all new flyers, envelopes and company cars. Domain names go back to the previous name: ‘wur.nl’. Cost efficiency is central throughout the operation, says Lamers. Most things still bearing the old brand name will be used up first. Only eye-catching items such as signboards and flags will be replaced immediately. There will be no big publicity campaign to introduce the new names either. ‘That’s understandable,’ says Verlegh. ‘Wageningen does not have the same resources as Unilever to do it on a grand scale.’
Marine researcher Mardik Leopold, who still works at Imares, is not bothered by the name change. He has worked for four employers over the years, without any change to the actual work he does. ‘I initially applied to the National Institute for Nature Management (RIN).’ This changed into the Institute for Forest and Nature Research (IBN-DLO), which went on to become Alterra and later Imares. ‘I never applied to Imares,’ says Leopold. ‘Imares just happened to me.’