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4 Lessons About Branding From Fraternity Culture

For those who have not experienced Greek life firsthand, here’s a bit of background: Each school with a major Greek presence has a hierarchy of fraternities and sororities.

“Top-tier” frats are stereotyped as throwing better events, and having more attractive and cooler people.

Each fraternity or sorority will typically have some sort of generalized label, such as “the Jew frat” or “the blonde sorority.”

Though many look upon this social system with disdain, it is in fact a treasure trove of information about how people value institutions and use random biases to make decisions in society.

1. Brands are hard to build up.

While the system of rushing and pledging (marketing for/screening new members and inducting new members) is crucial for these organizations to build up or maintain social value, a good or bad pledge class will not drastically alter the brand of a Greek chapter.

If the coolest fraternity on campus has a dud year for new members but rebounds every year after that, they will continue to be the big dogs on campus.

It is only after continued superior performance that a lower tier fraternity can increase their rank in the school’s eye.

This usually involves not just recruiting the best members but also throwing the best events and acting in a way that will garner both respect and admiration.

Similarly, in the business world, building a successful brand does not happen overnight. Rather, it is the result of continued proven outcomes.

2. Brands are easy to destroy.

Some of the best Greek institutions, such as SAE at the University of Oklahoma, were destroyed overnight because of scandals. In the case of Oklahoma’s SAE, it was a video of the fraternity chanting racial slurs on a bus ride.

Typically, when your brand becomes associated with things such as racism, vandalism, or assault, the brand name is sullied for a while.

As the old adage goes, a reputation takes 20 years to build and 20 seconds to destroy, so always be on the lookout for potential atomic bombs for your brand and know where the line is drawn for actions and comments tied to the company.

3. Moving up the ranks takes money.

Just as Pepsi will need to spend four times as much money as Coke in order to see similar marketing payouts, moving from a bottom-tier to a top-tier fraternity takes not just hard work but also a decent budget.

Fraternities are largely judged based on their events, whether people are having fun, and if they can get celebrities to show up or perform.

All of this requires large amounts of disposable income. Similarly, if a brand wants to move past, say, a finger being found in its food (*cough* Wendy’s), they will need to pull out the sparklers, confetti and all the bells and whistles in order to attract people and make them look past previous negative associations.

4. Know where your brand needs to be.

If you talk to most members of “low-tier” fraternities and ask why they don’t try to move up the ranks, they will likely tell you that they joined the fraternity for the people and enjoy the experience regardless of the negative vibe.

People who are concerned with elaborate events and that type of lifestyle will be attracted to the top tier, whereas people who care about simpler lifestyles and do not want to go through difficult pledging ceremonies will be attracted to the lower tier.

Ultimately, if your demographic is low-income urban citizens, your brand should not be building luxury stores in upper-class suburbs. Know your audience and cater to their desires.

Written by David Matlock

David Matlock is a senior in high school at Stratford Academy. He is currently writing his first book and is a contributor on the Huffington Post. Matlock is a freelance writer and young entrepreneur.

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