From Profits to Purpose: Discovering Methods for Building Successful Brands Today

Grad students in classroom

As the founder of his own branding business, and a former executive at international advertising agencies, Michael Behnke believes in the power of branding as a critical business tool. As a professor at AUP teaching the Branding Practicum course, he invites graduate students to develop practical and analytical skills by building their own brands. 

According to Professor Behnke, branding has evolved from its place in the “Mad Men” era of advertising – when profits were paramount – to a mechanism for purpose-driven initiatives. “We have major societal problems facing us today. Building a brand is about finding a purpose, and consumers expect more from brands than just products or services. They expect brands to be ethical and to use their expertise to make this planet a better place,” says Behnke.  

During the practicum, Behnke leads students through brand theory and helps them hone in on practical skills. This includes sharing part of his proprietary methodology, developed over decades spent working with hundreds of brands.

Students delve deep into the meaning of a company to distill their brand essence – or what Behnke calls one-word positioning. The class investigates the process of determining what a brand stands for and the psychological aspects that are at play in consumer behavior. 

This course is an intense test drive for students in branding. It motivates me to see students’ progress because it’s an area I’m so passionate about. It’s fantastic to see how they get fired up.

– Michael Behnke

Students delve deep into the meaning of a company to distill their brand essence – or what Behnke calls one-word positioning. The class investigates the process of determining what a brand stands for and the psychological aspects that are at play in consumer behavior.

The course then goes beyond analyzing brands as students create their own brands. The class is structured so as to facilitate collaboration – students share their progress, receive feedback from their peers, and obtain guidance from Behnke. Students leave the course with tangible skills in brand strategy and execution, and some go on to launch the company they conceive during the practicum.

“This course is an intense test drive for students in branding. It motivates me to see students’ progress because it’s an area I’m so passionate about. It’s fantastic to see how they get fired up. Many of them finish the course with professional-level outcomes – with something I wouldn’t hesitate to pitch to a client. It’s to that level,” says Behnke.

Behnke started his career in advertising before branding or advertising was an option as a degree. Early on he found himself in Oklahoma in the United States, leaving his home in Germany to study abroad in marketing and economics. Since then, Behnke has worked in several markets, including the United States, France, Germany, and Brazil. Behnke has managed hundreds of brands at the world’s top agencies: Ogilvy, Young & Rubicam, TBWA, and Publicis. He now runs his own company, Belly Button Paris, and specializes in one-word positioning for brands in France, Germany, Spain, and the U.S.

The Branding Practicum is pertinent for students who would like to develop professional-level skills in branding and related business functions.