Why would many people prefer to wear a pair of Levi jeans rather than a make provided exclusively by a local super market? Why would people often choose Nike trainers rather than another make? Is it because these well known makes provide better quality, or that those products perform better? Or is it a matter of status and prestige? Are such questions relevant also when you are choosing your MBA program and your business school, and if so – when and why?

Brand is important for many types of product, especially when products from different suppliers are substantially indistinguishable. So it is particularly important where products have largely become commodities – widely and easily available from many sources. Brand confers intangible characteristics on the thing to which it is attached. Brand seeks to differentiate, often in the absence of other more tangible differentiators.

Similarly, brand is important for many types of service, and that is the reason why many hotels, travel companies, airlines, banks etc vigorously promote themselves.

Certainly some business schools are far better known than others. Do such schools provide better programs? Not necessarily. There are very many great MBA programs provided by lots of schools that few will have heard of outside their immediate region. Nevertheless, should you always aim to get into a ‘big name’ school? Not necessarily – as the most important consideration is what suits you. So, your first thoughts will be about practicality. This refers to location, structure, dates, duration, cost etc, and about the focus, the syllabus, content, specializations, and size.

So when might brand be important to you? There are three parts to the answer to that question. Firstly, when what you actually want is offered by big name schools (remember that they don’t all offer everything everywhere). Secondly when you think you can afford it, as such schools tend to cost more. And thirdly when you think you could get in, as those schools also tend to have more demanding entry requirements.

Two of these three points (cost and exclusivity) might seem to lend support to the suggestion that brand is of major importance, but it may not be so. Really there are two issues, prominence and repute. If the school you choose is well-known and known to be good, by the people that will matter to you, you will probably not have much need to explain or justify your choice.

Look at it another way. Ask yourself whether the school(s) you are considering will be known about in the place you will be in, or want to be in, later. Irrespective of where you are now, will those people that matter to you then, know your school? If you are not intending to have your career take you soon to a different country or region this will be less of a problem and it will not matter if your school has never featured in any of the international rankings.

Brand is important in many situations. However the MBA is not yet a pure commodity and different programs from different schools can still mostly be differentiated, and thus the decision to take a particular program should be, convincingly, explainable. Certainly, other things being equal, most of us will prefer to have a product or use a service that those who we respect or regard as important will recognize. However, other things are often not equal, and so we will be careful not to be tempted to pursue something that does not actually satisfy our main needs or circumstances.

Republished with permission from The MBA Program Information Site (www.mbainfo.com), a comprehensive source of information on MBA programs.