Build a Brand
Earlier this year, while standing in line to checkout at a store, I spotted an issue of Entrepreneur magazine with the headline “Secrets of the Most Trusted Brands” written boldly on the cover. As I waited for my turn in line, I flipped through the article and ended up purchasing the magazine. When I finally sat down to read it, I found the article to be a fascinating list of practical moves schools can make to build their brand with their community. In the spirit of the work of Jim Collins, the author, Paula Andruss, focuses on companies that have a track record of success over a long period and seeks key lessons from their success.
Before I write about what I read, a few statements about my own bias that shapes how I viewed this piece as well as a way I think educators need to be thinking. I see schools as a service business. We have consumers (students and parents) as well as investors (taxpayers). While we do not exist to make a profit, we are in place to provide a critical service.
I have written about the need for collaboration, and my view is that schools should exist in a “nonzero” environment. However, our legislators at the state and federal level are encouraging competition and increasing the options parents have for their children. These policies are the product of a gap between schools and their communities, a key reason that we need to build a brand locally.
The article focused on several companies, the list of lessons I noted as I read included:
- Get Personal: Amazon focuses on the individual, making recommendations based on personal preferences.
- Sell Happiness: The key question at Coca-Cola is “how do we promote, develop, and create happiness?”
- Live up to your promises: Fed-Ex makes bold statements, then lives up to them.
- Keep it cool: Apple works to inspire and foster creativity through all of its products. While their hardware is standard, it is easily individualized to fit the needs of the consumer.
- Design an experience: Target, a discount store, is easy to navigate and offers quality merchandise and a friendly atmosphere to shop.
- Stay Consistent: Ford established a relationship, a product, and remains consistent. The logo hasn’t changed in generations, nor has the operating principles of the company.
- Can-do attitude: Through their “Just Do It” slogan, Nike has fostered a sense of self-empowerment.
- Forge connections: Starbucks creates an environment where regular customers feel a connection to the staff and environment of their local stores, many calling it “my Starbucks.”
- Serve up the quirky: Singing the safety procedures or doing something different to make the flight more entertaining is a major characteristic of Southwest Airlines.
- Focus on the Customer: Nordstrom’s employees are trained to focus on the consumer, from sending a thank you card after a purchase to e-mailing regular customers about products that will interest them or an open return policy is all about being attentive to the needs of the shopper.
I think that schools can learn from these businesses. Building a brand that will resonate with our customers and communities will require us to focus on individuals, develop relationships, provide exemplary customer service, do what we say we will do, have some fun and be different. These companies all have a sense of optimism about them, even when economic times are tough. As educators in times of tight budgets, the need to innovate with our current limitations is vital.
When thinking about schools who have a strong brand, they do the items listed above very well. There are many lessons from the private sector that educators can learn to create better, more effective schools.