Tuesday, February 16, 2010

School Brand: A Brick and Mortar Beginning

Look across the branding universe today and what do you see? An endless universe of products and services vying for our attention. Standing out in the heavens are the branding superstars, the Top 100, the Power 25, the Elite 10. Some the brand names may jockey for position in the top ranks, but the players are usually sustained. Google, Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Coco-Cola, Amazon, Disney are among the perennial elite in this new decade. You have your personal brand favorites. There are others, and there are more on the horizon to challenge these giants. Who would have thought Google would be the number one brand a short few years ago? What was a Google?

As an educationist, the most interesting, and one of the biggest brands to learn from, is Starbucks. With over 3,000 outlets worldwide, it has one of the smallest advertising budgets among the iconic brand players. They don’t spend much on advertising. In a conversation about lending Madison Avenue branding techniques to build a school culture, its branding approach is more like an educational campaign that can serve to inspire cash strapped school ”outlets” everywhere. Starbucks has figured out what matters most in building and managing a brand. It has a good product that is reliable whether you are buying it in a shopping mall in South Jersey or in the airport in Tokyo where I get my” non-fato” latte. Starbucks worked tirelessly from the beginning to build its brand and to consistently delight and engage its market. It’s gotten quite a wallet share of the coffee drinking public to pay 4 bucks or more for a product one can get for a buck at a cart or a diner. Like it or not, it’s a brand new day.

When I think of the best schools I’ve seen on walk throughs, as an employee or visitor, I now see that I was experiencing the Starbucks experience in an educational sense. I didn’t refer to it as branding then, but I will now. What these best schools had were attention to marketing in the “brick and mortar” environment of the school. It’s the Starbucks brand model. The schools seemed to have developed a personality, they had a story to tell and it was visible in the halls and in the classrooms, and even in the teachers room. I’ve been in thousands of schools, and the feel of the best is akin to the feel that I get when I see the green mermaid sign and head for my skim latte in NYC. The schools have a human feel, there’s a subtle buzz of energy, people are comfortable, there’s a belonging factor even among strangers. The Starbucks staff want to know you, by name even, and they listen…and look you in the eye. The music, the messages, information is clearly presented and one doesn’t feel overwhelmed or sold, just supported by an environment.

As I write my book on branding I continue to see what once was thought unlikely to be likely...Branding and School can fit!

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