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Are the indicators of school brands changing?

By G. Balasubramanian

Nearly fifteen years before when one of the companies in Brand development and management asked the newly appointed Principal of the upcoming school to go over to a mall and distribute the brochures to some elite parents visiting the mall, I had to take a strong objection with the corporate management saying that is the last thing the principal of the school should do. Brands are not building that way. In trying to usher in some novelty engaging with ideas which are neither advisable for the short term nor a long term for an organization is ridiculous.

From the late seventies onwards, I used to witness long queues outside a school in Chennai from the previous evening of the day when the school used to issue admission forms. People used to say it was a brand school. As of now, such a rush doesn’t exist as there are several schools in and around the same school who are either competitive in their brands or their conceptual deliveries. The concept of brand is undergoing a change. Possibly, one must position the brand of a school in each context, to a given community, to a given set of consumers and to a given set of capacities that could be delivered.

Some of the myths that have been existing about brand are:

a. The infrastructure is an indicator of the brand.

b. The pricing is an indicator of the brand.

c. Associations and networking are an indicator of a brand.

d. The amount of popularity and news read about the school is an indicator of the brand.

e. The nomenclature relating to some top social, religious, commercial or technological organizations are indicators of the brand.

f. The futuristic promise about achievements is an indicator of a brand.

g. The projected status of the school as an international, global or world school is an indicator of brand.

h. The window-shopping materials like technology, smart and new application tools including adoption of technology in communication is an indicator of the brand.

i. The curriculum and the Boards to whom they are associated is an indicator of brand.

There could be a few more. All these do contribute to a brand building exercise in a limited manner and show one phase of the school and not necessarily speak of all the essentialities that a good brand would reflect. "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do" says Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. Promises do give hope, but they may lack the element of trust.

It is quite important that the brand should indicate and assure a value that the organization would bring, support and deliver to the clients in a specified period. The values are not simple words on print, but they are some process modules and their outcomes that would indicate their building up, slowly and steadily. These values need to be coherent with current and futuristic norms and designs the consumers would look forward to. A non-committed assurance of their delivery must be built in process propositions. Your brand must communicate the value that you bring to a working relationship.” Says idowu koyenikan, in his book “Wealth for All: Living a Life of Success at the Edge of Your Ability.”

In many branding exercises associated with schools, I have found a huge mismatch between their catalogues, brochures, projections and their deliveries in real terms. Such mismatches arising out of some colorful displays incorporated in the prints do create a disappointment in the minds of the consumers and the brand of the school gets liquidated sooner than later. "Products are made in a factory, but brands are created in the mind." says W. alter Landor, branding pioneer.

The fact that the speed of knowledge dynamics is high, and the irrelevance of knowledge inputs is becoming a concern, schools are expected to design, demonstrate and display newer versions of their evolution continuously. With increasing parental awareness about the learning styles and learning outcomes, their competitive analysis of the performance profile of the schools is keeping schools on their cutting-edge performances. With the new education policy on the anvil, clients are expecting new avatars from schools which are more open, transparent, reasonable, pragmatic, accountable and stable. Their assessment of the schools is slowly shifting from their extrinsic value to intrinsic value. Hence the indicators of school brands are fast changing. "A brand is a voice, and a product is a souvenir." Says Lisa Ganksy, entrepreneur and author.

Some of the indicators of school brand which are under critical review are:

· Curriculum design and its currency

· Openness of curriculum for cross-sectional learning

· Pedagogical processes and their impact on extended learning

· Learning culture of the institution as a value proposition

· Credibility and Reliability of their assessment tools and outcomes

· Integrated and holistic approaches to enabling learning.

· The ability to cater to the learnability of the learner.

· Opportunities for student enterprise and growth

· Teacher competence as evidenced by their student relationships.

· Technology integration with purpose, meaning and security.

· Researching, investing on future preparation of their learners and teachers

· Parental participation, inclusion and outreach

· School Networking with national and international learning systems

While there could be more indicators which are considered by the clientele, these appear to be more dominant in the future brand assessment of the schools.

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." says Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

Investors appropriating their expenditure on Brand exercises need to reengineer their mindset!