What Brand is Your School?
Corporations, such as Apple, Harley Davidson and Sketchers, have a significant level of brand loyalty. What is it that compels an extreme level of commitment by consumers to a company that, on the surface, just builds devices, motorcycles or shoes?
In these cases, brand loyalty isn’t about buying the product; it is about buying the experience. From inception, successful brands relentlessly pursue a never-ending commitment to the quality of the experience. Some of that experience is the materials used, some of that experience is the design detailing, but ALL of that experience is how you feel when you use that particular product.
A strong and unique brand for a school may be a necessary step in the evolution of education. The development of the physical learning environment can and should fully support the school’s brand. Well beyond logos and color palettes is the integration of appropriate spaces with the correct amenities that support the brand in every aspect. That’s where we, as designers, play a role. We can successfully assemble these important pieces of the branding puzzle, like spatial definition, building materials, room sizes, adjacencies, equipment, furniture and technology. Designers can bring your brand – and the learning experience you want to convey – to life.
The brand of an educational institution is respectful of its foundational history and captures its visionary future. It recognizes where the school has been and where the school is going. I believe a brand should be unique to that school and be reflected in every aspect of the organization. However, we must understand the world of education is not creating a product in the way that Apple sells devices, Harley Davidson sells motorcycles, and Sketchers sells shoes. Teaching and learning is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted juggling of physical, intellectual, and emotional needs of students. We need to evolve and think of the process of educating our students as an “experience.” There are some valuable lessons we can learn from the brand loyalty of corporations.
So why don’t more schools have brand loyalty like Apple, Harley Davidson or Sketchers? After all, a quality educational experience seems to be far more impactful on one’s life than a motorcycle or shoes. I believe that most schools are operating without a clearly defined brand. In many ways, schools are trying to be everything to everyone and in most cases not succeeding. There are numerous reasons why this happens, ranging from government regulations to standardized curriculum and budget constraints. None of these issues are significant enough to prevent us from doing what is best for students, and we should not allow any of them to be a road block to the development of a powerful school brand.