April 18, 2014

What elementary schools can teach us about shepherding a brand

I am currently working for creative agency called SapientNitro. Their offices are on the East side of Santa Monica. As I bike there in the morning, I often think about work, school, and what I should blog about. We talk a lot about what makes an advertising campaign great, and who is doing the best work in the industry.

One morning a thought popped into my mind, "I think elementary schools do a pretty good job of managing their brand." Here is why:

Living and Always On

Do you remember when you would go on a field trip and the teacher would say, “please be on your best behavior, all of you are representing the school and we want to leave a good impression.” Or the tried and true, “leave the place nicer than we found it.” Both of these phrases speak to the living brand of a school. The actions of employees, customers, and media all affect the living brand of your company.

Brands like Patagonia are true to their brand beyond their products and additives. If an employee is arrested for protesting a cause that aligns with the company’s vision (water conservation, wildlife habitats, deforestation), Patagonia will post their prison bail. Though most customers don’t know this, it helps proliferate the company’s values through their employees.

Using Your Channels

Schools know how to use their channels. Flyers, emails, phone calls, parking lot signs, daily announcements, posters in the school, the list goes on. When working with low attention span second graders you need them to remember the information. The key is using an array of formats. Messaging is often internal and just for the students, e.g. what’s for lunch or when the big test is. Other times it is for parents, e.g. a reminder of next week school bake sale.

In the ad world, we call this omni channel or trans media. When building a story around a brand and communicating clearly, companies often use billboards, TV commercials, digital ads, blogs, and more. For example, there has recently been a lot of talk in LA about Fargo, the new tv series by FX. They have billboards, bus ads and more. In addition to traditional media buys, they have also sponsored web content and YouTube ads. This is a good example of transmedia and using many channels to reach viewers.

Building Brand Experiences

Elementary schools do a great job of doing more than educating children. They often play a strong role in after school programs, summer activities, and gatherings for the families and students—hosting school events build up their brand experiences.

While living in LA, I have frequently been to the TOMS' shoe flagship store. It is more than a retail outlet because it serves primarily as an outdoor coffee shop and a place to hang out. TOMS doesn’t sell ‘hanging out,’ but by being a great space for locals to gather and relax, they are building their brand experience around that lifestyle. Think of it as the ice cream social of the retail world.

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