June 22, 2009
I'm working on a guide to creating theme-based schools and found a bit of branding wisdom, courtesy of Seth Godin,that's particularly applicable.
Theme-based schools use specific concepts and/or activities to facilitate best practices. Like corrective lenses, specialized thematic prescriptions help students and teachers focus. They provide a framework for understanding what the school stands for. In consumer terms, a theme is similar to a brand name.
Adopting a consumer perspective
Seth Godin, a thought leader in the field of marketing, offers a very simple formula for what makes a brand effective:
[What the consumer is led to expect] x [the importance or value they place on that expectation] = the power/effectiveness of the brand.
Godin makes several critical points that apply as well to what makes an effective theme as they do to what makes an effective brand:
o A brand that hasn't created specific expectations has no power to attract consumers, and
o A brand that fails to live up to the expectations it has developed quickly loses its power.
o When a brand delivers what it promises, it provides emotional relief. It satisfies a very human need to know you'll get what you expect and not be disappointed.
Godin calls this "emotional resonance" and recommends building "... the most predictable, emotional experience you can among those that care about you."
Too many schools have failed to live up to expectations. For schools in need of improvement, restructuring (which easily equates with re-branding) offers the opportunity for a fresh start. Adopting a theme in that process offers the school community a 'brand' name to identify with, along with a promise to live up to their expectations. This encourages loyalty over time, assuming the school community's expectations are met. (Sadly, time is the factor that most frequently undermines school improvement initiatives.) A theme also makes it easier to engage other participants, including district administrators, boards of education, and last but not least, potential sponsors.
It is also important to note that themes, like brands, cannot necessarily remain static. They need to be responsive to external changes such as, for schools, the growing ubiquity of technology. Similarly, themes and thematic units will very likely change as they're used, assessed and improved. In fact, from a curriculum standpoint, theme schools often start with one or two themed units per grade level, developed by the staff prior to the changeover. It can actually take a few years to roll out the full program. What is critical is that the theme be clearly identified from the outset and that the 'brand culture' be established through special customs and unique theme-based learning experiences as well as through decoration, signage, promotional literature, etc.