3 Ways Top Learning, Development and Education Brands Stand Out Using These Brand Strategy Principles
Market leading learning and development brands haven’t attained their status by happy accident. Nor, although it can sometimes seem like it, are they simply the beneficiaries of merely a long history and reputation.
In the current highly competitive marketplace, learning and development brands that thrive do so because they have developed a well-thought-out brand strategy with an architecture that’s been effectively activated. That consistent deployment is what in reality influences the way in which the brand is communicated and how its received by its primary target customers, as well as informing the strategic business choices it aligns with.
Here we’re digging into three key brand strategy principles that strong learning and development brands successfully employ. Each one of these three brand strategy principles can be used by educational brands, no matter how big or small, from universities and colleges to niche private sector specialists. They work across markets and geographies.
Related: How Branding Strategy is Different to Marketing
1. Successful Learning and Development Brands All Have a Strong Brand Mission
Within the trinity of a brand’s brand purpose, brand vision and brand mission, brand mission forms the “how”. It’s a way of translating an often lofty brand vision into a more actionable, practical way of thinking which directly impacts many of the choices a brand faces from day to day.
That has clear application when it comes to learning and development brands. Education, like health, is central to delivering on a wide range of things that matter to people. This is why so many educational brands have some connection to organisations with a clear sense of purpose, from religious orders and educational charities to research organisations and education ministries.
Having a compelling brand vision around learning and development can be relatively easy. However, when it comes to differentiation and articulating a brand purpose and brand mission, a learning and development brand needs to make clear, specific choices in defining and implementing the right brand purpose and mission for their organisation.
Related: Brand Profiling: How Brand Performance and Purpose Are Inextricably Linked
The right brand mission enables learning and development brands to differentiate themselves in an often crowded marketplace. When elements such as curriculum, qualifications, and teaching methods can typically be similar across different providers, brand mission is a way for a brand to help target customers understand why they should choose it over other brands in the same field.
A case study is educational provider Kaplan. Its brand mission of helping individuals achieve their educational and career goals to build futures, one success story at a time, is straightforward but powerful and ambitious. Moving beyond just education to the idea of achieving career goals to build one’s own future can help differentiate Kaplan from companies that focus purely on attaining educational goals without contextualising that in higher order, longer lasting personal benefits.
Related: How Your Brand Mission Enables You To Achieve Your Commercial Objectives
Another case study in the SME sector is Bloom Mindset Junior Academy, a kindergarten and education centre in Hong Kong. In a fiercely competitive market where competitors mostly focus purely on educational test attainment from the earliest age, Bloom emphasises the role of a growth mindset in improving children’s educational outcomes and personal development. This compelling brand mission informs everything from its brand communication to curriculum development.
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2. Brand Values Drive Enduring Learning and Development Brands
Brand values are the things that a brand stands for. One criticism some people have of branding is that they feel it can seem fluffy and nebulous, with brands promoting values which sound like they were dreamed up in a vacuum. In this regard, again, education brands have a massive advantage. Not only are brand values explicitly articulated in many learning and development brands, but they are an integral part of the customer experience.
In fact, many schools, colleges and learning institutions have been using a form of brand values for decades if not centuries. They may be expressed differently, as a school motto for example, but their purpose is that of brand values.
Whether it’s Winchester school’s “Manners makyth man”, University College Dublin’s “To the Stars; Justice and equality” or legal education provider Gray’s Inn’s “Impartial justice, guardian of equity, mistress of the law, without fear or favour rules men’s causes aright”, many learning and development institutions already have a clear sense of at least some of their brand values. Successful ones often build on this strong foundation to articulate an actual set of brand values which enable their brand communications and activation.
One advantage a learning and development brand has in bringing its brand values to life is the nature of its interaction with its target audience or customer base. Often this is intensive in terms of hours per week, and can have a duration stretching into years or even decades through its alumni. So a brand can bring its values to life with a breadth and depth many brands in other areas are struggle to achieve. For an organisation with attractive brand values, this is a compelling way to turn customers into brand ambassadors and far-reaching alumni.
Related: How to Use Brand Values to Drive Unwavering Customer Trust and Commitment
Many people who work in education, learning and development are driven by a clear purpose of their own in helping others reach their full potential. An effective learning and development brand typically has brand values that are not just attractive from the perspective of students and decision makers (such as parents) but also in the context of the employer brand.
This is illustrated by the English public (private) school Harrow. It has opened several satellite schools in Asia and also a virtual sixth form working with a partner in Africa. While some elements of the Harrow brand name, reputation and offering are attractive, equally no two locations are the same and the needs and context of learning may vary.
By focussing on consistent brand values, the school is able to deliver a cohesive brand experience in key regards, while allowing for some local adaptation in delivery. Collectively, these brand values help deliver on the clear, powerful brand vision of “Harrow: Leadership for a Better World”.
Related: Social Responsibility: How to Build a Socially Conscious Brand
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What makes you different from all the other service or product providers in the market because that’s what’s going to make your business be the No.1 choice in the range of those specific products or services that you’re providing. Also that’s what’s going to make your brand stand out and have a long lasting life and thrive in the context of where you’re operating and delivering value. So totally go for it!
This framework provides you with a lot of insight and more than that, with a systematic process that’s easy for you to understand, easy for you to grasp, easy for you to work with so you finally nail what makes you different in your business, and what you are about and what those key points are that resonate with your audience.”
Are you a business leader, manager or entrepreneur who wants to re-evaluate or build your brand strategy, so you can optimise your learning and development brand to the changing market to increase your sales and matriculation? Are you curious about how to build or scale a highly successful standout brand? Join one of our branding masterclasses because they empower you to build your brand, enhance customer experience, expand your market impact and create higher perceived value, so you can command a premium and achieve higher revenue.
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3. Tone of Voice is Critical for Learning and Development Brands
An important element of brand strategy is tone of voice. Like it sounds, this is the way in which a brand’s message is communicated, that influences how it differentiates, stands out and the way that people think and feel about the brand.
While that matters for all brands, it can be particularly important for learning and development brands. Authoritative, consistent, knowledgeable, altruistic, empathic communication is at the heart of most education. Not only does that come through in the pedagogy of the institution, it is also significant in that it is reflected in the brand tone of voice.
A case study is Pluralsight, a B2B provider of online training courses for tech workers. Its tone of voice is authoritative, simple and professional. It emphasises the role of “building” in its language – building individual skills to build teams, and in turn build tech workforces which make businesses more successful.
Related: How to Develop Your Brand Tone of Voice to Increase Sales
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In the first two weeks of March 2020, before Covid-19 required us to close, we were 300% up in our online sales compared to the whole of March 2019. By the end of May 2020 [after being completely closed for 6 weeks with our 150 staff furloughed] we were back to 69% and by end of June 2020 back at 108%, January 2021 we were up four-fold on January 2019
— results achieved from applying our brand strategy.”
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Lorraine Carter is a brand strategy expert and international speaker delivering talks that inspire and motivate along with masterclasses and workshops online and offline that inform and support transformational outcomes fast, and consultancy expertise that solves business problems — using measurable brand strategy underpinned by professional big-brand know-how — so you can outshine, outperform and leave your competitors way behind.
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Applying These 3 Principles to Your Learning and Development Brand
These principles may sound fairly straightforward, however, developing and applying them thoroughly, so they achieve clear and compelling differentiation, makes a huge difference to the appeal of your own learning and development brand.
Rather than considering them in isolation, it makes more sense to reevaluate how they fit within your overall brand architecture and brand strategy. That way, once you are clear about what your brand mission is and what you want your institution or business to stand for in the world, you can ensure that all of your brand communication and activity helps to reinforce that, from prospectuses and programme content, to websites and open days and new student matriculation or customer enrolment processes.
No matter what size, stage or location your learning and development brand fills, it can benefit from applying some simple but powerful brand strategy principles.
Fortunately, many learning and development brands already have some of the thinking in relation to these principles in their daily work, even if they haven’t actually fully realised it yet. That starts with a strong brand mission, around which your people, learners and other stakeholders can unite.
Your brand can be brought to life through your brand values, which are lived in the learning experience, as well as through what you stand for, and how you communicate. Tone of voice is critical in learning and development — and that is true for your brand too.
“I really appreciate Lorraine’s energy and passion. Although good branding includes so many facets, Lorraine is able to simplify the process and make it so much more tangible for any company to put into practice.”
Marketing Communication Specialist
Questions to Consider
- What makes students and customers entrust their educational needs to your brand?
- What is your brand mission and how compelling is it to your primary target audience? Do they even care?
- How do your brand values reflect the reality of your delivery of learning and development?
- Does your brand tone of voice help make your brand attractive to your target audience, consistent with your brand mission, brand purpose and brand values?
- Do your people and student community feel motivated by your brand in the same way payers such as parents or decision makers do?
- Would it help to expand your strategic thinking in the context of your brand strategy and its deployment through using a brand audit, so you can differentiate with a more compelling value proposition?
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