Thursday, 23 May 2013

College Brand & Identity - Just Do It!

Last week I discussed the impact of a bad inspection report and how the network effects and feedback loops might impact on the school/college student admissions as there might be more demand  for the "good" schools because people are keen to avoid the "bad" & "failing" ones.

I highlighted how it may be parents who place a higher value on education who are more likely to change schools, so may lead to the "more able" students leaving.  

But does getting into school/college with a more stringent application process play a role in improving results? If a school/college has a reputation for being a "failing" institution, how do you raise the spirits of students, parents and staff? How do you convince them that one bad inspection report does not define the school/colleges' identity or, more importantly... the students identity? Can branding and marketing help?

I have an ambivalent relationship with branding and marketing, a
nyone who works in EdTech would be a fool to dismiss the advice of MIT Sloan, Geoffery Moore or VC's who advise;
  • "No amount of marketing and selling can take the place of an easy to adopt product that delivers value quickly." Davd Feinleb
  • "Marketing’s purpose is to develop and shape something that is real, and not, as people sometimes want to believe, to create illusions." Geoffery Moore
  • "There is no such thing as a social media success, if your product sucks then it will suck more on social media." Scott Stratten
A result of this advice is that I refuse to work with any product or service that I think is "a bit rubbish." 

On the other hand branding for a great product can have a real impact. 

I cannot think of the word branding without thinking back to when I was pursuing an athletic career, and how good a job that Nike did on "Branding" me, and I wasn't alone;

Most members of the educated classes were closed to the suggestion that a television commercial, rather than a book or brilliant doctrine, could actually change people’s perception of themselves. 

A “hot” commercial might add a passing nuance or recognizable line but, somehow “Just Do It” managed to evoke countless previously impeded visions of personal possibility. The phrase entered popular discourse.

Thousands felt moved to write letters to or call Nike, and millions of others began to loathe their own lassitude enough to buy a new pair of shoes and hit the road again or visit a gym. A Time magazine story about the baby boom generation would quote a social historian saying that the ethos of the largest American generation could be summed up in 3 words: Just Do It! 

"Just Do It’  has become much more than an ad slogan. It’s an idea. It’s like a frame of mind.” Katz

Who would have thought that such a powerful campaign could come from a company where;

"Advertising was always a touchy subject at Nike because Phil Knight was known to believe that the whole process was phony. Athletes were the real ticket. Real athletes in authentic shoes would draw the public to the goods because of the honesty of the process. 

Bowerman referred to advertising and marketing with the turn-of-the-century term “Salesmanship” – which he uttered contemptuously. In 1986, Nike job applicants were warned that if they ended up being interviewed by Knight, they should omit the words “advertising” and “marketing” from their conversation.

Nike began to place a bit of its advertising business with Dan Weiden in 1980. Knight’s first words to Dan when they met were “I’m Phil Knight, and I hate advertising.” Katz      

Clubs you can't belong to & Schools you can't get into
What happens if, as a student, you've worked hard and belong to a elite club, or you've managed to get into a school that "others can't get into" because its over-subscribed? Do you value the membership more? Do you identify more with the institution?

"People tend to want to be members of clubs that are hard to get into. In one of the founding studies of the field of "cognitive dissonance" performed by Eliot Aronson and Judson Mills, female college students were told that they had to pass a test to become a member of a group.

The females in the severe initiation condition had to read twelve obscene words and two "vivid descriptions of sexual activity" from contemporary novels. The mild initiation condition required the students to read five words related to sex but that were not obscene. In the third condition there was no initiation of any kind.

All participants then heard a discussion in which the group they were going to join had "one of the most worthless and uninteresting discussions imaginable.

Consistent with the idea that difficulty of admission makes membership more desirable, the females who had to go through the "torture" of reading obscenities aloud found the group more desirable and interesting than did either of the other 2 groups" Clifford Nass

Based on this thinking then the stringent application process could have a difference with the results that "good" schools & colleges get? Could the same strategies be used to raise expectations and standards at less prestigious institutions? 

The Social Network Effect
The UK TV premier of "The Social Network" was on this week and it highlighted how Harvard's exclusive & elite the Porcellian Club was, with its invite only policy, followed by an initiation process. We also saw how badly Edwardo Saverin wanted to get in (despite the fact that he was already at Harvard).

We also saw how Facebook's initial roll out strategy was also based on exclusivity to drive demand. To make Facebook cool and differentiate it from MySpace and other competitors, it started out as an exclusive club - only people with Ivy League University e-mail accounts could be members.

The next stage was to focus on individual high schools. The strategy here was to create a buzz at a local level at their target schools, and the marketing machine would not move on to new schools until they had 50% of students signed up, they would then move onto the next set of target schools.

Application Process
Given these examples, its perhaps worth considering any differences in the application process at an "in demand" school and one that is "failing"

Are schools/colleges with a more stringent application helping to create a better culture because their application process makes the place "more desirable and interesting" than others?

A failing school/college may be in a more difficult financial position because of reduced student numbers, but should they consider having the same acceptance criteria but including some additional stages - an additional interview or an extra test - mean that students (and parents) would value their place at the school/college more?

"The more you can say about the rigors of selection and of the number of people who want to be in the group but cannot be, the better." Clifford Nass

Prime Examples of Student Branding?  
When these students arrive at college there are also some psychology based branding and advertising that could help with behavioural issues and exam results. 

John Bargh has carried out some "priming" experiments, this involved 2 groups of undergraduates. 

One group was exposed to words like “aggressively,” “bold,” “rude,” “bother,” “disturb,” “intrude,” and “infringe.” The second group was sprinkled with words like “respect,” “considerate,” “appreciate,” “patiently,” “yield,” “polite,” and “courteous.” 

The students were then instructed to walk down the hall and talk to the person running the experiment in order to get their next assignment. When the student arrived at the office the experimenter was busy, locked in conversation with someone else – a confederate who was standing in the hallway, blocking the doorway to the experimenter’s office. 

Bargh wanted to learn whether the people who were primed with the 
polite words would take longer to interrupt the conversation between the experimenter and the confederate than those primed with the rude words and thought the effect would be slight. 

The people primed to be rude eventually interrupted – on average about 5 minutes. But of the people primed to be polite, the overwhelming majority – 82% didn't interrupt after 10 minutes (which was the cut off point determined by the ethic committee). Who knows how long they would have stood in the hallway, a polite and patient smile on their faces?

In another experiment the psychologists Claude Steele & Joshua Aronson used black college students with tests used for entry into graduate school. When students were asked to identify their race on a pretest questionnaire, that simple act was sufficient to "prime" them with all the negative stereotypes associated with African Americans and academic achievement – and the number of items they got right was cut in half. 

As a society, we place enormous faith in tests because we think that they are a reliable indicator of the test takers ability and knowledge. But are they really? If a white student from a prestigious private school gets a higher SAT score than a black student from an inner-city school, is it because she’s truly a better student, or is it because to be white and to attend a prestigious high school is to be consistently primed with the idea of “smart”?

Aronson & Steele talked to the black students afterward, and asked them “Did anything lower your performance? Did it bug you that I asked you to indicate your race?” Because it had clearly had a huge effect on their performance. And they would always say no and something like “You know, I just don’t think I’m smart enough to be here.”

This is one of the reasons I dislike some of the negative opinions some groups have of FE, if certain groups portray FE negatively what impact might this have on students?

Honour Code
Meanwhile over at the schools you can't get into, Dan Airely ran a different test at MIT. Students were asked to mark their own test scores. One group was asked to sign the following statement on their answer sheet "I understand that this study falls under the MIT honour code"
The "honour code" group reported a lower score than students who marked their own papers to the group that did not read the statement.

The effect of signing the statement was particularly amazing when you consider that MIT doesn't   have an honour code.

Is this an example of how these students are primed to think? Or further evidence of how strongly MIT students identify with the university?

Culture & Collective Identity
Creating a positive culture is a challenge at the best of times, even more so if morale is low... but surely its more crucial than ever in order to turn things around. Clifford Nass highlights that

“workplace similarities within a group are neither clear nor obvious. Therefore you may need to consciously work on team identity by identifying and then highlighting a shared quality. A good example that is that of sport.

In a football stadium, people in the stands are bound by only a single characteristic: the team they root for. Nonetheless, students and alumni feel perfectly comfortable screaming, “we are number one” or “we won” even though they had nothing to do with the teams success: they didn’t play, they didn’t coach, they probably didn’t know the players personally, and their individual contributions to cheering were insignificant.

Despite the obvious divide between fans and players, “we” can all bask in the success of what “we” achieved.

This is something that elite schools & colleges understand and have various formal and informal processes - a rigorous application process, mottos, logos, songs, traditions, clubs.

The attention to establishing a strong shared identity is also something that successful start ups also do... A faviourate with Apple and Google et al is handing out team T-Shirts to celebrate landmark achievements. The similarity is perhaps hardly surprising given that a lot of founders are alumni from these types of institutions.

I wonder how much the concept of a shared identity and affinity differs with the elite schools compared with the average FE college. 

Kipp schools work in areas of low income and send a lot of students to prestigious colleges... and seem to have a similar approach to branding, culture and identity and have a strong shared identity - We'll get your kids to college

Scilicon Valley - A Shared Experience & Identity
In the 1950s William Shockley worked at Bell Labs with a talented team who invented the transistor, a break through that made Shockley a magnet for brilliant scientists. These scientists made their way to Palo Alto, where he had established his company.

However, when they got there these scientists found that Shockley was quite difficult to work with. Some commentators have argued that the shared experience of scientists working with the demanding Shockley helped establish the collaborative nature at Scilicon Valley, which continues to exist today - A rare mix created Silicon Valley.

Could the shared experience of a negative inspection be something that the college uses to re-assess and re-affirm the colleges' identity, brand and culture? To say "OK let's show everyone what a failing college can do! Just Do It!"

Cinderella Image
In April FE Week ran with a story "FE Colleges Urged to Adopt New Flag and Anthem" but it turned out to be an April Fools joke, but could this kind of branding actually play a role in telling young people that;

"There may be clubs and schools that they might be excluded from BUT... with regard to their future there is no glass ceiling! While the road may be long and winding, the roads are always open... and they can and should "Just Do It!" 

I often see comparisons made with prestigious universities and other forms of education and feel that the comparisons made are unfair. FE is different, unique in many ways, but if there is one thing that I can see that lessons could be learnt its with issues of culture and branding.

If you liked this post you may also like "The Man Who Lied to His Laptop" by Stanford's Clifford Nass (Esp the Chapter on Teams) and this "Culture in Education" report

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