Last weekend my son showed me a new app he had downloaded onto his Ipod; a game, where the objective is to name all of the famous logos on the screen. There are various levels where identification becomes increasingly harder as the brands become more and more obscure. I did ok; managing to get to level 4 before I ran into trouble. My son, who is eleven years old, got all the way to level 8, without even pausing for thought; he breezed through the game, reciting strap lines and even humming the occasional jingle as he went. I watched him, open mouthed, as he identified everything from Apple to Santander and Heinz to Porsche. This was a powerful demonstration to me that our children really are the most informed consumer generation ever. They have been immersed by, captured and persuaded by, the most sophisticated branding strategies ever known. When I was eleven, I only knew the brands of the things my parents’ purchased or the products I saw advertised on TV; today it is so different. The game we were playing was free, only because adverts kept popping up at the bottom of the screen, sophisticated little sound-bites that were targeted specifically to my son, based on the tracking cookies in the device.
Whether we like the modern brand culture or not, is almost irrelevant; it’s here and it isn’t going anywhere. It dominates a considerable chunk of our lives; it has actually transformed the way we live. Brands are addictive and the most successful attract extraordinary loyalty; just look at the astonishing interest in the life and death of Steve Jobs.
A number of years ago I became fascinated by the idea of rebranding education and schooling; I wanted to know if we could take the methodology of the advertising expert and use it to give education the same kind of irresistible mystique as say; Nike.
Nike is a great place to start. If you think about it, they very rarely advertise a particular product; a shoe, a shirt a particular tracksuit; they spend most of their marketing budget signing up the world’s best athletes and sports teams to wear the brand; icons like, Rafael Nadal, FC Barcelona, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. Nike learnt from companies like Harley Davidson that advertising wasn’t about specific products, it was about lifestyles and creating auras that people wanted to buy in to; to belong to, to stand for. With Harley, it was all about freedom, rebelliousness and the American way, with Nike it’s all about the mind-set of a champion; fearless, driven, agile; excellent! A philosophy so brilliantly captured both in the famous ‘swoosh’ and their strap line; ‘just do it!’
Steve Jobs was the master of the art; he knew what Apple needed to stand for; design, usability, personalisation and technological beauty and simplicity. He was obsessive; even the parts of an Apple device that people would never see; the inside workings, had to be as beautiful as the visible areas.
What modern super-brands do so effectively, is give the consumer a sense of ownership, of power; the producer/customer experience is interactive, which intelligently allows people to feel that they are stakeholders in the services or products they shop for.
In so many ways, this is so different from the customer experience for our children during their education. There is an element of society that believes that children don’t want to learn, that they are intrinsically lazy, which of course is nonsense; children want to learn, to engage in learning but not as passive consumers and sadly that is what some schools do; they treat children like passive consumers, where education is ‘done’ to them.
The best schools that I have ever visited are brand experts; they are truly interactive, engaging and empowering environments where students are clearly the primary client; they aren’t fourth of fifth on the list behind parents, unions, school boards or Governments; they are first. The school’s ethos isn’t just a series of bland statements displayed on laminated signs outside classrooms and entry points; statements created by the staff, they are lived; organic and owned by the students.
When a marketing agency is working with a company on brand development they always start by asking two questions:
What do you want to stand for in the eyes of your customer?
How do your behaviours reflect this?
I have always thought that these two questions were simple yet incredibly focused tools for monitoring schools, because let’s be honest, how many decisions in schools are made because it’s how the staff like it, or it’s how the parents want it?
If we want to create the ultimate learning environments, we have to create the ultimate super-brands; learning and education are the greatest commodities a civilised society has to offer, problem is we have to get better at selling them to our children, to do that, we have to think like Apple and Nike; empower, interact, co-design and communicate… so come on; “Just do it!”