Sunday, June 21, 2015

The BrandED Difference

When I first dipped my toe into the social media waters in March 2009 I really did not know what to expect. My sole purpose for embarking into this uncharted territory was to improve my professional practice by becoming a better communicator.  This was a natural connection to my work as a high school principal as you will not find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator.  So there I was churning out tweets about everything going on at New Milford High School. Little did I know that my tweeting would lead to a feature story on CBS Channel 2 NYC during November 2009 and in the process catch the eye of business maven Trish Rubin.  It was at this point in time that I was exposed to the concept of branding in education.

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Now when Trish contacted me out of the blue I was really caught off guard. She passionately explained that what I was doing was creating a brand presence for my school as well as me professionally.  At first I wasn’t buying it, but after some more time speaking with Trish and analyzing how I was strategically using social media in my role as a school leader it began to make perfect sense.  On the surface I always thought a brand in a traditional sense was a term specific to the corporate world and revolved around selling.  I later learned that a brand promises value through the evolution of a unique identity that relates to a specific audience or stakeholder group. Value can be defined in many ways. Some brands promise durability, health, style, safety, taste, convenience, or savings. Brands are designed to stand out and ultimately influence the consumer in a fashion that builds trust in the product. Sustaining a sense of trust is an integral component of a brand’s ability to promise value. 

The definition above provided clarity, but it was still missing some integral components in order to make the concepts of branding more applicable to the education world.  Trish recently provided a fantastic synopsis:
"BrandED tenets are about trust, loyalty, promise, and creating better offerings and innovations that distinguish the educational brand experience for every user including kids, parents, teachers and community.  A brand isn't a short-term fix or a fad, but a way to strategically build a school's assets in a transparent digital world. No more Ivory Towers.  BrandED is about a genuine personality that can impact school culture, achievement and resources."
The statement above clearly identifies the importance and power of establishing a positive brand presence in education.  In the field of education, schools are considered a brand. They promise value to residents of the district in terms of academic preparation to succeed in society. Many families will chose to reside in a specific district if the schools have a track record of academic success. Specific variables that are ultimately imbedded into an educational institution’s brand are state test scores, curriculum, teacher/administrator quality, number of AP courses, college acceptances, and extracurricular activities. By establishing a school’s identity or brand, leaders and other stakeholders can develop a strategic awareness of how to continually improve pedagogical and management practices that promise, as well as deliver, a quality education to all students. More detail on this is provided in Chapter 7 of Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times discusses this in detail

As a high school principal, I felt that it was my responsibility to continually develop and enhance my school’s brand through innovation, risk-taking, building of relationships (students, teachers, parents, community stakeholders, institutions of higher education, businesses/corporations, etc.) and a commitment to the community. In my opinion this vision can assist all educators in establishing a brand for their respective schools that not only promises, but also delivers value to residents of the district.

By developing and enhancing one’s school and professional brand we move past a developed perception of our admirable work by providing a necessary reality for all stakeholders to embrace and celebrate.  Thus, a brand in education has nothing to do with selling, but showcasing work of students, staff, and leaders in an effort to become more transparent.  Digital leaders understand the importance of branding in their work and by leaders I mean any and all educators who take action to improve learning opportunities for their students and themselves.  A positive brand presence is developed with consistent attention to the following Pillars of Digital Leadership:

  • Communications – We must begin to meet stakeholders where they are at by employing a multifaceted approach to engage them in two-way communications. Digital and non-digital strategies are used to not only communicate important information, but also become more transparent.
  • Public Relations – If you don’t tell your story, someone else will. When you roll the dice and take this gamble it typically results in a negative story being told.  In education we do not brag enough and as a result we pay the price dearly.  By becoming the storyteller-in-chief you can turn this tide and take control of public relations for good.  There is so much power in stories and we must do a better job of sharing them. 

When it is all said and done, the most important and crucial outcome of a brand presence in education is the building of powerful relationships with all stakeholders in ways that were not possible before social media. The end result will be a greater appreciation for the work you and your students are doing in your district, school, and classroom. Let your amazing work and that of your students turn perception into reality by developing a BrandED mindset.  


  1. Thanks for bringing attention to trust and transparency. Your leadership and influence has been very helpful to me as I begin a principalship next month. I look forward to establishing ways to tell our story via social media.

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  2. Eric,
    Excellent post and a great reminder of what we need to be doing as leaders in 2015. Thank you for inspiring me to be more.


  3. Insightful ideas for promoting your school through social media.

  4. Very insightful Hallo from Nairobi Kenya

  5. Excellent post. Do you know anyone in New England that can talk about this topic at a Leadership conference?

    1. Well if you can't get me up to New England then I would suggest Patrick Larkin from Burlington, MA.