Don’t Be a Commodity

Posted on April 14, 2016
 Recently, I saw a video discussing the power of collaborative branding efforts in education. The host of the video discussed his work helping Ocean Spray collaboratively market cranberries on a national level, thus increasing the demand for the product and consequently doubling revenues. Other collaborative branding efforts, like the Got Milk campaign that ran for over 25 years, have been hugely successful as well.
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Hans Mundahl shed light into how too many of our independent schools share the same perceived value. Yes, most independent schools share similar goals, have similar value propositions, and deliver that value in a similar way. But are we commodities?

Many independent schools unfortunately offer a commodity product. Their education is better than an alternative (public school perhaps), but no different from other independent schools. And this is where independent schools (not just school marketers, but school administrators as well) are missing the mark.

Collaborative branding efforts will work well for these schools, just as they will for cranberries, cotton, or soybeans. They will increase national (and global) awareness of the benefits of the product. They will potentially increase demand slightly (add more students to the independent school admission pool who were not there before). And maybe this is enough for some schools, but will it benefit the industry in the long-run or will it promote a complacency among schools that will lead to long-run challenges for the industry as a whole.

An independent school education is without a doubt one of the largest investments a family will make (often on par with the investment in a college education), but families do not want to invest in a commodity. Instead, they want to invest in a unique experience that is going to transform their child’s life unlike anything else worth upwards of $200,000. This is where independent schools must refuse to be lumped together as a commodity, and instead be bold in identifying who they are and why they exist.  

When an independent school observes the evolution of the marketplace and potential challenges around enrollment with fear and seeks collaborative branding support, it willingly erodes its own brand. Instead, you must have the confidence to further distinguish yourself as YOU. It may be scary in the short-run, but as you refine what truly makes you different, you will enter a position of strength that will serve you well in the long-run. Don’t allow yourself to be marketed as a commodity, because that is exactly what you will become. 

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