Brand Activation: 4 Ways to Experiential School Brand Marketing

Brand Activations with Trish Rubin and Scott Kerr at Baruch College

Brand Activations with Trish Rubin and Scott Kerr at Baruch College



Typically schools offer community events for holidays like homecoming, or curriculum events like science fairs, and sporting activities like Friday night basketball games. Without a strategy, you miss an opportunity to build school brand “belonging.” into these events that with get people talking. Check your Maslow...belonging is an important need!


Become a BRAND ACTIVATOR  school leader. See school events as a connecting power a Brand glue that creates better culture, one based on true belonging. School events are part of an Experiential Marketing strategy that is used in the business world of brand that we can adapt! The events are untapped gems for conveying school  brand to your tribe.


Overhaul your event calendar to share the new brand image you are building!


1.Secure your School Brand Assets First: Have your Brand messaging ready before you take on Activation thinking: Powerful words, mantras, short mission statements, positioning statements and brand promises as part of every event and woven into the activities consistently. Use these events to create the One Thousand Small touches for building School Brand!



2.Recognize Connecting Brand Power: In schools each school event is isolated from another. Planned in silos these are “one offs” and not connected to a long-term emotional strategy to connect kids, staff, teacher, parents and community to the greater benefits of the whole school. Bundle school events and connect them consistently as “experiences”-- Brand ACTIVATIONS... .communication opportunities that showcase the school BRAND as it is experienced in the environment, events that create consistent messaging  help bring  what marketers call “stickiness”… the engagement of a community over and over again with positive feeling for the school. Create a new attitude !


3.Understand the Need of your Community to Experience: We live in the digital age of experience. What does your community want to gather around ? Find out how your community wants to celebrate and learn how they want to connect to events..Think of your market. Poll, survey or focus group activity can give you a sense of how experience should be offered. Find out what Celebrations of Life are missing from your calendar and build them in along with Prom, plays, and club activities. Remember Maya Angelou… people will remember how you made them feel. Brand Activation is about building emotion and feeling into events that are related to your brand messaging.


4. Lead with the Camera Culture. By 2020 75% of all content on the internet that is shared will be VISUAL. You can build your school brand through visual messages that can be liked and shared. The goal is to have your community feel the belonging so powerfully through Experiential Brand Activations that they share their own visual content creations of their experience with the school brand and use your powerful language, messages and hashtags so the word travels!



 Thanks to marketing icon Seth Godin...I'm taking on a micro-blog state of mind.

I hope to be more present in the blogging universe by using the power of three words that present  small thoughts that could have big value for readers experiencing TIME POVERTY...the Sparks & Honey Agency's word for what we are experiencing in our "always on" digital state .

So here goes....Here's the first three words: AWARENESS. TRUST. REMARKABILITY.

Judith Wilson, my BrandED Bootcamp training colleague has her antenna up. She's got  AWARENESS... That’s a requirement for a new age school leader. As Eric Sheninger  and I say in BrandED "No more ivory tower." Leaders must take in a big view of the world outside their schools. Connections abound! So even attending a social event moved Judy to share a brandED leadership connection when she saw Dr. Ginny Mantello speaking at a recent event.

Dr. Ginny related that at 15 years old in the 1970’s, she lived in Mumbai India and experienced something that changed her life. Her protective mom agreed to let Ginny hike the Himalayas this very young age.  And WHY? Dr. Mantello said it was only because the managing group was the YMCA, a brand she TRUSTED. Flash forward to now. Ginny was a parent at Judy's school when she was principal. 

Dr. Ginny is now a community leader and the Director of Health and Wellness for Borough President Oddo on Staten Island. That YMCA brand  influenced her very protective mother  allowing her to take part in a life changing  event when she was a child. The brand was TRUSTED by her very careful Mom... The brand...YMCA.. is the brand we often celebrate on the dance floor at family occasions,but it  is more than that!

Leaders----Keep you AWARENESS across other industries going and recognize brands who can help you. With your own a clearly developed school brand image and promise your parents can TRUST your school brand  and that makes lasting REMARKABLE results  for kids.

Thanks Judy, for keeping your AWARENESS at top of mind for brand. Keep that antenna up every day for BrandED. It can build TRUST. Become as Seth Godin says...REMARKABLE... as remarkable as Dr Ginny. 

With a clearly developed brand image and brand promise your parents can TRUST your school brand and engaged with your brand in life changing ways for kids. Who knows what REMARKABLE changes a school brand can bring to a child in your charge.


Go Eagles...This is not a Football POST!


One of my favorite quotes, one we used in BrandED, Eric Sheninger and my book, is from Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame…Here ya go---


“In this ever-changing society. The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of human spirit--not an ad campaign.”


In the aftermath of the recent Valentine’s Day school shooting, I turned to this quote.


Although Starbucks’ muscle of brand power is flexing in a highly publicized 30,000 square foot “coffee shop” in Shanghai,this is not the true test of those words.This is a reference to the strength of the human spirit in a deeper way. Since February 14th, I’ve seen an illustration of strength played out for a nation that captures what Shultz  meant about brands being built from the heart. Yes... Brands are built from the heart. And the gut feeling, the emotion they convey is what becomes the glue for a community.


The identity system… the logo and surface features of the high school brand are formed around the  EAGLE in the case of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. That system is typical for high schools. Schools have colors,a mascot, a school song. But what the students in this school have shown us is their true brand, something they are building every day that shows the simple message of shown in hashtags like #neveragain. Much is invisible to the eye, we don’t see the depth of  what these young people  are processing, but their action of this is remarkably apparent.


They demonstrate   belonging, owning  feelings that move to action --and spark a wave of belief as young people communicate their need to thrive without wondering if they will survive any given school day. This looks like a simple heartfelt movement and its emotion defies reason. That’s the essence of brand. Beyond the logo and mascot, this brand is stirring other Gen Z students across other high school campuses. Gen Z, the digital natives are showing us how to grow a heartfelt brand from tragedy.


Shultz refers to a campaign in the quote. A campaign is coming from this on March 24th, make no mistake. What I continue to remark about in the college classrooms I teach in, in the trainings that I do, on the stages I keynote, and finally in a long overdue blogpost is the power of simple messaging. Belonging that creates deep bonds in a community. Belief that grows a legacy and brings change to what was thought to be unchangeable.


Go Eagles...spread those wings.

Cheers for PD: Hold a BrandED Cocktail Party---without the Cocktail!


Since the publication of BrandED I’ve met thousands of educators  as I traveled these past months, speaking and training across the country, helping leaders to develop a strategy for their school brand. It’s joy to teach a brand strategy for educators that is deep, one that goes beyond a school logo and a static mission statement, a brand based on the power of the Storyteller-in-Chief. It’s a heady trip for sure, complete with the buzz of seeing others learn the new world of educational brand that can improve culture, performance and relationships. It’s an engaging thing---sort of  like an educator cocktail party.


I’ve met leaders who thank me and Eric Sheninger for giving them a framework and a guide. I've heard top leaders like Dr. Carmen Farina, Chancellor of Education for the New York City Dept. of Education, make a call to action to develop school brand that communicates and brings relationships to needy schools. Eric Sheninger and I wrote the book on school brand that captures research and strategy. Now with a training model in place, people are on their feet acting as Storyteller-in-Chief of school brand.


I’m struck by the acceptance of the "Business as Unusual” mindset we reference in our book. I think Eric and I touched a chord with people about expanding their professional learning beyond the usual course offerings and credits of typical PD. In one recent BrandED workshop evaluation, a principal thanked us for moving her out of her silo and into learning beyond her usual educator view of what makes schools better. We are in a hyper-linked world that allows us access to thought in all industries that can help us understand brand. It is a DIY world as we say in the book.


Recently I heard a savvy start up CEO say,” The future doesn’t care about where you get your experience, be bold enough to create your own unique learning in our new world and share it.”  As a Baruch College instructor teaching  Marketing and Brand, I own two advanced degrees, neither in Marketing and Brand, I’ve proven that bold point. “Business as Unusual” is the hallmark of today’s  PD for school improvement in a digital age of brand.


How do we support the ED leadership mindset to become a Storyteller-in-Chief rather than a CEO of Brand? One way we do it following the publication of BrandED is on our feet with our colleagues as we show them BrandED strategy, once the sole staple of business. And at one point of the training we go for “Business as Unusual" thinking. We offer our audiences a BrandED cocktail party... a cocktail party without the cocktail! A healthy educational buzz  results and our evaluations show elevated consciousness for learning more about brand.


It came to me when reviewing the TIPS for Chapter One (Pg. 58 of BrandED) for a recent session. We write that if you synthesize what makes brand important in schools and you write it on the back of an envelope or a napkin, you learn the value of “less is more” as you go forward to promote brand. You can capture your brand soundbite as you adapt business brand idea to school brand,  you can gather your brand bystanders and win over brand ambassadors. ( We give our energized participants a ten slide presentation "party favor" to help them make their first public BrandED connection after the cocktail party.)


Thanks to my ELI training colleagues, both former principals, Judith Wilson and Steve Cucchia, we bring the idea of a cocktail party to the day. We help leaders make connections to some deep thinking through synthesis by writing their pitch for using school brand. We get them talking about some deep structures like Pressures Schools Face, Biz Brand vs. BrandED, Considerations for Becoming BrandED, Assets of the BrandED Collaborative, and a favorite of many in the session (Figure 8.1 Page 237 in BrandED, Business Brand Model vs. Brand Leadership Model).



The conversations around brand heat up in this lively professional development session as we launch a cocktail party without the cocktails and share the buzz of building a school brand strategy using these touch points of brand strategy with educators who have identified their pitch for a unique personal professional brand. We prepare them for the party by working to develop a one word description of their own brand power that will introduce their new "Brand YOU" attitude and inspire their new role as Storyteller-in-Chief. In our BrandED Cocktail Party without the Cocktail”, our participants grab a name tag, write their one word brand identifier. My name tag reads “SPARK”, Judy’s is “MORE” Steve’s is “BEYOND". With BrandED book in hand, open to one section of the book that resonates with them, participants do a stand up cocktail style meeting, without the cocktail, but with plenty of interest in talking about the new ideas they see in BrandED. The room is alive with BrandED conversation and energy.



Holding a” BrandED Cocktail Party without a Cocktail” could be the first step toward a deeper BrandED book club for leaders. Think about developing your understanding of what brand is in the pages of BrandED. Grab your copy, find yourself a one word brand identifier as a leader and share the ideas in BrandED with your team, grade level, school or district. Schedule a BrandED Cocktail party without the Cocktail. Start talking “Business as Unusual” and get on the road to building school brand in the New Year.


Cheers to your new school brand direction!


The Power Shift in School Communication: Make the Right Choice for IMAGE, PROMISE, RESULT


It's a time of rapid change for leaders of the communication in our 21st century schools.  Eric Sheninger, my partner in BrandED, and I use the term of Storyteller-in-Chief, in our book to give structure to the actions school leaders can use to control the narrative of their schools. I'm calling out all school leader storytellers! This is an internal and external leadership job that reaches to the future. We can no longer rely on one way channels of static reporting to our communities.

Our communication with the external world begins with self-discovery within our own internal school organizations. Communicating with our public is a now shared job, but school leaders are the models of how that school communication is lived each day.  We are the Storytellers-in-Chief, but our employees in the school must know the school's consistent story, one that captures our identity to create consistent communication with stakeholders. We need to advise our internal community about the stakeholders who engage with us. How do they perceive us in our communication? Are we trusted in our communication ability as we collectively tell our school story?  The most connected leaders exhibit that understanding as they lead their internal organizations, helping them tell the story of the school. They recognize that the balance of power in communication in their communities has shifted, just as it has in the business world. Our audience wants more communication value from us. This audience, call them stakeholders, consumers, customers are shifting the balance of power each day, communicating through the mobile, tablets, laptops they access during their day. They want that exchange with their schools and that  means a change from status quo communication to "business as unusual" for communicating the school's image, promise, and result which are the foundation of the school brand.

School Communication Thrives on Clear IMAGE, PROMISE ,RESULT

We can learn from every brand in business who knows that what they once confidently offered to their audiences in one way selling campaigns is "shouting" at us in traditional ways of billboards, newspaper ads and TV spots is a waste of time and money. Business communicators recognize their audiences are accessing content about their favorite brands and about their stories-- whenever they choose. Those consumers are sending kids to our schools and they want the same "feel" of communication from the school experience that they get in other important digital channels in their lives.

School leaders now have to control their school'sbrand Image. No longer can the one way message carry the communication for success with a consumer. Schools need a clear brand Promise. They are awakening to the role of digital and social in keeping a community informed and unified and engaged in the good work they do. Making a s promise as a business brand does, making a solid claim to the benefit the school brings is necessary. Schools need to show brand Result. They need new ways of creating and measuring their promise so those who engage see the positive result of the relationships that communication brings. Businesses have learned to become hyper-aware of what they are communicating against the demand of  their audience's 24/7 expectation to be satisfied. Schools are seeing that shift as well. Stakeholders want to be seen as important and  want have the power to communicate in an exchange with their school community. on a day to day basis. Fear not. It can build unity and community that shifts a school's culture, performance and resourcing. School leaders are experiencing the same shift of power in their communities that has created the evolution of brand in business. Why? Because today a school is a brand. Recognize the communication power of that unifying presence!

The common thread for opening a conversation among business leaders and schools for creating excellence in education is BRAND. A clear and connecting brand is carried through every channel of communication, analog and digital. Business and school leaders can agree that their communication value is PRIMARY to their success in today's world. Messaging highs and lows are a click away in communication today. In business and in education in this accelerated world, I point to the common bond of IMAGE, PROMISE, and RESULT.  This can unite an effort in communication on a large scale about educating the next generation. 

Image, Promise and Result can be the foundation of communicating Brand. Moreover, it opens the door to connecting business and schools in conversations about the future of those we are educating for another new world of communication that lies ahead.