#school leadership #educational leadership

A Thousand Small Touches: Leading from Brand to the User Experience


 A school leader today needs to have a heartfelt talk with a business leader any day of the week. Why? They have so much in common. In a transparent digital world, their respective leadership missions now must include a new, essential ability to CREATE and DELIVER communication messages in an engaged way with their respective public audiences so a two-way positive communication loop forms... a never ending story of connection. It's true in business and it's true in school leadership. So welcome to a leadership world that is flattened, making the learning opportunities for schools and business communication endless. 

Here's a few simple, effective ways that I've seen business design the experience of a branded service or product to make people fall in love, in loyalty or just in line with messaging that is authentic. It's what I teach to marketing majors and what I bring to the organizations I serve... that includes schools. There are smart " edge dwelling" school leaders who are already reaping the benefit of brandED leadership and understanding how "User Experience" or "UX" is growing their school brand value.

Three Simple Steps into User Experience for School Leaders...


Leaders in school need to open conversations with their colleagues, the leaders across professions. Once your personal professional brand is set, you can test it immediately. Time to learn from others who are like you and unlike you. You can fashion a "User Experience" mindset to promote your organizations by connecting outside the schoolhouse. How to find relationships? Analogue still offers brand savvy leaders the real time opportunities of face to face or phone to phone conversations. Schedule at least two daily for 10 minutes with people you want to know better. Introduce your brand journey to them. At the start of the school year, leaders can consciously use their personal circle , family, association ties, neighborhood connections, health club networks, mom and pop store connections, and places of worship to promote the story of building a personal brand in service to creating a school brand. Ask: "Who do you know that might help me help my school ?" In a digital complement, leaders need to open a LinkedIN profile. It's a sorely missed channel to finding resources to building connections for a school leader. Most educators haven't seen the value in the connection, but in these leadership times your circle must be an ever expanding network of possible digital connections and a platform with so much to offer in communication like LinkedIn can not be missed. Open up a Linked IN profile and in DIY style get coached from the resource of video and articles to create your relational profile. One day you may even set up a blog on that profile to attract more network and relational power. For now, just get on the platform and show up.


Tell your ownstory of brand building as a bridge to creating a school "User Experience" mindset that is part of our digital age. Talk to your internal organization of teachers and staff about the power of having a brand that engages loyalty, that creates well-being. It's a step into social psychology that is discussed in BrandED. We know from brain research that emotions make connection. Look out at your early gatherings at your school meetings and advocate for creating a clear brand that connects to the experience of being part of the school community. The design of the school physical spaces, the website, the connection to kids and parents can eventually be linked to the brand your school builds. The experiences the community has with building the brand become the first script for stories. The user experiences of all those who come in contact with the services, products and benefits of the school brand are the stories that define. Be an edge dweller in those early meetings. Enlisting the internal community in co-creating the brand, find those who want to describe their own user experience as teachers, staff members, andadministrators. They can tell the positive stories that create emotion and connection that links to well being--a positive user experience.  Starting with the internal organization that is empowered by brand, the internal community can demonstrate how their "stakeholder facing" positive brand voice reaches to the community and forms loyal connections. As an aside, bringing some hot baked goods into those meetings can help...marketers know that the sense of smell is a powerful connector to positive experience!


When Michael Eisner talked about brand, years ago he said it best for today's digital user experience... " A brand is a living entity and is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures. School leaders have the responsibility to build internal awareness among their staff touse their digital and analogue savvy to offer a "User Experience" to stakeholders that is based on touch points that happen everyday in schools-- touch points that are shared with pride through many channels.  It's now a competitive world of choice in education. Your school's unique brand value is experienced by users who can help you spread the story of your school and keep your community vibrant, intact and loyal. If leaders think of the number of students, staff, and parents they can enlist through celebrating the user experience in small gestures through digital and real time, the thousand threshold isn't a reach! You don't have to wait for a Friday night football game, a big dance, or a science fair to create a memorable user experience that can be a product that illustrates a strong school brand. The community can promote through their own experiences using their own channels, which is how they behave when they loyaly engage with a favorite product or service.

Co-create the "User Experience" and your community will spread the word of your school brand!




Get Busy this Winter! Lead a BrandED Team on the Fresh Snow of Innovation in 2017


Looking at the calendar in NYC, I’m thinking snow. Actually we  had our first snowfall here this past Saturday. As we welcome winter tomorrow I see this image of fresh snow as a metaphor for a BrandED Storyteller-in-Chief. For those of you, like my co-author in BrandED,Eric Sheninger, who won't experience the chill of an east coast winter, you can still use your imagination to see the future of innovation using brandED thinking !

We welcome WINTER, but have our Wyllie Jossey Bass publication date in sight for SPRING: April 2017. The landscape of a new snow is a natural metaphor where creative untapped ideas, like a BrandED mindset for school improvement, await innovation. In that field, ripe for change,  see the faint outline outline of the those who led the way, those who influenced your own innovative thinking that brought you to the field.  The thought leader’s prints of the new insight are part of the great wide open possibility that lays before you--follow us. It's our invite to innovate. The field in 2017 is awaiting your tracks and, more importantly, the tracks of your school collaborators and early adopters who can support your interest in developing a school-wide brandED presence. If you take on a BrandED professional development mindset, you won’t be alone for long as you venture onto that field. Building with BrandED is contagious.

Eric Sheninger and I had our footprints in the snow back in 2009 for developing school brand. It was  disruptive thinking about using a business tenet of BRAND that was influencing our professional lives in connecting ways. It was fired by that little blue bird of Twitter. 

As early adopters on Twitter, Eric and I made connections on the “fresh snow” of the digital field and created a mindset about brand. Since then, the world has rapidly changed as digital and social reach grew. We have developed our first 30 pages of 2009 thought into a professional leadership book with the help of a valuable academic publisher. And our field of digital snow is now Amazon! As we bring BrandED to the educator community, I know  BrandED will be an unifying innovation.

Don't wait for SPRING! Look around this winter, school leaders. Start talking about brand and gather  like-minded team members  who are probably standing with their snowshoes strapped on tightly ready to take on the BrandED challenge. You can lead a capable diverse team in a Distributed Education model to craft and deliver a school brand. But start the conversation now. Find early adopters who will see your own "Storyteller in Chief " footprint on the snow-covered field of school innovation. Enlist a diverse group to talk about brand and then partner in an effort that improves their school. In the spirit of collaborative Design Thinking, your team can join you at the edge of the snow covered field of a BrandED innovation as a diverse collective. They will be a powerful, multi-generational stakeholder force, owning a range of human capital skills and social capital skills that rival a Madison Ave creative social media brand team-- they can power the communication change that is BrandED.

Thanks to the support of Twitter followers and testimonials, my own position on the field feels exciting. I’m feeling the connected presence of awesome educators who are out there on the edge of their own BrandED Thinking, and they are ready to learn new strategies to define their work and strategically build their school's positive perception in the community. A BrandED leader builds a collaborative team using the role of Storyteller-in-Chief and purposefully guides them to brand building as their capable steward. Make yourself known on the field of innovation now as you welcome winter-- use BrandED as your guide and create your own unique footprint in education.  

The "Death of the Expert" in the Transition to a New Administration

As the Cabinet appointees  file in and out of the Trump Tower a few city blocks and mega-worlds away from my west side neighborhood, one thing has become apparent. The HELP WANTED sign drew lots of comers with no experience for the jobs that they were appointed to in this transition.

While sitting in the culture briefing at @Sparks&Honey last week, I was reminded of an element of culture they have been monitoring, identified by the agency, as "The Death of the Expert". It's a trend that is running throughout the channels of political conversations and into business as well about the value beyond someone's opinion. As if just saying so makes it true. A dismissal of fact. And a quick run down of those tapped in the new administration reveals a  pattern: a lack of experience in the group for the agencies they will manage, and despite the transition team line that the deputy, the second in command that each boss will hire, will actually guide the ship, I'm getting the sense that knowledge on the part of a leader isn't important.  The case is obvious in the Secretary of Education choice. So the Death of the Expert is with us. That's of concern for school leaders. Just think of the rumblings that come from the online communities where people value "expert advice" or opinions from random strangers rather than trusted experts. That type exchange may paint a school in a misleading or irrelevant way. Not good for brand.

As I work toward breaking new ground along with my co-author, Eric Sheninger with a book called BrandED, which is now in a pre-sale on Amazon , I'm hoping that there is still value in a view that is expert , a view that is informed by research and best practices. And truly, I know that there are many like-minded people who are thinking about and acting on using brand tenets as a tool for their school improvement.  We have expert voices of leaders in our book to validate this school effort. We are building an expert community of BrandED educators. I welcome you and your expertise into the conversation about defining yourself as a professional and defining your school as relevant. We will use our expert educator voices to share the adapted lessons from successful brands to can get us connected, engaged and listening to all stakeholders as we create the  future of education. 

Let's prove the rumors about the death of fact are over hyped . Educators can take on the trend of "Death of the Expert" with every best practice tool we have...the tools we have educated ourselves in and practiced with energy in our communities.

A 2017 Ed Leader Signal: School Brand is Essential in our Post Election New Year




I’m getting front of my Marketing Strategies class ready to deliver my favorite lecture about Brand, Chapter 7 of our Strategies book, when a quick paging through the Wall Street Journal stops me in my tracks. I see the headline:  Trump’s Win Has Ad Agencies Rethink How They Collect Data, Recruit staff



I change the topic of my lecture on the spot. It’s not simply Brand….RETHINKING Brand is the topic for today


So we’ve all been touched by this need for “rethinking” since Nov 8. On a personal level, it’s changed the way we viewed each other. Rethinking . The way we size up our friends, colleagues, and even total strangers in casual ways. “I wonder what they believed on Nov 8? I wonder what brand message appealed to them? Were they part of the segments of the population that were “missed” by the WSJ reports glib advertisers and big data takers who are now Rethinking? “ All this money, all this sophisticated collection of information. And in the end the experts take the wrong temperature.  It may be the figurative death of the experts. There’ a deeper level for educators around the idea of Rethinking. Most educators haven’t even thought about "Brand" .


In class we talked about it. Rethinking.



My students come from all over the world. They are marketing business students. They learn lessons from experts in their text and the practitioners in the real world of brand every week in my class. I’m someone who loves the brand conversation. Now. Rethinking. We talked about how the missteps of the world of advertising, marketing and brand cited in the  article and what it means.  They continue to watch the developments of the transition to a new administration. And I wait until the next class to talk to them about the new lessons learned lessons.

But I'm thinking brand in education. Rethinking? 

 I see the next months will be about rethinking of brand. This  will be top of mind in the business sense. As the article suggests, advertisers will need to be more in touch with the world outside the bubbles they have relied upon to take the temperature for buying anything from a political message to laundry soap.


What about educational leaders? It has to start with YOU. Your brand thinking. Bring it to your awareness.


I see signals that impact the topic of Brand in education. Once thought only as a vehicle for sales and profits, brand is a vehicle for communicating beyond the purchase of a product. If these last months have taught something, it is a clear, defined targeted, powerful single-minded message creates an IMAGE. The targeted placement of that message is full of connecting PROMISE and the RESULT of the messaging is linked to the far-reaching channels for relationships that can be sparked and shared and formed to reach a shared brand goal.

In education as the conversation turns to the topics of choice and regulation in a new administration, leaders must understand what role Brand plays in these discussions.

Think brand. Rethink brand.

There has never been a  more necessary time to work on a personal professional leadership brand and an institutional brand than in this post-election season. Understanding of the communication value of Brand is critical to the development of the difference your school brings. It may become increasingly necessary to know how to tell a story of your school’s brand value, and essential to its well-being.  In the light of choice, parents look for IMAGE, PROMISE and RESULT. They check out your website more critically, they seek out online comments about your school. They engage. Rethinking of Brand must be a priority for educational leaders, more so than it was just  a few short months ago. Brand isn’t just for selling. It is for telling. Knowing how to communicate and engage around a unique school brand is now part of Rethinking your Leadership. 

Edge Dwelling in Digital and Real Time for Innovative Leadership...Say YES

Trying to be  sense makers in a complex and rapidly changing world of leadership requires that we keep our eyes on the communication-mashup of Tom Friedman, and be open to knowledge sharing with every community. In that spirit, I attended a session by the Social Science Research Council and was introduced to thinking from a former Navy Seal, a successful, award winning  game developer, and a futuristic digital agency owner. The title of the session captured my attention : EDGE TOOLS in the DIGITAL AGE.

Through the short presentations of @colemanruiz @elanlee, @terryyoung I was introduced to the notion of "Edge-dwelling" and there are several definitions out there to collect an understanding from, mine being the social fabric of innovation. I like change and have always been interested in new possibilities. Not as as experience junkie, but as a learner seeking a way to help myself and others grow. In the sessions, the term edge dweller, someone who observes, sees big patterns and even small shifts in the horizon, captured my thinking. In the session, the speakers described the digital tools they employ to study trends, mega-treds, macro-trends, micro-trends.

The trends help us to map culture both digital and realtime. One speaker talked about the "digital truth" that can be gleaned from this edge dwelling perspective when digital tools are engaged. As I don't operate at the digital sophistication of the speakers, my edge-dwellling is more of the real time sort enhanced by social media. Being face to face with people who are engaged in study and practice across many industries is enriching to me and helps me to live as an edge-dweller in my thinking and find other edge-dwellers and connected learners. I recently heard a webcast by @tomwhitby that featured a discussion about trends and change....how to define the difference? When does a trend create real change? 

I suspect that when a trend becomes disruptive and that which is disrupted is gone, then change results. Ask Kodak about that-- Oh, they really aren't here anymore...they didn't see  trends and they were disrupted. As an edge dweller and a co-author with a digital edge-dweller @EricSheninger, I am eager to observe trends that can possibly disrupt and innovate practice across education and business.

I'm looking for other edge dwellers cross industry as I engage in the community of education, higher ed, global learning and marketing. It's a real mash-up and innovation is being driven by that sharing by edge-dwellers and their tools.

In the spirit of one of my favorite albums from the 70's @Yes's  "Close to the Edge" see you out there in the world of trends that become real change.