Branding has come up recently in education, largely due to the April publication of a book written by Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin called BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning. I have long been fascinated by brands and branding, perhaps driven by the time I spent working as a librarian at an advertising agency and later at a big pharmaceutical and consumer goods company. I love the idea of bringing branding into schools and building a professional brand. And, I find it makes such logical sense as the director of a library program because our goals so closely align with the purpose of branding: We need to share our library story, communicate our messaging, and build relationships.
What exactly is branding?
We often think of branding as a fabulous logo, a slogan, a clearly definied mission statment, beautiful ads. These are all components that help communicate a brand clearly, but they don't make up the whole concept of branding. I turned to experts to find definitions of this idea and here are a few that I find compelling and easily transferable to the educational environment:
"Branding is the expression of the essential truth or value of an organization, product, or service. It is communication of characteristics, values, and attributes that clarify what this particular brand is and is not." --James Heaton, The Tronvig Group
"Branding is the defined personality of a product, service, company, organization or individual." --Michael Pinto, Very Memorable Design
"Your brand is your promise to the customer." -- Entrepreneur.com
Can you see how a tweak here or there could make these relevant to a school or school library program? Branding is the defined personality of a school, or your school library brand is your promise to your students, staff, and community. How can you apply these definitions to your practice?
Sheninger and Rubin assert that is crucial for administrators to build a personal brand to better situate themselves as "storyteller-in-chief" for their schools. In the same vein, I believe that librarians should build their own personal brands in order to then move towards sharing the story of their library program. What does this look like? I think that establishing a personal brand means building:
However, in this day and age, working solely on your in-person brand is not enough. It is also important to develop:
It's important to consider your own WHY as an educator as you think about your personal brand. Sheninger and Rubin suggest choosing one word that speaks to your personal brand. What one word comes to mind when you consider your work as an educator and a librarian? The authors also encourage the crafting of a mission statement that gets to your WHO and WHY. I think it's key to write a concise mission statement with simple language, free of edu-buzzwords.
I would argue that building a personal brand, separate from your library brand is critical. Many of us work in settings where we are the only librarian. Many of us work in small districts with few colleagues doing the same job. Many of us support multiple buildings. The connections we make with library colleagues in our own districts, our state, and beyond are mission-critical to keeping our libraries current, to staying up-to-date professionally, and to ensuring that our students have access to the best instruction and the best resources available. Clearly defining who we are and what we value, being present and consistent on social media, and activitely participating professionally to grow our learning network--in-person and online--can only make us better at what we do for our students each and every day.
While BrandED is a book largely targeted at school administrators, I loved reading it with an eye to our library program. Ideally, I think, branding in a educational setting would begin at the whole-school level and filter down through the school's programs. Depending on your role in the buidling, it may not be possible to tackle it from the top. However, as a school librarian, you can control your program branding, figure out your promise to students, ensure consistent messaging across in-person and digital platforms, and communicate your impact and successes.
So what's the point? I think that those of us who work as librarians so inherently know and understand the importance of libraries -- we feel it in our souls -- that we often forget that not everyone gets it. We cannot simply ascribe to the Field of Dreams mentality: If you build it, they will come. We have to work hard to share our value and communicate the attributes so that our community gets it too. And while we have been talking about "advocacy" for years in our libraries, branding feels cleaner, more structured, more strategic to me. Advocacy is a part of the branding package; it is not simply a different word for the same thing.
My colleague, Krissy Ronan, and I hosted a #vaslchat (Virginia School Librarians) on Twitter recently on the topic of branding. We asked participants to share five words that describe their library program. I love the ideas this word cloud brings as a jumping-off point to start branding conversations in our libraries. What catches your eye as you think about your own library program? Are we keeping the promises of these words to our stakeholders? What can you do better? How can we better communicate the message that we are collaborative and student-centered? (Or flexible, safe, creative, etc?)
Messaging is an important mechanism to support brand library and build stronger relationships. Messaging includes internal communication (e-mail, reporting, newsletters, etc.) as well as the outside face of your library. What does the physical space look like? Does it promote your branding promise? Does it convey your values? How do people feel when they engage with you and your space? Does your library have an online presence? Consider your WHOLE community. I have heard librarians say "we're not on Facebook because the students aren't there." But what about their parents? And your librarian colleagues? Is your web presence only visible behind the locked doors of your learning management system? Can your students see your information if they are not logged in? Can your families? Can community members or prospective residents? Are you successfully sharing your program beyond the walls of your school, with other librarian and educator colleagues? Does your messaging actively engage all stakeholders?
Work on Brand YOU. I'm having fun figuring out how to develop and evolve my own personal brand and I appreciate having a few first steps to take:
Move towards Brand Library. Things to consider:
Of course you should pick up the book BrandED; I barely touched the surface in this post. It's a fascinating read full of resources to guide you on your branding journey. Also connect with Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin on Twitter. And on their web sites (Eric | Trish). And follow the hashtag #BrandEDU.
A 2016 article from Harvard Business Review called Build Your Brand as a Relationship, is incredibly relevant to the kind of branding we need to focus on in schools: relationships being perhaps the most important component of education today.
When it comes to your own brand, your library brand, your school brand, you are a storyteller. Huffington Post offers 4 Fantastic Examples of Brand Storytelling.
Fnally, I want to leave you with the thought branding isn't one more item to add to your To-Do List. It's a way to bring together all of the different things that you do each and every day. I would love hear YOUR thoughts on branding--let's keep talking!
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