Not Evil: Why Branding Matters in Education

By Deborah Mersino

In my last post, we covered two common myths about branding in education. Today, I’d like to discuss the third:

  • Branding is for big corporations, not universities, schools, foundations nor educational nonprofits.

I understand why a good chunk of leaders think this. To some (not all), branding and marketing communications are big business practices having nothing to do with pedagogy and real-time pressures facing nonprofit execs, educators, university leaders, and policy makers (e.g., Common Core, infrastructure, tenure, funding challenges). Given the current rise and misuse of other business practices within our education systems today, it makes sense why leaders would be wary. Shoving business terms, principles, and constructs onto education feels like an evil intrusion. Take teacher evaluations on standardized tests; you get the picture.

Time to shift

I want to help you shift, though, and discover a new way of thinking about branding that’s authentic, strategic, and ultimately critical to bottom-line revenues, enrollment, student retention, member and donor relations, and target market engagement.

Whether you run a private school in California, a foundation benefiting special education in Maine, an association promoting STEM in the U.S., or are in charge of university communications for a engineering department at a large state school in Arizona, you have a brand – whether you realize it or not.

“A brand is perception in the minds of target audiences.”

If you don’t define your brand, your audiences will do it for you. With the rise of digital communications, this reality has never been more poignant.

Contrary to popular belief, branding is not about deception…putting a shiny bow or wrapper on something to make it more salable or appealing to target audiences. It’s about what makes your school, nonprofit, foundation, small business or university program tick.

What are the dangers of not embracing branding?

Branding is what separates you from your competition (another “dangerous” term to some in education circles) and helps define your vision and mission. All strategic planning for schools, foundations and educational nonprofits should align with brand positioning.

To be successful, it’s vital to focus on, define, and have your brand positioning guide all that you do. What happens when you don’t?

Common side effects and symptoms of brand confusion

  • Decreased revenue: attributable to lower enrollment, slow or plummeting product or service sales, stagnant or decreasing conference attendance or memberships, fewer donations, and higher staff turnover
  • Silos: caused by internal misalignment with an overarching vision and departments operating independently (some going rogue)
  • Board/leadership tensions: due to assumptions, but also often exacerbated by misunderstood governance models and rotating leadership
  • Time woes: dealing with squeaky wheels not aligned with greater purpose or positioning; continuation of outdated programs and services
  • Lukewarm mission impact: primarily caused by opportunity costs, missed ideation tied to brand positioning, and the continuing battle of competing priorities

Think branding still belongs in business only? Stay tuned for more on why branding matters in education. And thank you to everyone who showed such enthusiastic support for yesterday’s launch. What a privilege it is to serve you!


3 Common Myths about Branding

By Deborah Mersino

First off, welcome! If you’re a long-time Ingeniosus fan, it’s good to have you back. If this is your first foray to my site, I hope you’ll visit often to find regular education and inspiration.

I’m going to kick us off with a post about branding, a term that is often misunderstood.  As someone who has been around the block enough to witness the comings and goings of trends, I can emphatically say understanding and applying best branding principles is as crucial to educational organizational success as hiring the right leaders.

While some CEOs, executive directors, board members, and leadership teams have marketing savvy and branding experience, not all fully comprehend what branding means and/or how it can transform an organization committed to education when employed effectively. Here are three common myths I’ve encountered over the past 17 years. See if you relate:

  1. Logos and taglines = branding
  2. Branding = big bucks.
  3. Branding is for big corporations, not small business, universities, schools, foundations nor educational nonprofits.

In this post, we’ll tackle the first two myths.

Logos and taglines = branding

Bring up the term “branding” and you may encounter, “Yes, it’s time to update our logo, our tagline and/or website.” Thinking branding equals brand properties (look/feel and graphic standards) is the most prevalent and persistent myth still at play today. Brand development and management involves much more than a logo and tagline.

When established and executed properly, a solid brand positioning can — and should — influence organizational structures, budgeting and fiscal allocations, staffing, research, product and service development offerings, and all aspects of internal and external marketing communications. It’s essential (I can’t emphasize this enough) to strategic planning and organizational success.

Branding = big bucks

Achieving a solid brand position involves research, reflection, collaboration, and expertise. If a nonprofit, foundation, university, company or school is struggling with target audience penetration, recruitment, product or service sales, internal and external relations, and/or finances, leaders often attempt to tackle those problems head on without stepping back to look at the bigger picture of positioning. A lack of a clearly defined brand, though, is one of the biggest contributors to financial woes and decreased mission impact.

Particularly in the fast-moving world of education and the digital world we inhabit, leaders would be wise to prioritize branding in the upcoming fiscal year. The good news? It can be done without a chief marketing officer, spending a quarter million dollars or sitting and fidgeting through dozens of meetings. It’s not rocket science, but it does takes an objective guide, an open mind, and a commitment to growth.

Stay tuned for more on branding myths. And thanks again for visiting!


Primed to Serve Leaders in Education

By Deborah Mersino

Education shapes our collective futures; yet, it’s also a lightening rod in this country and beyond. Not only does the United States have hundreds of nonprofits devoted to education, but also countless foundations, big and small businesses, and an entire blogging sphere and social media communities filled with impassioned educators committed to education.

Add in public and private universities, K-12 schools, and public policy makers, and it’s easy to recognize the magnitude of forces at work. Opinions are strong and diverse. Missions are laudable and intriguing, yet not necessarily in alignment. The one commonality? A commitment to students.

As founder and president of Ingeniosus, a management consulting practice specializing in education, I work solely with leaders at nonprofits, foundations, companies, universities, and schools who are forward-thinking and self-reflective.

I support these leaders, leadership teams and boards to grow their influence and impact by strengthening organizational strategies pertinent to branding, marketing communications, blogging, and conference/event programming and outreach. I also provide onsite and virtual presentations and keynotes to audiences on a variety of timely topics pertinent to branding, education, leaderships, and nonprofits.

I thrive on serving leaders who are looking to make big shifts to benefit learners powerfully. Are you primed to make your next fiscal year remarkable? Contact me.


New Beginnings and Heaps of Gratitude

By Deborah Mersino

{Taking a deep breath….slowly exhaling…} Earlier this week, I accepted an offer to become the new Senior Director of Marketing and Communications for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in Eugene, Oregon. It’s a role of a lifetime for me. Of course, saying good-bye to Ingeniosus and #gtchat makes me tear up…talk about overexcitabilities in overdrive {Shaking my head as I pay homage to Dabrowski}.

Please know I am already working with my Global #gtchat Sponsors to pass the baton, and am truly hopeful #gtchat will continue on without me. Global #gtchat really belongs to all of YOU, who have helped make it what it is today. Your verve, generosity, dedication, creativity, authenticity, and collaborative energy have propelled it forward every chat, every week, every month, and every year.

This has all happened quite suddenly; so, it’s a bit of a whirlwind in the Mersino household right now. We are driving out to Eugene, Oregon this Wednesday with the girls to find a rental home and look at schools. It’s hard to comprehend us moving in about a week and a half {Another deep breath in…exhaling…}!

As such, it may take a bit to flesh out the details of #gtchat amid travel, packing, and general moving chaos. Therefore, I especially appreciate your patience, as I look to lay the groundwork for continued global chats to benefit gifted learners and those who serve them. I will make an announcement about #gtchat just as soon as possible.

Collaborating with all of you these past three years has been such a privilege. I will never look at Fridays the same way again. You have enriched my life, my learning, my understanding, and my appreciation for global connections. With every blog post, response, update, retweet, reply, direct message, and fast-moving chat, you have ignited the power of digital communications for good and given me hope for the future of gifted learners throughout the world.

My passion for gifted education will not lie dormant! As many of you know, though, I am also passionate about 21st Century Learning and am utterly impressed with what ISTE has done and is doing internationally. I have had the good fortune of meeting with the Senior Leadership Council, which I will be joining, and the Marketing and Communications Division team members. The caliber of talent and drive at this organization is beyond inspiring. I feel quite fortunate!

Many of you have sent me kind wishes, notes, emails, and posts recently. My heart overfloweth with gratitude. As I travel down this new road, I will carry all of your goodness with me. {Packing it internally}. This will give me courage and conviction to step into the future.

Thank you all for being such an integral part of my life. Here’s to continuing advocacy, social responsibility, and collaboration ripe with ideation, compassion, and strategic vision to impart all that is good for learners everywhere {Smiling as I think of the continued influence you will all have…}.

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” – Steve Jobs


And the 2011 Global #gtchat Award Winners Are…

By Deborah Mersino

I’m pleased to announce the recipients of the First Annual Global #gtchat Awards! We celebrated the contributions of these linchpins during our final #gtchat of 2011 at noon (EST) today. Please join me in congratulating our winners and thanking these collaborators for their hard work throughout the year! Without further ado, here are your champions {cue applause}:

  • Global #gtchat Award for Most Devoted Participant: Jo Freitag, @jofrei, who gets up at 3/4:00 a.m. in Australia every week to participate in our noon (EST) chat!
  • Global #gtchat Award for Gifted News Postings: Lisa Conrad, @ljconrad, who is the gifted education news maven. She never fails to post timely, relevant links from around the world!
  • Global #gtchat Award for Passion: Krissy Venosdale, @KTVee, whose infectious energy blankets her blog posts & tweets. She’s a space-loving, White House-visiting tweep who puts students first!
  • Global #gtchat Award for Vision: Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented, @TXGifted, who put Social Networking on the big stage at its Gifted 3.0 Conference and offered free Wi-Fi to all attendees.
  • Global #gtchat Award for International Impact: Tim Dracup, @GiftedPhoenix, who provides us with in-depth profiles of global gifted education centers & policy information regularly.
  • Global #gtchat Award for Levity in Life: Jen Torbeck Merrill, @laughingatchaos, whose authentic, brilliant, no-holds-barred look at life w/2E kids gives us hope.
  • Global #gtchat Award for Technical Prowess: Brian Housand, @brianhousand, who has been leading the way for 21st Century Learning & Gifted Education!
  • Global #gtchat Award for Best Blog: Ian Byrd, @ByrdseedGifted, whose humble, yet potent leadership has created a firestorm of support for gifted learners.
  • Global #gtchat Award for Homeschooling Leadership: Corin Barsily Goodwin, @GiftedHF, who has given homeschooling parents inspiration & resources galore.

And, last, but certainly not least…

  • Global #gtchat Award for Lifetime Inspiration & Impact: Carolyn K., @HoagiesGifted, who has paved the way for us all to collaborate. She’s the mother of connection! Her contributions for the past 13/14 years have provided the foundation for connectivity and hope. I admire her greatly!

Choosing was particularly difficult in several categories; however, I hope to honor additional worthy individuals in the years ahead! Congratulations again to this year’s winners. Thank you also to our Global #gtchat Sponsors, including @GattonAcademy, @GiftedDevCenter, and @TXGifted, and all the participants who have helped make #gtchat what it is today. Whether you are new to #gtchat or have been around since the first chat in January 2010, you matter!

Here’s to a powerful and impactful 2012!