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Is Loyalty Something We Should Care About?

Today's guest blog is written by Steve Constantino, Ed.D, Superintendent of Williamsburg-James City County School District (Virginia) and Family Engagement expert.

 Recently, I found myself in a meeting listening to a State Department of Education official discuss technology. Within minutes, I began drifting from the presentation, perhaps indicative of all presentations delivered by State officials, or the topic, or both. Suddenly, the following statement snapped me back into reality.

"I'm sorry. I hate this PC. I'm a Mac person," the presenter said as the screen froze. It was unclear whether the PC was malfunctioning or the presenter's discomfort with the PC was the root of the problem. Quickly, my thoughts drifted to the topic of brand loyalty. 

Like the presenter, I am a Mac person. In case you are interested, I'm a Pepsi person (versus Coke), a Lowes person (versus Home Depot) and a FedEx person (versus UPS). My favorite coffee is French Market Roast, which I order on-line.  I seek out a specific brand of shaving cream and I only use one particular razor. I can be finicky about the restaurants I frequent and am extremely loyal to particular brands of clothing.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how important brand loyalty is to me. I bet you can start to list those products and services that you prefer. Think about it: why do you buy what you buy, shop where you shop and dine where you dine?

Brand loyalty occurs when a consumer will repeatedly purchase the same product instead of competing substitute products and is often based upon the consumer perception that a product is superior to other products. Businesses and industry spend billions of marketing dollars cultivating brand loyalty. When they are successful at it, it reduces their marketing expenses, opens the door to premium pricing and ignites customer referrals and testimonials.  Recently, Apple introduced the iPhone 6 and sold 10 million of them in three days. I even read a story of a man who was willing to trade his house for one!

Branding Our Schools?

This all got me thinking. As educators, is brand loyalty something we should consider? Do we think we have brand loyalty? Considering the number of customers that we serve every day in public schools across the country maybe it's not an issue. Or, maybe it is.

My five-year foray into the business world forever changed my perception of how I approach leadership in public education. It is quite common for me to regularly discuss the importance of excellent customer service (to the chagrin of many I might add), marketing, market position, metrics, message and branding.  I get a lot of blank stares when I lapse into what some call "business speak." I am also frequently reminded "schools cannot be compared to businesses." I disagree with that premise, but I'll save that topic for another blog.

Here are a few questions that every educator should ponder:

  • If tomorrow morning, every family had a real choice in how their child was educated, would they choose your district? 
  • Your school? Your classroom? Why?
  • Do the majority of our customers use our product because they are loyal or because it is either convenient or the only true option open to them? 
  • What if a better option comes along tomorrow?
  • Should we find out why families send their children to us?  

All intriguing questions that might be difficult to ask, but the answers could unlock a pathway toward improvement.

To get at the idea of brand loyalty is to understand that somewhat of a seismic culture shift must take place especially in the business of public education. 

Organizational Culture - Organizational culture doesn't fall from the sky. It is created and thus can be manipulated. Simply defined, culture is the collective beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptions of the people within any organization.  When a solution to a problem works repeatedly or is perceived to work repeatedly, a group or organization usually begins to take that solution for granted. A hunch starts to be treated as reality. Often alternative solutions are no longer visible within the organization. Do we take our customers for granted?

I have often suggested that the key to real family engagement; promoting the engagement and efficacy of every family, begins with understanding that in order to do so, we have some culture changing which must occur. Thinking in business terms, like brand loyalty, may be the necessary catalyst to spark the needed change.

Building relationships with every family leads to trust and family efficacy in the education of their children. Perhaps we should look at it through a different lens. What if our ability to build relationships and trust with families meant excellence in brand loyalty and what if our failure to do so cost us customers? Would we think differently about the need to engage with every family and make certain they understand that we value their engagement?  How do we engage with every family when it seems so many are simply apathetic? The assumption of apathy is one of the largest barriers to creating effective relationships with all families.

Whether or not there was ever a time when families unconditionally trusted educators is hard to say. What is easier to say is there is a need in today's society to work toward building trust between home and school. We simply live in a different world; a world that is dominated by anonymity and insecurity. Building trusting relationships with every family will go a long way to negate the ills we face.

Relationships between families and the schools that their children attend are complex. Often there is great ambiguity with regard to the differing interests of families and policies, procedures and practices also have an affect on the health of the relationship. It is impossible to think that teachers can cultivate strong relationships with the students they teach, yet not create the very same strong relationships with their students' families. However, when schools understand and nurture effective relationships with all families, tremendous dividends are paid in the form of achievement for every student.

Building relationships builds brand loyalty. Brand loyalty ensures that as the landscape of educational options to families becomes more crowded, the public school option remains the option of choice for the large majority of families.

Something to think about.

Connect with Steve on Twitter.

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