We need a brand! We want a branding partnership!
Have you explored the pro’s and con’s of branding partnerships for your school?
We thought we would respond to a common question from new clients who want to set up a new school or redevelop and improve an existing school. Some see branding partnerships as the panacea. There are lots of things to consider however.
There are several pro’s and con’s of branding partnerships with another school. Sometimes it creates significant advantages. There are also downsides or risks though. It is important to identify and understand the potential benefits of introducing new brands to an established marketplace, but only when a clear and defined mission is offered. If both parties (school and brand operator) can offer a comprehensive and aligned strategy for the targeted audiences, then it can be a very successful partnership.
Here are the Pro’s and Con’s of branding partnerships in education:
Shared Pool of Talent:
Each school or brand operator can put together their best minds and come together in a collaboration that is win-win. This reduces manpower and the need for outsourcing specialist skills. This is especially true in developing countries with less access to specialist expertise. It provides the collaborators opportunity to work on the same goals and targets in a strong team that has both local knowledge as well as education experts. The brand partner is likely to have a depth of talent at other locations and a “brain trust” or wealth of experience to support shared agendas. Local knowledge provided by the investor, skills of the employed leadership team and the shared talent of an establish school brand can collectively provide significant advantages.
Partnering with a reputable brand allows the school being marketed to customers to be boosted due to the perception of proven success in other locations. Both parties can utilise advantages of a combined reputation. There is an assumption that, by association, a new school is better because of the company they keep. This also is applicable to smaller brands partnering with bigger more reputable brands and thus gaining a ‘boost’ in market credibility. A new school or business must work hard to get market traction and value. Branding can speed up this initial first hurdle.
Increase Market Share:
Co-branding is most effective when two different companies synergise their marketing. This allows the customer base to become aware of and attracted to market differentiators at a broad level as well as in more specific contexts . An existing brand is likely to be sharing their message widely across a larger market and a school can benefit indirectly from this. Knowing who you are is an important early step for any new new business or school.
New Perspective on Direction & Growth:
New partnerships can help you reinvent your school and discover areas you have never considered working on. You can also try out new promotion strategies in a safe environment. You can use your partner’s already established recognition to penetrate markets and audiences you haven’t targeted before. “A fresh start” is good both internally and externally as is an announcement of “new management” if the new plan is clearly better perceived. Not everyone will see the same pro’s and con’s of branding partnerships in education.
It is important that a school and a brand go into partnerships together with shared goals and values. If this is not the case the partnership is doomed to fail with both groups pulling in different directions or disagreeing on operational best practice. Carefully constructed board governance structures are important otherwise tension can be created with misaligned values and practices.
Less Creative Control:
Even if you’re not partnering with the right brand, one with similar brand perspectives, target audience and marketing strategy, there is still a risk of differing creative ideas. The existing operational team may have less input and may be less able to turn ideas into reality. Ownership and buy in of ideas may create internal politics. When partnering, make sure both sides are on the same page and the plan for execution is clear.
Impact on Brand Equity:
If a school partners with a brand that offers education that is considered different in the market this can effect the trust of the consumer who now puts these two brands side by side. For international schools this risk is higher for an established overseas brand with an existing reputation. The home-brand school needs to protect their brand and legacy or become devalued if the new partner school is not successful. Quality assurance practices need to be in place and branding partners are very sensitive about maintenance of these standards.
Some Cultures are not Compatible:
Some companies may be a good match on paper or in what they offer, however, their internal cultures may not be compatible. Sometimes it just isn’t a good fit, which means that it takes time to build relationships necessary to understand the full potential of the venture. Culture clash is common in the way staff are managed, especially when staff and students of different countries think and act differently. Business matters can also be very different causing challenges behind the scenes between partners. These factors must be considered when exploring the pro’s and con’s of branding partnerships in education
Short Term Success:
In a number of cases when schools have opted for a brand partner it has been beneficial for getting initial enrolments. We refer to this as “the shiny object” factor. It has an initial shine and attraction. Parents perceive that the new school, or partnership, will offer the same quality of the branded school so they are motivated by that credibility. However, in our experience, as time goes by, the long term results begin to dwindle and are not necessarily comparable with the cost of the partnership. Overseas brands, in some cases, have limited understanding about how to operate a school in unique cultures to predominantly ESL students and a different parent market. There are ways to guarantee success but it is not the “brand” itself that makes the school successful. Parents will quickly share their opinion, good or bad, about the school and it is the quality of day to day management that has the most impact. All successful schools once started as a new brand identity that was built over time. This obviously requires commitment, time, investment and a large amount of dedication to the shared project goals and targets. Truth will tell in the market. Partnering at an early stage is not a guaranteed ‘shortcut’ to success. It is ongoing practice that will be come the true marketing.
While I don’t think it is fair to publish the fees that we know exist in such commercial partnerships the business models range from a licence fee for use of branding, through to fees connected with growth and profit. In some cases the fees are very high. It needs to be clear what the fee pays for and to determine the true value of that fee. A brand may offer training and support in education management. It may even contribute to leadership management but a true value needs to be determined. Can an established school truly offer outstanding contributions to school success from afar for a context they do not have experience in? Yes, and no, in our opinion. A complex topic that requires detailed analysis by both parties. To be fair, there are some things that either party might do better than the other. An important debate to have within and across both teams.
What we have seen fail:
Overseas brands that do not understand how to operate schools in unique cultural contexts often fail. Lending a brand name to a school owner for a fee can be high risk as the skills required to operate the school are what will ultimately make the school succeed or fail. There are cases where brand is damaged because the school does not operate in the same way as the brand expected. Also, to be fair, the brand and its legacy may not match the context. There is a reason why Eton College does not operate under its brand in other locations. The unique model and voice that is “Eton” may not match the clientele of China, Vietnam or other Middle East contexts.
Making it work:
By being aware of the potential pro’s and con’s of branding partnerships in education, both parties are able to get the best out of the situation. School success means many things to both parties and visions need to be aligned both in terms of the partnership as well as operations. Good partnerships are great for enrolments but they should also increase quality, allowing children, staff and management to thrive in the environment.
You can build your own brand or you can borrow and partner with another. Ultimately the school succeeds or fails based on the strength of its local leadership and how it operates on a daily basis.
Let us know if you would like to discuss more.
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