It can do for you what it has done for smart retailers.
Unfortunately for the executives at McDonald's insular corporate campus in Oak Brook, IL, my July/August 1997 column, "Why Brand Is Grand," appeared too late to save them from a marketing strategy that flopped with a thud large enough to make headlines--the 55-cent burger come-on. Had they read it they would have more fully appreciated that maintaining and enhancing a good name is to be protected at any price--that branding is a competitive advantage without equal--and, they would have been less likely to break one of Shore's Ten Commandments of Marketing: "Thou Shall Never Be Perceived As A Commodity." Granted, in the interest of full disclosure, I readily admit that I worship at the cathedral of branding. And with good reason.
Commodities vs. Concepts When you attempt to compete on price you lose a piece of what you stand for--the concept that is your organization becomes transformed from a "brand" or concept into a commodity. This marketing strategy is as predictable as the days of the week. Anyone remember "Grape Nuts Mondays," when the Post unit of Kraft Foods kicked off a cereal price war? How about the fiasco that sent stocks in branded consumer goods companies reeling when Philip Morris announced deep price cuts for its flagship cigarette brand on "Marlboro Friday?" It was predictable that
McDonald's "Hamburger Wednesday" would be a lemon--but far, far worse, it made McDonald's a commodity, just another burger joint. Deep discounts call a brand's value into question and erode future earnings power. Deep discounts make an organization look desperate. There is a better way.
Air Branding Continuing professional education (CPE) providers should take advantage of the benefits that brand identity has to bestow upon them. My examination of brand identity transcends any one industry; for if we only look at case examples from within our own industry, we limit our horizons and run the risk of never fully actualizing our programs, products and services. CPE has much to learn from a broader perspective on brand identity.
One company which has taken the concept of becoming a "concept" soaring to new heights chose the Greek goddess of victory for its name: Nike. A major strategy for Nike is to help build brand identity through its NikeTown stores. Enter the new world of selling shoes and socks, jogging gear, and hiking equipment not as commodities but as concepts. "NikeTown is the total expression of brand identity," suggests John Farnum, one of its principal designers. Inside NikeTown, "Just Do It," the company's gung-ho slogan, comes alive for all who enter. It is meant to be embraced not just as an exhortation, but as a credo to take home and play with--if not live by. The objective is to unite the customer with the Nike corporate spirit. Think of it as "inspirational retail." NikeTowns are intended first and foremost to build the brand name, not necessarily to be profitable as retail stores. As Joe McCarthy, former global advertising director of Nike puts it, "NikeTown stores have always been three-dimensional places where people can live and breathe and experience the brand." CPE providers can likewise showcase their brand identity through exceptional programs and cultivation of distinctive participant experiences.
The Concept of Experience The core ingredients of CPE are many, and have long been debated--content, quality, price, venue, food, service, credit, selection (See the September/October 1995 column, "Are You Creating ACEs?") Beyond all of the above variables is the experience the CPE provider can create. Consider for a moment that the CPE experience can be divided into two parts: chores and choices. The chores of acquiring information and CPE credit can be done with any credit-giving provider and can take place anywhere, including the screen of a healthcare professional's home computer. For such programs, price and convenience rule--and it is tough to beat the computer screen for sheer convenience.
So the question CPE providers must ask themselves is--what will draw professionals into our classroom seats other than price and convenience? And the answer is--an overall exceptional experience. How might you craft the experience that turns your program into the NikeTown of CPE?
Here's to finding the irresistible CPE experience for your attendees.