During the past 12 months I have devoted three columns entirely to the number-one competitive strategy--branding. (See, "Why Brand Is Grand" July/August 1997, page 44; "Valuing Brand Identity" September/October 1997, page 98; and "Branding Is Hot" July/August 1998, page 62.)
As continuing professional educators and as managers, we now need to respond to the fact that competition of all stripes is proliferating. At the same time, education dollars and time appear to be at a premium. Enter branding--that strategic gem that allows organizations to build a customer base with a connection and a commitment that goes beyond "mind share" into "heart share."
What's in a Name? Of the 15 brand equity indicators I have identified, perhaps the most familiar is name recognition.
First you must select a brand name that is strategic either because of its stature or the association your prospects and the public might have with it. And yes, brand names count in education: In the past three years more than three dozen colleges have elevated themselves to university status (see, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 13, 1997). While the title university traditionally has reflected a certain level of research and scholarship, today institutions use it as part of a competitive strategy to attract students.
Here's a close-to-home example of what's in a name: When I came to Harvard University six years ago, the Office of Continuing Education was the name of our enterprise. When we asked professionals in focus groups to react to our name, the overwhelming response was that "Office of Continuing Education" sounded like a community education provider with general interest offerings such as square dancing and cooking classes. Thus, the Office of Continuing Professional Education was born.
Several successful years later, we revisited the name with a new brand question: What distinction would our prospects and customers make between an Office of Continuing Professional Education and a Center for Continuing Professional Education? The marketplace had a clear preference. In contrast to "Office," which was perceived as being "a small bureaucratic entity," a "Center" was envisioned as more expansive, more diverse in its offerings, and more academic. One focus group member jokingly responded that if we changed our name from Office to Center, we could raise our fees. What's in a name indeed!
Saturation Branding, Hotel-Style Once you have selected the right name for your brand, your objective is to increase its recognition. Repetition enhances name recognition. In my previous column I described a teaching exercise I conducted with physician educators and executives. They were asked to examine a hotel sleeping room and identify all the ways in which the hotel built name recognition within the room. What follows are their observations, supplemented with additional contributions by readers of this column.
The name of the hotel or its parent company appeared on pens, pencils, and note pads; postcards and stationery; shoe horns and shoe mitts; hangers and laundry bags; wastepaper baskets and ice buckets; ash trays and matches; the cover of the telephone directory and the label on telephone; the cover of the television guide and the initial message on television screen; and the room service menu. And hotel bathrooms! Consider: soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, bath gel, talcum powder, shower caps, shower curtains, towels, robes, and sewing kits. Special recognition to the CME director who identified the gold foil stamp with the hotel's name that adorns a new roll of toilet tissue.
The list goes on and on, from the contents of the minibar to the hotel's weather forecast card and express breakfast menu gently placed on your pillow (right next to the hotel-embossed chocolate). Congratulations! You found it all--except for that one final reminder as you turn that door knob to exit your branded room. . . . Yes, the "Do not disturb/Make up my room early" sign.
The hotel room provides a powerful lesson in saturation branding. No less than 45 examples of name recognition builders were identified.
In my next column we will consider strategies for increasing name recognition in healthcare and continuing professional education.