“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
~ William Faulkner
You may not like the music, but the facts are undisputed. Garth Brooks is the number one best-selling artist of all time. People wondered when he announced his retirement in 2001 if he was committing career suicide; however, with his first comeback concert on September 4, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois, skeptics can put their doubts to rest. He has earned numerous awards and set records over the past two decades and if the speed at which his concert tickets have sold out is any indication, there is more to come from Garth Brooks.
So what does any of this have to do with education? It’s a lesson in brand loyalty, innovation, and risk.
- Brand Loyalty – Recruitment, new enrollments, retention, and alumni can be positively influenced by brand loyalty. When schools invest the time to connect with their students and invest in improvements to curricula and student services based on feedback, they build trust. This trust grows into a sustained relationship which continues beyond graduation. Students have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a school, but it’s what sets schools apart which keeps them coming back. A personal recommendation is the best form of brand loyalty, but the hardest to build. For those schools who can understand the importance of this personal connection to their curricula, faculty, and student services, the more successful a school will be. Brand loyalty keeps students talking about your school when it has made a positive difference in their lives.
Garth Brooks, even after his decision to retire, continued a connection with his fans on his own terms which paid off. After announcing his first formal tour since 1998, Garth Brooks sold out 11 Chicago shows in 4 hours. The brand loyalty he built over the years laid an opportunity for a comeback.
- Innovation – You can’t continue to do what everyone else is doing and think that you’re being innovative. Schools are centers for research, growth, and change, but that is not reflective in most daily operations. The current education climate forces schools to spend more time keeping up with changing regulations than investing time in coming up with solutions to meet future needs. Innovation falls by the wayside and becomes more of a luxury than a vital part of strategic planning. Innovation requires understanding and anticipating your students’ needs. This results in developing processes and procedures which provide the level of support, knowledge, skills, and abilities students can only get at your institution. Graduates are going to work in industries which change daily, yet are not given the opportunity to test and develop their “out-of-the-box” thinking. Students expect more from their school.
Garth Brooks controlled how his music was distributed. Some may think this was his ego, but it was really his innovation. When other artists chose to release their music digitally for purchase as individual songs, Garth decided that his music should be sold as he intended it to be heard, not in singles, but as a whole album. This decision allowed his fans to connect with him as an artist through the stories his music told.
It’s the same for schools. Students can enroll in individual courses, but programs make the biggest impact when they are completed as designed. Students may not remember the content of the courses, but they will remember the experiences, the faculty interactions, and the encouragement they received from the program as a whole. This may not be seen as innovative, but it’s how schools create these connections that makes the difference.
- Risk – Schools need to take risks in order to maintain a competitive edge. It’s important for schools to take calculated and measured risks in order to meet students’ demands. It isn’t a badge of honor when a school continues to offer the same programs in the same way they have done for 50 years. Instead, this is an indication that the school has lost its mission-focus and has stopped connecting with its students. The marketplace is changing and education cannot be stagnate. It needs to continue to evolve and improve or be forced out of the marketplace by other schools. It’s hard to recover once a school has started down the path of complacency.
Garth Brooks took several risks from the control of his music distribution to realizing his need to retire and focus on his family. All of these were hard decisions and ones he could have chosen to avoid, but he was able to step back and evaluate the areas in his life which needed change or improvement. As a result of these decisions and because of the innovation and brand loyalty he built over time, his “risky” decisions turned into opportunities to continue his dream.
These are the three same characteristics on which schools need to focus in order to affect the change necessary within higher education. Brand loyalty needs to be developed for the purpose of providing sustainable, quality educational institutions. Innovation that anticipates students’ current and future needs should be a vital part of a school’s strategic planning. Finally, schools need to take the risks necessary to be bold and set new standards going above the status quo.
What has your school created to build brand loyalty, use innovation, and take risks to connect with students?