Education & Marketing: The Teacher as a Brand

Last night, on my drive home from teaching at the university, I began thinking about what I felt I represented. Essentially, what is my sales pitch to students to get them to take my class. Better yet, what defines my “brand?”

In the marketing and advertising world, there are distinct differences between marketing and branding. According to the Tronvig Group (@tronviggroup),

“Branding is strategic. Marketing is tactical.”

Admittedly, this is an oversimplification. To take it one step further, please accept the following analogy:

Branding: The “ego” of the advertising campaign. Meaning, loyalty, and longevity are of the utmost importance and branding [ego] is grounded in a sense of reality.

Marketing: The “id” of the advertising campaign. It is a second nature, done without pause [on impulse] strategy seeking mutual gratification of both buyer and seller; sometimes out of touch with reality.

With this logic, I came to the conclusion that as a music educators seeking to build a program, we need a brand. Students need to understand what we’re about, and this should not surprise any veteran teachers. As it stands, I tell every student year after year, that I exist to educate, and that I am brutally honest. I will never lie to a student, especially concerning their performances (good or bad). Sometimes they learn that the truth hurts, but they have more than once thanked me for it.

But about the brand

I sell honesty and quality. I know in some corners of the world, some will read this blog and say I wouldn’t make it in the corporate world. The fact remains that my students leave my class and my rehearsals as better musicians and people because I was honest when I told them that quality matters. My brand isn’t the only brand, and I know it. But I advertise it as the best, and perhaps we need to brand our programs on these principles before doing so on trophies and championships…

So, what’s behind your Brand?


7 thoughts on “Education & Marketing: The Teacher as a Brand

  1. Good morning Maestro!

    I would submit that the ‘brand’ is the symbolic representation of what a product or service embodies, e.g. it’s fundamental purpose as perceived by the potential and/or current user. With that comes any preconceived connections to that brand. Apple is a good example – when something is an Apple product, there is a level of expectation in function, design, even in price. Branding is also often akin to first impressions – again, the Apple model is a great example of this.

    Conversely, ‘marketing’ is, in my opinion, the means by which one attempts to achieve accurate ‘brand’ perception and reach the consumer. Sometimes simply the ‘brand name’ is enough to convey an air of substance and quality (think Lexus, Rolex, etc.).

    A rather amusing aside is that the opposite is often true when we hear of a product “Made in China”….yet we all know where Apple products are made! Technology has created a rather odd twist there, eh?

    Now, as it pertains to our students, I would say those first impressions are critical in how they perceive our brand, so how we market is indeed important. I think furthermore that how their perception changes over time is essential to maintaining that connection, strengthening their consumer committment to us and our message. If Apple can have their “fan-boys”, so too can educators have their devoted following. My high school choral director had a huge, successful program and his singular inspiration led to over 100 individuals going on to careers as music educators, as well as pursuing other musical avocations and often becoming life-long music makers (perhaps our ultimate goal, an arts-educated community?). Hundreds of us are still in contact with him to this day and credit him with being our inspiration for pursuing our music careers.

    Don’t forget – in marketing, word-of-mouth is a powerful form of sales, oft-times the most ringing endorsement a product or service can acquire. This is why my plumber and home-remodeler never lack for work. Thus, bringing your aforementioned quality and honesty (which to me equal integrity) is critical to marketing your brand. I think especially as music educators, word-of-mouth is incredibly influential in our brand perception.

    One final thought – I don’t disagree with honesty. Whether it needs to be brutal is up to the individual and the situation. One reason I don’t think corporate models work in education is that we are dealing with thousands of unique products (STUDENTS!) and each has it’s own rare combination of components/factors that influence its function. Mass production practices don’t work when each product is inherently different from all others. So while I concur with honesty, I think it must be tempered with compassion and humanity. Like ourselves, our students are fragile and flawed vessels. We temper, refine, and improve them through trials – but as the artisans of these vessels, we also must accept the responsibility to care for them, for an artist is seldom proud of a broken work of art.

  2. Drew,

    Thank you for the reply! I always love dissecting your rhetoric!

    With that said, I also do not disagree with you. I think your point about corporate models is a good one. Mass production practices are ineffective in so much as they promote a sameness about all students where we spend so much PD time focusing on the individual, differentiated instruction, 1:1 initiatives, etc. This as you know was but a small part of the issue many of us have and had with NCLB.

    The one thing I think we can take from corporate America is the notion that with elective classes, something draws students in, be it product or principle. Cultivating either or both is something I suspect many educators do, but I question if their marketing and branding are representative of creating lifelong learners, or trophy collectors.

    I welcome further commentary!


    • Disecting my rhetoric – ouch, that sounds painful. Sorry, I’m a stream-of-consciousness kind of guy. Sometimes the ideas just flow, perhaps not always in the most logical of fashions.

      I am now faced with something akin to what most high school directors face with elective classes, which is drawing in the students. At our middle school, we have now crossed that line in the sand known as ‘numbers’. Because my band and choir classes are now optioned electives among several possible choices for 7th and 8th grade students, we do indeed face the challenge of putting our brand out there. I would hope that our program is the antithesis of the old high school program that we fed to, where there was little substance nor evidence of real music education, but instead, a single-minded quest stretching over 5 decades to win that next championship trophy. The outcome, among many things, was a host of students who wanted to pursue careers in music but lacked the experience, skill, knowledge of literature and theory, and the holistic grasp of what the musical education experience should have been. In a way, it was the ultimate branding of a product and highly successful….but the product completely failed the consumer (the students). Now, as to our programs….So now too, we must ‘brand’. In two months, all of the related arts teachers will meet with all of the present 6th and 7th grade students in 4 large group assemblies. We will present our brand, as will the other elective areas. It’s strange, as when we did this last year, I realized we were all competing to get as many kids in to each of our programs as possible. While my colleague and I were consistent in our presentations throughout the day, it was amazing how some of the other classes ‘brand’ changed – bigger, better, flamethrowing robots!!! Ooooh, Aaaaah! And sad that we all must compete like this. Regardless, our brand was pretty much what it’s always been – a full year committment to an ensemble, hard work and fun in doing several performances, some fun trips, awards at the very end of the year. Our brand was primarily about being part of something special and unique, a performing ensemble. I think that’s been a consistent theme for the 25 years that we’ve worked together.

      One of the things is to consider how you define lifelong learner. Do we expect our musicians to continue to make music? Do we hope that even if they don’t continue to make music, they will have some higher level of judgement / taste in their musical choices? Do we hope to engender a sense of appreciaton for the arts that will encourage them to be lifelong arts consumers and supporters (even future voters on our music budgets?)?

      One of the things lacking here in the U.S. is the opportunities to make music as adults. Back to the community in which I teach, one of the wonderful things here in M.L. is Fred Rushmore’s Community Band, open to children and adults interested in continuing to play their instruments. In contrast to the aforementioned high school program, this is truly an institution of substance and worth, yet it doe struggle for support here in the community. It’s greatest asset is the energy and wisdom of it’s founder / conductor, who perseveres through many challenges to provide this opportunity. His ‘branding’ challenge is getting the community to come out and support a group in a medium that no longer dominates the artistic landscape, i.e. the community concert band. But that’s a discussion for another time.

      So as to branding our programs…I would say that YOU are a major part of your brand. You have a reputation that preceded you and that you’ve quickly established. I think the high standards that you embody are something that your students have come to embrace. I try to do the same here. I know some of it rubs off…not on every kid but on a lot of them. I do try to emphasize to them that we’re not just building musicians, we’re cultivating citizens. Studying music, practicing, working, accepting critique, self-evaluating, analyzing, reflecting on our own efforts and the works of others, having the courage to perform in front of people, collaborating and supporting those around you, this is all the stuff of music education. And it’s all the stuff of good citizenship as well.

      I can tell you with certainty that while you are on leave, your students truly miss the DuBeau brand of instruction. You may not be able to handle the outpouring of emotion upon your return. I suggest you bring Kleenex!

      • Drew,

        I typically acknowledge three products of my programs, the third of which is the least desirable. First is the lifelong/career musician. Second is the lifelong music advocate and appreciateur. Third is the student who finds musical activity a menial gesture belonging to artistic types who couldn’t make it as a professional performer or composer (sadly, these exist).

        Many parents in the past have expressed to me their regret over stopping their own musical activity. To that end, I remind them we cannot all perform, but advocacy can sometimes play a more important role in our professions. I am proud when students tell me they have no interest in pursuing a music degree but look forward to continuing their playing or singing because they couldn’t imagine life without it. Enter the words of the great Ken Laudermilch, who to paraphrase, told us, “If you have an interest other than music, pursue it. You will always have music.”

        To close, I would love for my “brand” to offer legions of professional musicians when I finally retire. In reality, I will be equally as content if I have helped develop a generation of lovers of music who will continue to advocate on its behalf.

        Honesty and quality.


  3. Pingback: Developing Your Personal Brand as an Educator | #BYOTchat

  4. I enjoyed reading your blog-posts… You have a lot to offer our pre-service teachers. Preparation of pre-service music teachers for the job search/interviewing process is important, and I focus on the need and techniques of “marketing professionalism” for college music education majors. This was the first time I heard about the distinction between “marketing” and “branding.” Thank you!

    If you are interested, check out my WordPress site:

    I hope I have your permission to point my readers to your site. PKF

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