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An ELT Entrepreneur

Stories and anecdotes to help teachers, school owners and creators

April 14, 2009

An Introduction to Branding

In 2007 I was involved in the acquisition of a natural medicine university operating five campuses in cities across Australia. My business partner in the deal, John Feenie, had formerly headed the Asia Pacific operations of Phillip Morris and later Disney Consumer Products. John knows, and often speaks about the power of a well-developed global brand. Our strategy has been to revitalize the university’s brand, improve its key systems and structures, and expand into new channels and markets. On the plus side our school enjoys a 30-plus year reputation for excellence and it has more full-time students and offers more types of accredited health science diplomas and accredited bachelor of health sciences degrees than any other natural medicine university. On the minus side the former owner had let the facilities and infrastructure become run down, especially toward the end of his stewardship. My role, aside from capital and deal-making, has been to advise on the marketing and enrollment processes, the requisite technical systems, and the human resources that are required for solid growth (in a holistic sense) within the for-profit education environment.

Immediately following the acquisition, I found myself desperately wanting to learn more about the true meaning of clever phrases such as, “global brand development” and “capitalizing on our brand”. I wanted to introduce a logical framework that would lead to actionable and measurable tactics. It is fine to say, “People, we must enhance our brand”. What I wanted was a practical framework for the team go about it. The approach I patched together from my research can, I think, be effectively applied at almost any scale of human endeavor from an individual parent or teacher all the way up to a multi-national enterprise. I believe the do-it-yourself branding framework below can help anyone better define ‘what I stand for, and why I am uniquely destined for it.’ The benefit of having a formal branding statement is that decisions great and small will always be better when they are made in light of a clear understanding of exactly how the enterprise (or one’s own good self) benefits humankind.

It may help some readers to mentally replace the words “global brand” with “teacher” or “school operator”, and to replace the word “customer” with “student”. Just after the branding framework I have reprinted Lexxica’s concise brand statement as an example.

The Architecture of Global Branding
The foundation of every great global brand is a ‘message’ that penetrates through all cultural differences to touch upon universal human values and aspirations. Every great global brand addresses multiple layers of consciousness yet, in every case, the different layers exist primarily to fortify the foundation message and secondly to provide focus for marketing and operations.

The Foundation – Core Benefit
Top global brands present their core message as a human benefit and not a product or service attribute. At the foundation level we are looking to express a clear message about a powerful, universal human aspiration that is implicit with our brand’s offerings.

Level Two – Strategic Attribute
The second of the four layers is a clear strategic attribute; one that fully supports the foundation message. Think about it this way, without this particular attribute, the validity of our primary message might be questionable. As with the foundation message itself, the attribute we choose to focus on must be consistently applied in all markets where our brand operates.

Level Three – Functional Advantage
The third layer in our brand architecture describes our primary functional advantage. The functional advantage is what makes our strategic attribute possible. IMPORTANT NOTE: regardless of the actual infrastructure present in each market where we operate, we will reference the best locally available functional advantage in that market in order to support our global strategic attribute. Our foundation message and strategic attribute remain the same. The functional advantage layer is where we adjust for local realities.

Level Four – Unique Aspects
The uppermost of the four layers identifies one or more compelling aspects of the product or service that cannot be easily promoted by competitors. It may be our technical advantages or our long history or the high achievements of our constituents. Whatever unique aspects we select, they must work to support the three deeper layers and help set our brand apart from all others.

Remaining Consistent
Properly orchestrated, the four layers perform autonomously in each of our markets without being inconsistent. The brand names, logos and design elements must be the same; however the textual content and layout of our communications, whether in signage, advertising, brochures, or websites, may use idioms and imagery consistent with local cultural norms. Regardless of the freedom local managers will have to reference local metaphors and situations, our universal architecture framework will insure that our brand’s message remains consistent.


Lexxica’s Brand Statement

Foundation Core Benefit: People feel good because they gain an advantage by rapidly acquiring increased comprehension of important subjects.

Strategic Attribute: Lexxica’s V-Check test identifies precisely which words and facts a person knows about a subject, and which words and facts they don’t know. This allows the creation of personalized learning programs designed to rapidly increase subject comprehension for careers, academics and foreign languages.

Functional Advantage: Lexxica’s speed and accuracy result in unprecedented efficiency. No time is wasted on words and facts the learner already knows. The V-Admin system for teachers allows fast and accurate management of student progress.

Unique Aspects: Lexxica’s patented scientific processes are based on sound academic research and classroom teaching experience. Here is a summary checklist of the main aspects: Item difficulty calibration engine integrating IRT and Signal Detection Theory, corpus-based frequency and coverage metrics for all items in each subject domain, a spaced repetition system to promote long-term retention, a growing selection of online PC and mobile learning tools for students plus a paper worksheet/ quiz generator for teachers, automatic coaching and reminder emails.

Coming Next
In my next column I will review and discuss the important differences between marketing and sales (a.k.a. enrollments). If you don’t know the difference you are probably wasting time, money and opportunity!

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What is this Lexxica thing? Did Guy write about it at an earlier date? I can't see any reference to a clear explanation of what kind of system it is, or of Guy's involvement in it.
Is it something I should be aware of? Or is it just a soft sales pitch designed to make me search for more information?

Hi Paul,
Forgive me for the confusion. Lexxica is a venture business that I co-founded in 2006. Lexxica banner ads appear at the upper right of the ELT News. I suppose you could call it a soft sell, Paul, but on the other hand, the Lexxica branding example is directly related to ELT. I thought it was a better example than the statement I wrote for myself as a husband and father. I hope you enjoyed the article and find it useful in some way.
All the best,

I really enjoyed your article. It is interesting to see how you are integrating marketing into language teaching/ learning. I did my undergrad in marketing research and I have just finished my MA in TESL/ TEFL. Where can I get more information about the services that Lexxica has to offer. I want to get one of my universities involved.

Hi Colin,
Thanks for your feedback and support. You can learn more about setting up a Sponsored Word Engine for your school here:

If you can't rally the 200 students required to create a Sponsored Word Engine, you can simply use the generic Word Engine here:

All the best,

I would've liked more explicit explanation of how those ideas tied into ELT, even if it was just to replace the words with "student" etc as you suggested we do

Hi Alex,
Thanks for your comment and suggestion.
All the best,

A few years ago I left Japan after 15 years of being a successful ELT entrepreneur myself. I left out of frustration: both the industry and the people who make it up were stuck in the past and I saw danger on the horizon ... and I was right - after I left the swift decline of the industry began, first with the big schools then the small. Yet I love the industry and plan to return but work exclusively with like minded people. Am happy to communicate with anyone interested. Can be reached at kayumochi at gmail dot com.

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