Friday, August 23, 2013

Building Equity

What are people saying about you?

My wife, Megan, graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Visual Communication Design. She was the only person I knew who could get excited over paper samples, Pantone colors, and properly laid out production files - until I met her classmates and coworkers. The world of typography and good design is alive and well in our home. We share a love of Macs and a deep hatred for the typeface (...yep, not a font. That was my first lesson) Comic Sans.

Megan introduced me to the idea of brand equity while we were both undergrads at OSU. What "brand" are you responsible for? Brand equity is everything a company/school/organization does to build and develop their identity. More importantly it is how consumers perceive and interact with that company: it is basically what people say about you.

So, let me ask a question.

"What are people saying about you?" 

Do you know? Have you asked?

Let me quote one of my music education professors. Though originally in reference to classroom management and behavior strategies, I have found this to be a pervasive thought:

"Never ask a question to which you do not want to know the answer."  - Timothy Gerber, OSU 

Asking Tough Questions
In my seven years of teaching, I have always found it important to monitor, understand and improve the "brand" I have been entrusted. Like any good brand, we have a logo. We use this on everything from letterhead to social media to press releases. It helps to identify and associate peoples' ideas, thoughts and feelings about the program into a clean visual element.

(Designed by friend, Kyle Younkman)

But more important than any logo (though I recommend you develop one) is the perceptions surrounding your "brand". My "brand" is a 6-12 orchestra program in suburban Columbus. It is my goal to make it a flagship program for the school district; something that students, parents and community members and administrators talk about with enthusiasm and positivity.

The first step is to understand that no question that accurately gauges perceptions of your program is off-limits. If something is not working, you should know to what severity and desire to change it. Remember, it's about perceptions. I often ask students and parents for their feedback about the program. It is important that we are meeting needs: are product must be viable.

Sometimes the answers to your questions knock the wind right out of your sails, like my undergrad experience above. They are exactly what you did not expect or want to hear. Other times, the answers to your questions are exactly what you do want to hear; however, the important step in both instances is asking the initial question.

First, honest answers are provided in a safe environment. Second, questions help individuals share their feelings. Third, sometimes the responses are not what you intended - or want to hear. Fourth, sharing responses to posed questions (especially when they are negative/critical) is difficult. Fifth, all responses are cause for reflection and improvement.

What questions do you need to ask stakeholders? ... and how will you go about it?