Build an authentic brand to build trust

Edtech brand

What is a brand?

It’s not a logo, it’s not a marketing campaign, and it’s not your mission statement. It is the soul of your company – what makes you, YOU.

Brand development works to improve your organization’s culture on the inside, the customer’s perceptions on the outside, and guide strategic decision making for leadership.

As a result of this 360 degree impact, building a strong brand means digging deep within the organization to understand the people that make it up. It also involves conducting market and customer research in order to identify where your team and your market are aligned. Once you can identify what the truly shared values are, you can develop a brand that supports culture on the inside and supports how you build relationships and communicate, on the outside.

An authentic brand – one based on genuine shared values – is the key to being able to generate consistently compelling relationship building strategies and communication. Why? Because it’s built into your companies DNA and because this value is a sandbox for your team to get as creative as they want to.

For example, take an EdTech company that builds an app designed to give students a platform for practicing oral communication through video. They position the app as place for students to share what they learn with each other and with their teacher. It is a creative and engaging vehicle for formative assessment that students actually like and teachers are proud to use. The seeds of the brand were planted in the need they were serving, the solution they are providing, and the people they are serving. This company, Flipgrid, communicates a singular, consistent value of ‘student voice’. There is no confusion about what they do, what they stand for, or why a teacher might want to use their platform.

In the EdTech market today, there is so much competition and feature parity that it is critical to leverage who you are and what you stand for through your brand.

Again, achieving this is not as simple as creating a logo and cool t-shirts. You've got to dig deep into the psyche of your organization and tell your story.

The heavier the competition you face, the deeper your need is to create awareness, the more investing in telling your story can help you stand apart.

There are so many well-known examples of strong brands winning the market over that I hope I don’t have to make this case for you here. Take your pick

EdTech companies often struggle to differentiate their brands

When it comes to the education technology industry brands struggle to differentiate. This is incredibly apparent walking the exhibition hall floor at any national trade show this year.

Walking the floor you can read “improve outcomes”, “save teachers time”, and  “engage students” over and over again.

We get it. Everyone’s done the research and these are the boxes that decision-makers and influencers need to check. So, the market is saturated with brands making the same promises the same way. More in-depth customer research, however, can reveal deeper, secondary or even more emotional needs that your product or service may support. Consider producing a behavior-based buyer profile.

This is a great time to stand out. It’s time where digging deep and slowing down to do the research and get creative can have an enormous payoff.

Ask yourself, “what is our purpose?”, “what are our values” and “does it align with the customers we are trying to serve?”

Brand mistakes you can easily avoid

Making assumptions about your audience

Don’t treat educators, administrators, and students as homogenous groups of consumers. To do so is to commit the marketing fallacy we call ‘casting the widest net’. This is what companies that don’t know their audience intimately do.

Instead, invest in deepening your understanding of who your customers and end-users really are. Take the time to understand how their local contexts may differentiate their behavior and refine their profiles. To use our previous example of Flipgrid, it’s not that the value of student voice might change from region to region but rather what changes is the reason educators might value student voice in one region over another. This local motivation is one worth understanding and leveraging.

Develop your communication with them in mind, while staying true to who you are.

Not conducting customer research

Get to know your customers. Conduct interviews, host lunch and learns, connect with them at conferences. Get into the mind of your customers by asking open-ended questions. And just listen. Don’t fill the silence with suggestions and accidentally bias the answer. Just wait for it.

Your brand, is who you are. Use it as the lens through which you conduct your research. Focus on how to frame and get the most out of your conversations. 

Don’t try to be the “next big thing”. The next big thing didn’t.

'Fake 'til you make it' is some of the most common advice we hear. Don't get us wrong, projecting confidence and believing in your product is essential.

But sometimes, trying so hard to be "the next big thing" causes us to over-embellish, over promise, and speak too soon. Building trust is about meeting expectations. So, set the bar accurately.

Every great business started somewhere. Be open about where you're really at, share your story, even practice radical honesty, and people who believe in you will want to support you.

Not Owning Your Voice

Decide who you are and what you stand for first. This way, you won’t fall into the trap of telling customers what you think they want to hear. Because here’s the thing, they can tell. Just like you can tell when someone is being inauthentic.

Knowing who you are and knowing who your customers are is the basis of all compelling communication upon which trust can be built.

Roxanne Desforges