Since 2012, I have been working on brands. Whether it was big enterprise brands or smaller ‘mom and pop’ brands, I learned a lot about brand strategy, brand development and brand messaging. I realized that a brand can truly help your business differentiate itself – if it is done well. At that point in time, companies and organizations were moving from brand missions and visions to brand purpose. This got me excited, and I decided to learn more. In 2014, at my business, I parlayed this knowledge and experience into services we could offer our clients – whether it is building their brand architecture, brand identity (logo, look and feel) or key messages. It has been a focus service of our agency since then.
While all of this was happening professionally, I noticed a parallel story was unfolding in my personal life in our school system. My involvement with the Red Bank Borough Public Schools runs deep, starting as many moms do by getting involved with the PTO, but then quickly turning into advocacy for fair school funding.
The parallel story began with the hire of a new superintendent in 2014. He began to tell a new story. Because I was keen on storytelling and branding, I was automatically drawn into the story. He proclaimed that our school system would be recognized as “Best in America.” At that time, our school system was classified as “needs improvement” by the state of New Jersey, and we were more than $7 million underfunded each year in a district that serves about 90% free/reduced lunch students. On top of that, instead of “Best in America,” we held the distinctions of “most segregated school district in NJ,” because the racial makeup of our public school was so drastically different from the Red Bank Charter School, and the “the most underfunded school district in NJ to host a charter school.” It seemed like a long shot. But, for those of us that had been advocating for our school system, we knew we had to become early adopters of this mentality. We wanted the best education for all of our students. We were on board with being Best in America.
We watched as the new superintendent spent the first-year listening, getting involved and being present. Then shortly after his second year, he announced and launched this new idea to the community: #RBBisBIA. To me it was brilliant. A brand! He launched our brand, and along with it came a new brand identity (logo) and a purpose, “Dream BIG … We’ll help you get there!” As a branding professional, I have watched the best brands execute well and emotionally connect with people all around the world. On the other hand, I have also seen brands put on a shelf and fail at execution. In this case, the brand execution was almost better than the development.
Quickly, community advocates, staff and administration and students began using the #RBBisBIA hashtag and brand. You started to see it everywhere – from Twitter, to lawn signs, to t-shirts to bumper stickers. And the beauty of it all is that you did not just see it – you felt it. And that is when I knew that this was the real deal. This moment reminded me of an earlier professional experience with a client/friend that had just taken a job as CMO for one of the largest banks in the United States. She invited me down to her new offices. I remember her passionately speaking about the bank’s brand purpose and how well executed it was. She told me that one of the reasons she took the new role was because she felt the brand purpose the minute she walked into her first meeting. The brand was alive. Then, she asked me if I could feel it during the meetings I had earlier that day, and truth be told – I did.
Those feelings don’t come easily. They are usually saved for iconic brands. But, when you walk through the doors of one of the Red Bank Borough Public School sites, you can tell that the #RBBisBIA brand has permeated through the building. It is in the infrastructure. It is engrained. You can feel the confidence in the students, the pride – they believe they are Best in America, and they are the best brand ambassadors an organization could ask for!
I always wanted to take the time to document this story and write a case study to share with the brand and education worlds. It dawned on me this week that now was the time. As I mentioned earlier our school system was classified as “needs improvement,” but just last week it achieved a “high performing” designation by the state of New Jersey—despite a $7 million-a-year shortfall for eight long years. This is a direct result of the brand…it ran deep. It changed the staff and administration. They developed processes and techniques to reach their goals. The mindset was adopted by students. The brand led the way. A movement was created. #RBBisBIA
For more about this great story, visit the Red Bank Borough Public Schools website.