Friday, October 29, 2010

Teaching is a lot like Branding

This morning, Seth Godin had an interesting posting on this blog about 'pushing back on mediocre professors', and that got me thinking.

You hear the cliche a lot: first impressions are important.  I'd like to take that a step further, that all impressions are important and that your first is merely where you start from.  I have always been a firm believer in paying attention to the way you act and present yourself to others, because all impressions are important. The better your first impression, the better your starting position on the grid.  You need to make a good first impression, but maintain it and build upon it.  Now this all sounds very familiar, but in a different context. 

I subscribe to the school of thought that people are brands.  The way we look, the way we act and even the way we talk communicates who we are and what we stand for.  Our first impression becomes our first brand experience and if that experience is poor, then it takes a lot of effort and time to improve your brand image.  Like any brand, we need to work at maintaining the image and experience we want to communicate, all the time focusing on being genuine and creating connections.  Marketers should be among the first to know this and this is why many are self-critical and self-aware about what their personal brand is communicating.

As marketers, one of our goals is to turn a strong brand into strong sales.  By managing a brand, we are trying to encourage consumers to buy into our ideas and our products.  So as individuals, we need to try and encourage other people to buy into our ideas.

Professors are no different.  You need to manage yourself and your brand to encourage students to buy into your thoughts and ideas.  You need to engage them in thought and pull them into a valuable conversation, and this is what Godin is getting at: "perhaps you could assign this as homework and we could have an actual conversation in class...".

We've all had professors who have pulled information directly from texts, read from slides and generally left us somewhere between bored and unconscious.  Why?  Because we weren't buying in.  I've had the privileged of having a number of excellent professors who did engage me, who compelled me to buy into their brand because they had interesting things to say, a tolerance for new and innovative thinking and a desire to promote conversation and debate about concepts.  These are the individuals who understand what it takes to get buy-in and understand the value of maintaining an engaging brand.  As Godin says, these are the people who push us "to solve interesting problems, overcome our fear or learn something that I could learn in no other way", and for that we should all be indebted to them.

Avoiding uninteresting professors is not the take away from this.  Think of Godin's ideas in a wide variety of contexts: purchasing consumer goods, being an employee, making new relationships.  In every case, you need to manage your brand to create buy-in, create engagement and give the other party what they are looking for: value.

--Authors Note: I think personal branding is important, but so does Shaminda Attygalle.  Check out his thoughts on defining your personal brand here. He is right: we are our own brand managers. --