Making the Case for Discovery (Part 2)
In a previous post, I wrote about how an otherwise routine discovery process revealed a breathtaking data point. And how that insight led to a widely appealing story angle that generated a surprising amount of media coverage for PEBC.
I’ll continue the argument for investing time and resources in discovery, including original research, by sharing a story about a school district that was in a rush to rebrand and what happened after I convinced them to slow down enough to involve stakeholders in the process.
Market research that revealed the soul of a school district
Adams County School District 50 (now Westminster Public Schools) approached me in early December 2014 (when Springboard Communications was just a twinkle in my eye), filled with excitement about launching a district-wide marketing program. The Board of Education was convinced that the process should begin with changing the district’s name and designing a new logo, and asked me to facilitate a strategy session to help them think about how to approach that work. They began the conversation by telling me they hoped to begin the logo design in January and unveil a new identity before the end of the school year.
It’s not every day that a school district considers rebranding and many people, not just educators, confuse a logo with a brand. So while I agreed that Adams 50 would benefit from a new visual identity (see current logo below), I reframed that first conversation around what a new logo would help district leaders achieve: a significant shift in how the district and its schools are perceived by their stakeholders, primarily parents.
Just switching from one logo to another wouldn’t by itself result in greater awareness of what the district’s schools offer to students, parents, teachers and staff. Rather, a new logo would serve as an important, though ultimately small, part of a comprehensive rebranding strategy that resulted in far greater numbers of core stakeholders understanding what makes those schools special and unique.
Refocusing on outcomes (shifting perceptions) instead of outputs (new logo) helped make the case for the real task at hand: getting objective and insight-rich information about how the district is currently perceived, building consensus among district leadership about how they wanted to be viewed, and identifying the gap between those two realities.
Not long after that Board strategy session, I brought two babies into the world: my son, Andrew, and my organization, Springboard Communications. Adams 50 was the first partner to sign on with Springboard, and in June 2015 we kicked off what has become a year-long rebranding process. Nearly seven months of that time was spent on market research including one-on-one interviews with the Board of Education and senior leadership team; focus groups with parents, teachers, staff and students; and multiple rounds of community-wide surveys.
As anyone who’s ever listened to public comment at a Board meeting knows, it’s amazing what people say when you just give them the mic. We walked away from that process with a vast array of insights about why teachers stayed year after year, why generations of families chose Adams 50 schools, and also why staff felt unappreciated or stifled at times.
The most powerful insights were revealed in places of intersection, where stakeholders’ positive perceptions and the attributes valued by leadership unite. Here’s my favorite example from the analysis:
There is clear and powerful alignment between how district leaders want Adams 50 schools to be perceived, and what they currently offer, in the themes of “Personalized Learning” and “Family Feel.” In addition, these ideas are closely interwoven.
Because the Adams 50 school district is a small, close-knit community, it is a place where a student’s strengths and challenges can truly be known and where teachers care about every child. And, the district’s competency based system magnifies teachers’ commitment to personalized learning by giving them the tools to individualize their instruction more effectively. Furthermore, teachers and staff are supported in their demanding work by a caring community of colleagues who treat them like members of a family.
The interconnectedness of these ideas is deepened by the emotional connection they have the potential to create. They speak directly to the fundamental need each person has for love and belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization. In other words, we all want to be loved and cared for, to build our confidence and to use our talents to make a difference. These authentic statements of caring, commitment and contribution represented by these themes have the potential to represent the soul of the Adams 50 brand and to create a deep, powerful connection with its audiences.
I can honestly say that, at the outset of the rebranding process, not one single person expected that this statement would ultimately describe what makes Adams 50 schools special and unique. But it has become our North star, guiding the development of a new messaging framework, new district name, new tagline and — soon — a new visual identity.
I can’t wait to share those pieces with you. In the meantime, I hope this example helps you make the case for investing in discovery, including market research where needed, before diving into your next amazing project.
A final note: market research doesn’t have to take seven months. The district was, understandably, concerned about the pace of such significant changes, especially its proposed name change, and invested four months in engaging stakeholders around that specific step in the process.