The branding of education

Written by Suhel Seth | Updated: Feb 10 2005, 05:30am hrs
There is an evolution in branding even where education in India is concerned. And if you look around, then pioneers are jostling for consumer mind-space, as are the young turks. Brands, like the NIITs of this world, set new benchmarks both in terms of communication as also the kind of target segmentation they addressed. Preparing the young of India for the sunrise and reasonably lucrative pastures of BPO businesses and the parallel software boom that has become the Indian brand mark around the world today. I remember being haunted for all the positive reasons by the advertising of NIIT: communication in which the clear brand benefit was not a diploma at the end of the course but more than that a partnership between the institute and the future career of the student. Done before young turks like Amity came on the scene.

But most of education branding has never been the subject of either advertising or marketing case studies and more is the pity. If you take a look around you, then you will see that brands, like the IITs and IIMs, have already created superior consumer value. As brands go, they are cherished, they are valuable and, whats more, with every passing year, the brand benefit only gets embellished.

Obviously, most of these brands began as commodities, which is what education brands can easily fall into. More so when there is greater demand than supply. But the fact that in magazines you see education being advertised with as much flair as moisturising cream is an indication of things to come.

There are, however, many failings with the current brand construct that some of these education brands follow. The post-purchase scenario is woefully bleak. Alumnis are created only for reunions or, whats worse, for secured or guaranteed admission to alumni children. And if there is someone as generous as Arjun Malhotra or Nandan Nilekani, then the institute benefits as well. Also, since most of these education brands still promise only the basic benefit of the degree or diploma, at times couched in silly testimonials, the credibility factor as well as clutter-breaking potential suffers. And this is where these brands must begin the process of introspection.

My belief is that while the IIMs and IITs are very strong brands, their universe is woefully limited to India. They have not even become regional or global powerhouses except as CV mentions of the glorious few that today occupy the global stage. School brands, like DPS, have at times shown how vulnerable they can be, not to mention how inadequately prepared when scandal enters the classroom.

The time for education brands to invest in real-time brand management has arrived. Only because in our country, every traffic light boasts of either a management institute or a coaching class. There was a time when we all grew up to a Brilliant Tutorials or Agarwal Classes if we aspired to get into an IIT.

Where are these brands today Brands like Amity have taken the lead through smart communication even though the owners have been mired in controversies. Respect for an education brand is vital and this is the course-correction perhaps Amity needs!

It is ironic while education brands are process-driven to follow a syllabi for their own progress, rarely do they follow brand processes with much zeal. Which is why you will see heaps of advertising just when it is admission time. But precious little to announce either trail-blazing results or achievements. With brands like NIIT which have been headed by pioneers like Rajendra Pawar need to take the lead in this regard, it is equally critical that we in advertising and marketing look at education with greater gravitas than ever before.

I have always maintained that India will thrive in three business domains: entertainment, edibles and education. While we have achieved a measure of maturity in the first two, it is the third citadel that needs to be stormed.

These brands will need to be built on the back of careful research which should take into account forecasting of career types that will open up as Indias economy marches ahead. There is a dire need for a retail institute which is truly pan-national. VLCC has taken a step by creating VLCC institutes only to create grooming entrepreneurs: a business extension as well as something that will be profitable. While the nation is going hoarse about Indias arrival on the world retail map, there is no one institute that can claim to train tomorrows retailers. At the same time, while we announce the opening of Indian skies with great fanfare, there is no institute on a pan-national basis, which is a true brand that can claim to train flight attendants and ground handling staff. This is where the gap for a real brand is and this is what needs to be filled. The sooner, the better.

The writer is CEO, Equus Redcell