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“About two years ago I realized I was no longer a person but a brand.” Martha Stewart
In a good on-ground class, students leave the course with a sense of knowing the professor. They may return to visit or send messages in order to share their progress through life or to recapture the feelings they had while a student. In marketing terms, they are seeking to reconnect with your “brand.”
Branding is the process of creating a specific identity for an institution, product or even a person. These identities are a composite of emotional cues that convey a sense of the brand’s values. In an Aristotelian sense, a brand is a portrait of ethos, it expresses the "who," not just of who you are as a teacher but of your product; your class.
The initial question always seems to be, “why should I brand myself/my classes?” In the past the assumption has been that only entire schools or perhaps large departments were branded. The rest of us cruised along saying “I teach such-and-such at so-and-so University." The quality and prestige of our teaching products were largely determined by the reputation of our employer. Aside from the size of the paycheck, there is a perceived difference between an instructor saying "I teach an online class at Ivy-League U," compared to, "I teach an online class at Our Town Community College." The brand of the school immediately sets the perceived value in both price and quality. It shouldn't. The brand of a school doesn't make you a better teacher. You do.
First, look at your course title. Most likely, this is the most published piece of information about your class. It appears in all the catalogs, all the registration materials and, it is how students label the class when speaking to each other. The more a message is used, the more energy you’ll want to invest in it as a vehicle for your brand. Your course title is your tagline.
Does the course title sound enticing or does it sound generic? Think about the generic grocery products in the 1970s. Their lack of a brand became their brand. They weren’t just boring, the generic products sounded cheap and were associated with low quality. A flat course title does exactly the same thing; it leeches perceived value from your class.
Read this list of the most influential taglines in modern America. You'll probably find that you immediately recognize most of them.
Notice how these taglines (also called slogans) are short. Most modern taglines are only about seven syllables or less. Keeping things short makes them more memorable. Memorable is good.
Punch up your language. For instance, notice the difference between “Psych 200- Human Sexuality” and “Psych 200- Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll.” Feel that little bouncy flutter in your brain when reading the second one? Try on “Project Management 150- Efficiencies” compared to “Project Management 150- Bigger, Better, Faster, More!”
These are somewhat crude and flip examples but you get the point. Your course title should be attention-getting and it should never be written in “academicese.” Throwing ten-dollar words at your students has the same effect as tossing them around on the train. It’s not often that words like “dialectic” or “pedagogy” come up in common conversation so use them with the frequency with which they naturally occur…which is rarely. At best, they make you sound stuffy and pretentious. At worst, your brand comes off as hollow and inauthentic. Use the language you use in everyday life. Use words that sound specifically like you.
To create a powerful course title, look over your materials and distill out the themes. Following the belief that education makes life better, ensure that the language you choose expresses how. Why is this material important? What human needs or interest does it address? Will your students be entertained? Will this class make their lives easier? Will they earn more money, become a better leader, find philosophical satisfaction or be sexier?
There are numerous online articles available about how to write a slogan quickly and easily. Here are just a few examples:
Generate at least five potential titles for each course you teach then find the best. Ask colleagues, current students and friends which sounds the most attractive or try this online form.
Once you have some great course titles, follow along in this series of articles for more discussion on why you should bother with all this branding as well as ideas about where and how to apply your new and improved identity.