Yesterday i went for a cream tea in a small Dorset village. The building was in a tiny village, next to a stream and the church, and decorated in a very firmly ‘elderly lady’ style. From the doilies on the table, to the tins of biscuits for sale, the yellow checked tablecloths and the preponderance of walking frames, it was firmly targeting the older generation. In fact, i reckon i had about thirty years on the next youngest person.
Today, i’m writing whilst sitting in Starbucks. It’s uniform decoration is somewhat vibrant, the christmas music is playing and the lights are bright. The people on either side of me are foreign students, both younger. The queue at the counter is mainly mothers with children in pushchairs and students.
Both these establishments serve hot drinks, but both have a different audience. There were no prams and students in the cream tea shop, and no elderly ladies here in Starbucks.
Differentiation is not just by the lack of doilies and the colour of tablecloths, it can be through language, position on the high street, the names of the coffee and the types of cake you make. It’s not one thing that differentiates the offering for different markets: it’s a host of things.
We need to ensure that we are differentiating our learning solutions appropriately too. It’s important to recognise when we are doing a high level, ‘one size fits all’ piece, or where we are crafting a solution for a particular set of learners. If it’s for a particular group, then we need to understand what differentiates them and how the message is likely to be made to resonate. Do we want christmas songs, or do we want doilies?
Whilst attempting to differentiate the offering for different users, we also need to avoid making assumptions that may not be grounded in reality. it’s easy to assume that people are ‘technical’, or ‘young’ or ‘just want the facts’, based simply on the job role they have, whilst in fact most people are agile learners, and most people can easily tell good from bad.
With a coffee shop, it’s usually called branding and marketing, terms that we can consider in learning too. It’s always worth remembering the contract that we form with the learner: to ensure that what we do is relevant and timely, worthy of attention.
Branding is about more than just colours, it’s about the story behind the brand. What makes Ben and Jerry’s ice cream different is not just the logo. It’s how they’ve tied it in with a story. They have given their story character and personality. They are aiming for a personal connection, much different from that which Dell seeks to establish with you, but both are trying to sell you things. We can consider the type of connection that we are trying to build, and try to make our branding, our messaging and our decoration match that connection.
Sure, this can sometimes run against the grain of corporate guidelines, which would see everything made identical, but if we want people to engage, then we need to pay attention to the behaviours that they exhibit in their everyday lives. People are attracted to things that resonate with their interests. We can work with this.