Why Your Online Course Needs Branding
How a powerful brand can help you sell more online courses.
When it comes to branding, many educators fall into one of two camps: Either they spend so much time absorbed in branding that their course never gets off the ground, or they never give it a thought and spend years muddling along without one.
Of course, you don’t really want to belong to either of these groups. On the one hand, branding should take a back seat until you have something to brand. Why get hung up on the logo for your new series of online courses if haven’t even begun to develop those courses?
On the other hand, once you do have those courses and are ready to build your business, a strong brand can make your job a lot easier. Here’s why you should take the time to develop a brand for your online course.
1. Differentiate yourself from the competition.
Very few educators have a course to sell that is entirely new, and when they do, they often have a harder time selling it than those who are offering courses within an established market. You might think competition makes your job harder, but in fact, the presence of competition means your target market already knows what they’re looking for. They just need to decide whether to take your course or someone else’s.
This is where branding becomes important. You’re not offering a generic product—you’re offing a unique course, and you are part of the value proposition. Or at least, that’s what your brand should communicate.
Your brand is an expression of the values and motivations that drive your business. If you believe online education should be flexible, adaptive, and innovative, that’s the kind of course you’re going to make. If you think it should be academically rigorous, then you’ll design a very different course. You communicate that ethos through your brand, and in return, it attracts learners who share that mindset. Which leads to the next point…
2. Establish your audience.
Consciously or not, when you design your course, you likely did so with a specific kind of learner in mind. Maybe you envisioned a young entrepreneur preparing to launch a startup. Or perhaps you were creating a course for a class of fourth graders. You might even be creating a training program for a large corporation. No matter who your audience is, you have one—even if you’ve never stopped to think very hard about who they might be.
The problem is, even if you know who your audience is, you may not be communicating this well without an established brand. Visitors to your website might read about your course, but that may not be enough to convince them to sign up without an assurance that the course was designed with them in mind.
The needs of an employee taking an ongoing education course during work hours are very different from a working student taking an online evening course. By using your brand to show how your course was built to satisfy those needs, you are directly addressing any hesitations they might have.
3. Create a memorable impression.
It is estimated that the average person interacts with hundreds—if not thousands—of brands a day. This can pose a challenge for your online education course, because while your learners may have stumbled upon you once, there’s no guarantee they’ll return if they can’t remember who you are.
In other words, you don’t just need to stand out from your competitors, you need to lodge in a potential learner’s memory well enough for them to recall you later, after they’ve left your site and are thinking of coming back to sign up for a course.
A strong brand is like a mnemonic device, helping visitors recall your name and details about your course when they want to find you again. And it also helps them describe your course and its distinguishing characteristics to other people. After all, not every visitor will want to take your course, but they may spread word of it to others. Your brand can give them something to talk about.
4. Build an emotional connection.
Finally, brands are highly emotional. When someone creates a particularly inspiring brand, consumers are likely to identify with it. (See: PC vs. Mac users.) Many people don’t just want to sign up for a course—they want to feel like their decision was a good one for reasons beyond its utility.
This is why so many brands adopt social causes, or try to establish value signals through their marketing or messaging. They want you to know that they are sustainable, that they give back to their communities, and that they have a history that goes back decades.
None of this is to say you should try to attach your brand to a charity, but you do want to use your brand to create emotional resonance with your audience. For instance, you can draw on aspirational messaging to connect your course with your learner’s deep-held dreams and ambitions. Or you can use humor to tickle their funny bone. Either way, by tapping into emotion, your learners are more likely to sign up for your course, feel confident in their decision, and encourage others to do likewise.
Course first. Branding second.
Remember, branding is important, but it’s nothing without content. It’s easy to become so caught up in the thrill of defining your brand identity that you use it to avoid the far more important—but challenging—work of creating a course. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap.
Furthermore, as important as your brand is, it’s a work in progress. You may need to launch your first course and get your feet wet before you know enough about your program and your learners to know what you want your brand to be.
Your brand will help you market your course, once you have a course to market. Don’t put it off indefinitely, but don’t let it keep you from setting forth.