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Five Marketing Lessons That the Common Core Initiative Should Have Followed

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Over the past year, The Common Core State Standards—"a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy," according to its official website—have become a big news story.

The US Department of Education, Wall Street financiers, media pundits, Silicon Valley moguls, politicians from both parties, and education administrators at the state and local levels support it as a way to prepare American public school students for "college, career, and life." But a growing amount of teachers, child development experts, and parents are questioning the Common Core's promises, cost, and usefulness.

Why are the architects and supporters of the Common Core and its associated standardized PARCC test (which aims to measure student comprehension of the Common Core as well as the effectiveness of teachers who teach it) facing such opposition?

What Went Wrong

My theory is that the Common Core's proponents didn't perform their due diligence. They seemed to be more focused on putting the initiative into practice and "disrupting" public education rather than bulletproofing its content, perfecting its pedagogy, and proving its value to implementers (teachers) and end users (students, and by extension, their parents).


Resistance to the Common Core could have been significantly reduced if its designers borrowed examples of how some of America's most successful companies have been configured, launched, and marketed.

What Could Have Helped Pitch the Common Core

Here are five lessons from leading brands that the Common Core should have emulated prior to its introduction. In doing so, the Common Core would have improved its acceptance among educators, students, and parents:

1. Inspire bottom up innovation

When Mark Zuckerberg and his buds at Harvard began devising Facebook in 2003, their goal was to create a new social media experience that didn't exist in the marketplace. Their revolutionary ideas weren't mandated by a supervising body; they were discoveries that Zuckerburg and his partners envisioned and perfected.

If the true goal of the Common Core's architects was to devise high-quality academic standards that prepared public school students for college, career, and life, they should have enlisted teachers to formulate, test, and refine such standards themselves that were appropriate for their respective grade levels.

Upon construction, the new standards' effectiveness would then have been vetted by education researchers as well as parents. This kind of bottom-up approach would have gained traction among implementers and end users. Once finalized, the approved standards could have been rolled out on a national level.

2. Disrupt productively

In 2007, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the idea for AirBNB as an economical bed and breakfast-type solution for attendees of a San Francisco business convention who were unable to book sold-out hotel rooms. The company's conversion of personal residences into rentable short-term living quarters offered creative new lodging alternatives, filled a need in the marketplace, and productively "disrupted" the hotel business by challenging its status quo.

Whether the Common Core's disruption of public school academic standards is productive or unproductive has yet to be determined. If it delivers the benefits that it promises, then that's a good thing. But if the disruption that the Common Core is bringing to school systems, teachers, and students is more of a damaging disturbance, then it's a detriment (and the term "disruptive" would take on a less constructive meaning than the Common Core's architects and supporters intended).

3. Deliver undeniable 360° benefits

In 2002, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman launched the site as a novel way for business professionals to easily and efficiently network. Today, LinkedIn has over 300 million members in over 200 countries, and it is the world's premier business networking tool.

The steady growth and profitability of LinkedIn is attributable to its excellent features, ease of use, and multi-dimensional value as a way to help its users find jobs, generate leads, meet new customers, and connect with business acquaintances. LinkedIn users become LinkedIn disciples, and the site's utility continues to develop and build.

Though the Common Core has many laudable goals, its clear-cut advantages have yet to be realized. With no universally agreed upon benefits to speak of, it's not currently possible for the Common Core to attain rapturous LinkedIn-like buy-in among implementers (teachers) or end users (students and their parents). To ensure its success, it absolutely needs to deliver the benefits that have been promised.

4. Listen, adapt, and improve

Recently, Ford Motor Company decided to replace its much-reviled MyFord Touch infotainment system with a new system that's more user-friendly and has improved compatibility with apps, streaming services, and mobile devices.

According to tech site Gigaom, MyFord Touch was panned by consumers and critics for being slow and awkward to use, and even Ford chairman and namesake Bill Ford admitted the system was a dud when it first launched.

Such responsiveness to the concerns of implementers and end users hasn't been shown to be a priority for the architects of the Common Core. Protests and questions aren't being addressed, and according to its supporters, comprehensive alteration isn't permitted and changes aren't needed.

For the Common Core to acquire true advocates, a Ford-like strategy of upgrading its content and methodology is definitely in order.

5. Respect and thrill your customers

Amazon is No. 1 on the 24/7 Wall Street "Customer Service Hall of Fame" for the fifth year in a row. Amazon is also ranked No. 1 for customer satisfaction on the ForeSee Experience Index: US Retail Edition for the ninth year in a row.

If the architects and supporters of the Common Core employed Amazon's customer service approach, the curriculum would have a lot fewer critics and a lot more fans. But unfortunately, the pursuit of servicing and satisfying their "customers" (teachers, students, and parents) isn't mentioned in any of their marketing collateral. And as discussed above, respecting and thrilling their customers doesn't seem to be an element in their implementation protocol.

For the Common Core to stave off continued criticism and gain backing, a top-to-bottom overhaul of the way in which its proponents view, understand, engage, and satisfy their customers would be mandatory.

* * *

The Common Core's adoption by states has been spotty. Though most states have gotten on board, some have not and others have dropped out. To improve its adoption rate and also to boost marketplace enthusiasm about it, the Common Core's architects, supporters, and proponents should head back to school for remedial coursework from the A+ companies listed above.


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Rafe Gomez is a principal at VC Inc. Marketing, a provider of multimedia Sales Inquiry Optimized (SIO) content to companies around the world. His work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including MSNBC, Fox News Channel, Forbes, Yahoo Small Business Advisor, American Express OPEN Forum, Adweek, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Direct Marketing News.

Twitter: @vcincmarketing

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  • by Rafe Gomez Thu Jan 29, 2015 via web

    Thanks Aaron, glad you enjoyed it.

    The Common Core/PARCC's challenges are completely self-created. I don't know if the initiatives' proponents/architects would be willing to adapt, revise, or improve their approach, but if they did - and if they placed a premium of delivering outstanding customer service - they'd be able to achieve much greater support from their target end users.

  • by Michael O'Daniel Tue Feb 3, 2015 via web

    Everything you say is true. But it's a fantasy to think any of it could ever be implemented. Among all government and nonprofit agencies, the education establishment is particularly arrogant about NOT listening to its end users while coming up with cockamamie ideas from consultants who feed at the public trough, and then forcing each of these latest and greatest solutions upon the people who are tasked with making them work. It's criminal that the richest nation on earth has one of the poorest educational systems but good luck ever bringing about positive change. Too many vested interests -- politicians, private sector companies, consultants, administrators, teachers unions -- standing in the way of the complete overhaul the system needs. And frankly the political establishment is very happy with a dumbed-down electorate. Bread and circuses, anyone?

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