Educators are always looking for ways to engage and motivate students. Using basic marketing and sales techniques, we can rethink the way we capture the attention of students and retain them as lifelong learners.


In education, small learning communities are used to foster a sense of belonging in students. In marketing, branding is used similarly to promote loyalty to products and services. This is done by creating a distinct identity – one that taps into a specific niche and caters to a specific consumer. The brand creates a community through hype, familiarity, recognition, trust and originality.

In a classroom, YOU are the brand and your classroom culture should authentically and consistently sell learning. Here are some ways to create a brand and promote a learning culture in your classroom:

  • Create authentic relationships with students (of course!) based on more than just interests in your class.
  • Choose classroom core values and emphasize them consistently and often, especially when facing challenges.
  • Emphasize cooperation between students – a “we all succeed together” mentality.
  • Organize special events, theme days, and experiences for your students, without exclusion based on a rewards or punishment system.
  • Take every opportunity to have “promotional” items like t-shirts, pencils, or stickers with teacher or student created ideas and names.
  • Create teacher v. teacher competitions (but with non-learning goals – for fun).
  • Use repetition in all things: classroom routine, catch phrases, names for regular assignments – jargonize your class.
  • Embrace your quirkiness and be corny! Your distinct (and wacky) identity makes you memorable and loving-eye-roll worthy.


Use social (or school-wide) media

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? The majority of 21st century students use social media and studies are finding that this is significantly changing the way they learn. In addition, the role of social media has been significantly underestimated in creating classroom culture. Today’s students don’t live like today’s adults lived – they don’t make friends, learn new things, participate in the arts and music, relax, relate to their parents or find a sense of belonging in the same ways their parents did. The created spaces they inhabit to do these activities are the spaces educators now have to present learning
in order to engage them. Here are some simple ideas for promoting learning through social media:

  • Use all of the technological tools your school has available and consider using them simultaneously. Students are used to multi-tasking with media and sometimes this approach (ironically) allows for less distraction.
  • Encourage engagement outside of school hours through email blasts, webpage posts, or other forum/chat environments. Just like in marketing, not all posts should be “product” or learning centered – engage through fun to build motivation for students to “check in” on the class.
  • Use social media formats like a pro: classroom webpages for assignments, graphic and picture heavy information for lectures, texting for participation, comments for formative assessments, concepts presented through video, FB Live (and other real-time)presentations, and don’t forget advertisements! Sneak in plugs for upcoming content when you can to preview and activate knowledge.
  • Don’t forget the networking aspect – connect with people school-wide/nation-wide/globally to expose students to diverse expectations and surprising commonalities.
  • Class-sponsor media within the school and online: write and publish articles together about topics relevant to your content, showcase learning and classroom life with picture threads and hashtags, donate class-chosen raffle items for events. Make people want to be part of the “hype” you build virtually (and reinforce your brand!).

*Please familiarize your students (and yourself) with the acceptable use policy for your school/district and abide by it.

Incentivize to create a customer (customer of knowledge)

When marketing a product, incentives are used to generate a purchase. Offering a reward, discount or special promotional item encourages new customers to try a product and, if the product (or salesperson) is good, they can become a loyal customer. Educators often get incentives wrong. They are almost always earned by students who don’t need them – students who are already loyal customers of your content knowledge. So how do you get a new customer, an apathetic or passive learner to “buy in”? Just like with a product, once a student sees what learning can do, he or she will be more confident, more curious and more receptive to more knowledge. That’s how true learners are created. Here are some ways to facilitate a receptive learner using incentives:

  • Offer “free samples” with exemplary models of assignments, homework forgiveness for spending time with your content outside of class, and supplemental material for the taking, just for fun.
  • Give students choice but direct them towards the more challenging assignments (when appropriate) with point incentives. Even done on an impromptu and casual level (“Hey Joe, I’ll give you 10 points on that missing homework if you try this option.”) can be used for differentiation.
  • Use customer loyalty incentives for frequent “buyers” of knowledge by rewarding good learner HABITS, rather than performance. Offer homework passes only after great class participation, or extra credit for self-motivated note-taking or staying after to clarify a topic. Doing this individually and spur-of -the-moment works better than whole class assignments.
  • Try sales techniques like “flash sales”, bidding or raffles for content concepts students are required to learn or project choices to create excitement for a subject. *Bonus for doing this through social media
  • Something to remember: Sales incentives are typically small in actual “value”, but with enough chance and little risk. Keep this in mind with classroom incentives – they don’t need to be large to jump start something big.

Customer Service is crucial

As consumers, we return to a brand or product because of our experience with it, not just how it works. Loyal customers can be created and kept, even with an occasional hiccup in function or service of product, because of customer service. In education, we certainly can’t expect our teachers to acquiesce to all student demands, but we can use the metaphor of customer service to help create lifelong learners. We can compare customer service to encouraging students to be happy, hard-working and inspired, even when they dislike specific content. Here are ways you can use this metaphor in the classroom:

  • Check in with your students and make sure they are satisfied, formally or informally. Simple classroom surveys can be useful and allow students to feel as if their suggestions are taken seriously. Even if you can’t fix every issue, it will create trust to take interest.
  • If a student feels wronged, give the benefit of the doubt. An argument over the due date of an assignment or a few points on a question isn’t worth losing a learner. Sometimes this means compromising (not on principles, ethics or rules) by agreeing to disagree and move on in exchange for a promise to rebuild trust and extra effort into a new project.
  • Be pro-active about problems. If it seems like an assignment isn’t working for a student, be willing to be flexible and change something to make it work. Try to approach the student before the student approaches you. It’s easier to guide a student to a solution when he feels you are already looking out for him.
  • Pass it up to a superior, if needed. Sometimes in a tough ethical situation it’s better to have a third party evaluate it and decide. It can preserve your personal relationship with the student while still settling the issue with finality.
  • Be available as often as possible. If students know they can always reach you, they will rarely abuse the option but it will prove you want them to succeed and it eradicates excuses.
  • Fortune is in the follow-up. We are following up constantly as educators – with data, conferences, IEPs, progress monitoring and the myriad of other tools we use to ensure our students are making strides. All of these things are extremely important, but thinking of follow-up also from a customer service perspective creates loyalty to you, your class and learning. Keep in touch with students from past years, help students reflect on previous learning and class experience, give specific and accurate feedback often, and elicit feedback from your students about lessons and assignments.

Loyal customers for life

Education is not a business and real educators know that. While it is useful to make a comparison between business practices and teaching children to learn and care about learning, the stakes are much higher in education. The market on knowledge is not intended to dupe students and should never be handled with the same intentions as a capitalist enterprise. Still, it’s true that sometimes educators feel at a loss for what to try next to motivate students in a world where knowledge is at everyone’s fingertips and yet so many can’t find it. If education can take what marketers know about how to forge buy-in, capture attention, keep customers coming back for more, we have an opportunity to capitalize on knowledge in the classroom.

Contributed by FieldGoals Academy’s Emilie A. O’Neal, M.Ed