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What I Learned About Education From Beats By Dre

How do we help teachers better market what they are teaching and enhance their teaching by latching on to something that is already perceived as cool by students?

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This is the fourth article in a series of blogs that explore how career advice from different sectors and companies can be highly relevant to education. 

In my last post, I wrote about the movies – specifically how the communication method used by Pixar can help teachers better communicate with, and motivate their students. Another company that can teach us some valuable lessons to apply to education is Beats By Dre, the consumer headphone and audio brand founded in 2006 by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.

According to Fast Company, in 2013 a pair of Beats headphones was sold every minute and were being worn by global superstar athletes and musicians including Serena Williams, Lebron James, will.i.am, Nicki Minaj and Pharell Williams. Beats clearly mastered the art of marketing and making its brand relevant.

But the Fast Company story continues, “Beats by Dre single-handedly brought mainstream appeal to high-end headphones, giving young consumers street-ready cans with plenty of street cred. But Beats isn’t great design—it’s just great marketing.” 

Beats knew how to interject its product into conversations around pop culture including music, sports, and fashion. And it’s no doubt that Beats found success. The company was acquired by Apple for $3 billion dollars. Yet it didn’t sell a superior or indispensable product. So what made the Beats brand and marketing so successful and how can we apply some of those learnings to education? 

The Power of Marketing In The Classroom

The best marketing campaigns make their brands cool and present a world that you as the consumer want to join and be a part of. It requires great storytelling and a gaggle of the right fans who buy into the story. So how do we replicate that in education? How do you make learning algebra cool? How do we help teachers better market what they are teaching and enhance their teaching by latching on to something that is already perceived as cool by students? Here are some ideas:

In music education, we can start with popular music that kids love. Kids naturally embrace music. They engage with it further when they are inspired by it. By starting the learning process with inspiration and engaging students via culturally relevant content that matters to them, they are more likely to enjoy learning it and therefore stay more engaged.

For example, it is easier to talk about Mozart if you can make it relate to something the kids already know – perhaps there was a movie that used the work that you can utilize or  maybe you could compare him to another child prodigy like Justin Bieber. Similarly, you could teach American history through the lens of hip hop, incorporating lessons like the history of hip hop, a topic that has already seen many students interested and engaged. For more inspiration on engaging content, why not look at pop culture generally, which, by nature, is popular!

Experience is equally important to the content itself – an engaging learning experience will clearly keep students actively engaged for longer.  At WURRLYedu we looked at what kids already liked and wanted to emulate the experience of popular creation tools and social media platforms that allow the creation of music videos. This fosters student creativity but can also be used as an “end cap” to a non music topic – requiring students to reflect back and solidify what they learned. 

Interestingly, all of these examples create a fear of missing out (or FOMO as it is often described), which is also a powerful marketing tool! Students will participate more if they see their peers having fun with something. 

Many online music education platforms and tools can help with both content and experience. WURRLYedu for example offers an extensive music catalog that is culturally and racially diverse, with thousands of songs including pop, rock, hip hop, country, mariachi, choral, jazz, and classical. This empowers students to choose and record a song that interests them (and also helps teachers try and gauge actual student interest). The experience, taking them through a creation flow with audio and video filters and effects, and class feeds showcasing their classmates’ work, also emulates the fun social media and creation apps that they use outside of school, which in turn helps drive their interest further.  They can then go further and practice, record, and collaborate with their classmates. Teachers can select lesson plans that feature specific songs or other content, and share related video tips by Grammy-award winning artists and industry professionals. The result is greater engagement in the classroom.

Leverage Your Student Influencers

Great marketing requires great storytelling, but it also must be supported with an essence of cool so that the right influencers become fans. In a school setting, great storytelling is allowing your students to imagine themselves as masters of the knowledge and using super engaging, popular, and relatable content that engages their curiosity.  

And how do you engage the influencers? Simply ask your students what they are interested in, and build out lessons around that. Even a quick Zoom poll will tell you a lot. Listen to where they want to go, then guide them, and teach the skills you need to teach within that context. By hearing what your students have to say, you can be sure the right gaggle of fans will be engaging in the lessons you present with their suggested ideas and content.

If we have learned anything through the pandemic and the social justice movement, it is that we must be thoughtful about not just the content but also the experience if we want students to learn, engage and grow.

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