4 Brand Lessons to Apply in Your School from In-N-Out Burger

This new year is nearly three months old and I have already been on nine trips to begin work with seven new schools, speak at a conference and go on a family vacation. One of the benefits of my school consulting business is that I get to travel, although sometimes too often.

I have been to California twice this year. I always enjoy visiting In-and-Out Burger when I am on the west coast. There is something about this hamburger place that I enjoy, especially since we don’t have these restaurants in Florida.

Many things stand out to me about In-and-Out Burger. In fact, I believe that private school leaders can learn from their example. While we aren’t selling hamburgers, their principles are relevant for private and independent school marketing.

1. The simplicity of their menu.

You essentially have three main choices at In-N-Out Burger: A double-double, cheeseburger or hamburger. You can also include fries and drink. This is in direct contrast to what you find in other fast food restaurants. My son works on the grill at Dairy Queen and he said that they have 10 different hamburger options, in addition to chicken sandwiches and hot dogs.

The simplicity of the In-N-Out Burger menu has stood the test of time in their business model. They know what their customers want. They haven’t had to add a surplus of other options like the other chains. Instead, they provide their three best and only burger options. Simplicity sells.

Sometimes in our school environment we make things too complicated. While I am not suggesting that we limit our offerings to three choices, we have to recognize and understand our strengths in our schools. In-N-Out Burger knows that they are very good at making these three burgers. Do you know what you are good at in your school or are you just trying to add anything you can to your menu so that you can be all things to all people?

It is also important that we don’t overcomplicate our offerings. Sometimes, by offering too many choices, we confuse parents rather than steering them to make a decision from our list of strengths. Remember, simplicity sells.

2. The consistency of their branding.

I love the In-N-Out Burger brand. Every restaurant looks the same and uses the consistent arrow icon. In addition, the entire restaurant follows a consistent visual brand pattern. You can easily recognize the In-N-Out Burger brand when you are in California and a few other fortunate states.

I have been in many schools that have ineffective brands. From the use of multiple logos to inconsistent colors to an outdated look, school brands are all over the map. We need to utilize this lesson from the consistency of the In-N-Out Burger brand. We need one logo and one color palette and this should be communicated consistently throughout the entire experience in your school.

3. The focused message of their tagline.

One of my favorite components of the In-N-Out Burger marketing effort is their tagline. Their tagline, “Quality you can taste,” tells me everything I need to know about the In-N-Out Burger experience. This is their value proposition wrapped up into their tagline. This phrase helps to position them against their competition by suggesting that their burger is quality. After all, you want to enjoy your burger experience and to taste a quality burger rather than some processed meat in another fast food experience.

I also like the rhythm of the tagline. By using four short words, this tagline is memorable and relates to what you will experience in the restaurant.

Too often our school taglines don’t convey the main value proposition that will reach our customer base. The message needs to represent the experience of your school in a concise and compelling choice of words. It should help to differentiate your school against your competition. It should inspire one to take action.

4. The loyalty and passion of their customers.

In January, my wife and I arrived in the Oakland, CA, area on a Saturday evening. I was there to begin work with Redwood Christian Schools in Castro Valley. Just down the road from our hotel was, you guessed it, an In-N-Out Burger. We were hungry from traveling all day. I decided to go over to pick up some burgers so that we could taste the quality.

I didn’t think I would have to wait in line at 9:30pm. When I arrived, the line stretched out the door and every seat was taken in the restaurant. In fact, this is often my experience when I visit In-N-Out Burger. Whether in the middle of the afternoon or late at night, the restaurant attracts a steady stream of loyal customers.

Like some other brands, In-N-Out Burger has a strong loyal following and its customer base is passionate. They must be doing something right to generate this type of steady business and a line out the door late at night!

School leaders would love to be in this same type of situation. We want to create raving fans that will be loyal and passionate about our school experience. In my experience, very few schools have created this type of loyalty and passion among their parents. This is not something that is developed overnight.

The key lesson we learn from In-N-Out Burger is that a good product will draw a steady stream of customers. They keep coming back for the quality they can taste.

A great burger creates loyal and passionate fans.

A great school creates loyal and passionate fans.

We need to consider the brand lessons we can learn from In-N-Out Burger and implement them in our schools. Better yet, if you are fortunate to live near one of their restaurants, visit them today and think about how these lessons can be applied at your school.

And, make sure you order a double-double and fries while you are there (see below). I can already taste the quality.

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