Regardless of whether a Mercedes comes from South Africa, the USA or Germany, it should not matter when it comes to quality. Quality is the most important thing. But just being good isn’t enough. Otherwise the product will simply end up eventually becoming overtaken technologically, too expensive, and out of date. Brands are intuitively recognisable and have a convincing unique selling point.
The Coke bottle has unique brand recognition value, but what about the contents? If only those who are brand obsessives know why you can exclusively drink Coke and why Pepsi is a no go, the unique selling point lacks substance. A good slogan can help, but this also has its pitfalls. A glass and a half in everyone. Nice. But the chocolate sold is still quite average. And if the slogan ties the product to a certain era and doesn’t let go, the consequences can be bad. Although the slogan has been retired, people still associate the Yorkie bar with not feeding the birds. For many it still remains “not for girls”.
Tenacious archaeologists are still finding isolated specimens on the ground, and elsewhere on enthusiasts’ sites on the Internet. When the language ensnares the product, however high the quality may be, this then becomes difficult to communicate. Haribo has a similar problem. The slogan may seem childish today, but that is not the only problem they’re facing: the magazine Der Spiegel has written, under the title “Unsold bears”: “For decades, Haribo was considered a fixture on the shelf, the very embodiment of an indispensable brand. Now the Goldbear is being axed, and not just by Lidl.” The reason: the alternatives are not in any way inferior, but rather cheaper. The brand’s ability to innovate is too weak. The founder, Hans Riegel, was his product. His successors got bogged down in a multitude of unimportant “innovations” and side products.
Maintaining quality, remaining authentic and being innovative – these are the ingredients from which an enduring brand core is created. Waldorf also has a brand core, has essentials that are non-negotiable. The schools offer a service that must withstand scrutiny of its quality. However, the key ingredients of this service and of its quality are derived from categories that are not easily accessible to external scrutiny. They cannot be weighed and measured. Enthusiasm, empathy, balance and persistence cannot be expressed in kilograms or Newton metres, but they are defining variables in the performance that a school offers, for example, in the form of the quality of its lessons.
But a school does not solely consist of various imponderables, it also has many things that can be quantified and well described as values. Which Waldorf subjects are available – or are no longer available? Which structures are there for conflict resolution, with which appointment procedures, and with which competencies? Is there self-governance by the teachers – or are the teachers governed? The list goes on. An individual school is not independent when it comes to questions of quality, but represents the whole brand as a part of the association of all Waldorf schools and its image.
Stefan Grosse is a class and religion teacher at the Esslingen Free Waldorf School and a board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools.