When competition, recognition, and visibility play an increasingly vital role, it's no wonder why branding has become a hot topic for schools.
Schools need to create an identity that resonates with their target audience — students, parents, alumni, and the wider community. Imagery, language, experiences, design — a strong, consistent brand not only builds trust and communicates your school's values and mission but also fosters a sense of belonging and pride among students, staff, and stakeholders.
Why is branding important for schools?
In a competitive market, a well-branded school can be the deciding factor for families when choosing the right school for their children.
Furthermore, a solid brand can pave the way for long-term success — it creates a sense of belonging and pride among students, staff, and alumni long after graduation. But despite its importance, branding is still often overlooked by schools — why?
Many offices have limited school marketing budgets, which forces them to prioritize academic performance, student activities, or student well-being. Additionally, schools may lack the manpower to develop and execute branding strategies altogether.
Public school districts, in particular, usually operate within a less-competitive environment, which sometimes reduces the pressure to create a strong brand to attract students and parents. Many school administrators and educators might not fully understand the benefits of branding, like increased parent and community engagement, attracting talented teachers and staff, or securing additional funding and resources.
Additionally, some public and private schools may even have long-standing traditions and reputations that may not align with more modern school branding ideas. Changing these traditions can be met with resistance from staff, parents, and students — especially alumni.
Improving your school's branding
By developing a comprehensive branding strategy that includes a branding value, positioning, and personality statement, you can effectively communicate your school's mission to create an emotional connection with your target audience.
Think about your school:
Values: Core values define the principles that guide your school's actions and decisions. They serve as a foundation for your school's culture and identity, inspiring students, staff, and families to embody those values in their daily lives.
Positioning: Positioning refers to the unique place your school occupies in the minds of its target audience. It sets your school apart from competitors by emphasizing your specific strengths, offerings, and attributes, and it can help your school appeal to your target audience. Pro Tip: Write from a student’s perspective for added effect!
Personality: Your school's brand personality reflects the human-like characteristics that your school embodies, like being innovative or caring. This personality helps build an emotional connection with your audience, helping your school seem more relatable and memorable.
With that in mind, here are the top branding mistakes schools make again and again — and examples of how great school branding can put these strategies into practice!
Mistake # 1. Failing to Be Consistent
Consistency is key when it comes to branding. Your school's logo, colors, fonts, and messaging should be uniform across all platforms and materials because inconsistent branding can confuse your audience and damage your credibility.
To maintain consistency, create a style guide that outlines your logo, color scheme, fonts, and messaging tone. Make sure everyone involved in creating content for your school is familiar with the guide and adheres to it.
Carolina Friends School’s branding is consistent throughout the site — and it feels intentional (that's a good thing!) Just like its theme of “purpose,” the bright colors, clear calls to action, bold statements, and simple design reflect its Quaker values of ethics, peace, community, and learning and living with purpose.
- Give voice
- Inspire excellence
- Love of learning
I see how bright my future will be because I am part of a community that emboldens and prepares students to reach their limitless potential.
Mistake # 2. Not Clearly Defining Your School’s Target Audience
You can’t be everything to everyone. You need to know who you're trying to reach. If you attempt to appeal to everyone, you'll end up with a diluted and confusing brand. Instead, take some time to identify your target audience.
Who are the potential students and families you want to attract? Once you have a clear picture, you can tailor your branding and messaging to resonate with them specifically.
As the leading panel of Clayton Valley’s homepage, the charter school’s “shared vision” for its community takes priority. It’s a mission of creating responsible students who are ready to be challenged. There’s even a link to a profile of a graduate, which goes into detail on how well-prepared their students are for what comes next. It speaks directly to the families looking for that shared experience.
As a CVCHS student, I am equipped with the skills to excel in college and beyond. The emphasis on work-based learning, and community service further enriches my educational experience. Together, we create a well-rounded foundation for success in my post-high school pursuits.
Mistake #3. Not Prioritizing User Experience
Let's talk about user experience, especially when it comes to your school's website and digital presence. A frustrating or confusing website can leave a bad taste in your audience's mouth, reflecting poorly on your overall brand.
Make sure your website is easy to navigate, mobile-friendly, and visually appealing. Don't forget to test it regularly and make improvements as needed to ensure a positive user experience.
Sun Prairie provides a mobile user experience with streamlined navigation right on its homepage. With quick access to enrollment information, lunch resources, directories, employment information, and more, they know what their users want and are able to provide quick access for folks on the go.
As a student, I am part of The Sun Prairie Experience, where I can grow academically, emotionally, and socially through a wide range of programs. With a dedicated staff and a commitment to rigor, relevance, and engagement, I feel safe, loved, and supported in my pursuit of excellence.
Mistake #4. Not clearly stating your differentiators
What sets your school apart from the competition? Failing to communicate your unique selling points can make your school seem just like any other.
Take the time to identify what makes your school special and highlight those differentiators in your branding and messaging. This will help you stand out and attract the right students and families.
South Saigon International School doesn’t shy away from what sets it apart from other international schools. Several of its distinctions double as a mid-column guide on its homepage, driving home many of the highlights and features of its community, programs, and people.
- Intellectual and Personal Growth
- Holistic Education:
- Lifelong Learning
- Social Responsibility
I am part of a community dedicated to nurturing my intellectual and personal growth, preparing me for a meaningful life as a global citizen. Through a balanced and challenging curriculum, I develop critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and a strong character rooted in our core values.
- Intellectual Growth
- Character Development
- Inclusive and Respectful
Mistake #5. Not Sharing Your Story
Everyone loves a good story, and your school's story is no exception. Sharing your history, mission, and values can create a strong emotional connection with your audience. If you don't tell your story, you risk coming across as generic.
To share your story effectively, consider news, stories, and quotes in your website, digital marketing, and social media posts. Don't be afraid to get personal and let your school's personality shine through!
Kansas City Public Schools proudly shares its district’s story across its site — with an “engage” panel on its homepage, it tells the tale of an involved community, ready to make a difference and “moving forward together.” Furthermore, a left-sided pop-out menu puts recent district news and social content just a click away, a unique spin on presenting the latest happenings throughout the district.
As a student at Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS), I am part of an inclusive and supportive learning community dedicated to preparing all students for success in college, career, and life. KCPS fosters a safe, engaging, and nurturing environment where my unique needs are met, empowering me to achieve academic excellence, develop critical thinking skills, and become a responsible global citizen.
Mistake #6. Not showcasing your people
Your faculty, staff, and students are the heart of your school. So, don't forget to include them in your branding efforts! Showcasing the people behind your school's success can help create a warm and inviting atmosphere that appeals to prospective students and families.
Feature your people in marketing materials, social media posts, and on your website, front and center. Share their accomplishments, stories, and experiences to give your audience a glimpse into your school's vibrant community.
The Voices of Villa section is a wonderful addition to Villa Duchesne’s site. A mix of stories and quotes from faculty, students, and alumni connects with the school’s values, and when paired with a branded experience on the homepage, it leaves a powerful impression.
- Seeking to understand
- Asking hard questions
Being part of Villa Duchesne, I feel blessed because this community understands academic and spiritual development can co-exist and therefore, students are inspired.
Keep these points in mind as you evaluate and refine your school's branding strategy. Remember, a strong and consistent brand can make all the difference in attracting the right students and families, boosting your reputation, and setting your school up for success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.