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Finding & Fixing Red Flags in Your School's Branding
Connor Gleason

Branding, for schools, holds the same weight as personality does for individuals. It shapes how the outside world perceives you. But as with relationships, sometimes subtle warning signs indicate things might not be as rosy as they appear. And just like a relationship, red flags in your school branding can spell disaster.

Your school's reputation suffers if it's inconsistent, uses outdated logos or messages, or there's a disconnect between your brand and the experience. Although it’s slow, each tiny oversight, though seemingly harmless, can chip away at your school's image. 

By recognizing and addressing the early warning signs, schools can course-correct and ensure their brand remains strong and trusted for years. Let's understand how to find and fix any missteps so you can ensure brand consistency, effectively communicate your brand, and share the authentic values of your school community.

When to Rebrand a School: The Warning Signs

Branding gives a clear picture of who you are and what your school stands for, but over time, branding can show signs of wear and tear. First, we have to look for problems or "red flags," so let's look at some of these warning signs.

Inconsistency Across Platforms

One big problem is when a school doesn't stay consistent in its look or feel. If a sports team kept changing their uniforms every game, it'd be confusing, right?

If your school's website uses one logo and color set, but your social media accounts have another, and your newsletters feature another, it's confusing for everyone. Consistency is key because it helps people recognize and trust your school's image no matter where they see it.

Still, it's more than colors and logos—your school's brand needs to extend to the user experience, the types of images users see, the language you use, and even the navigation and design of your website.

Outdated Visuals and Content

If your school's logo, website, or promotional materials look like they're from another era, it's time for a refresh. An outdated logo or message can make your school seem out of touch and lose the chance to resonate with today’s audiences. Think of some of the big brands out there, like Apple. They update their logo subtly over time to stay modern, and your school needs to do the same.

Lack of Emotional Resonance

Think of your favorite school memory. Chances are, it evokes a strong, positive feeling. Successful rebranding does the same, and if your materials just list facts and figures without tapping into emotions, you're missing a big opportunity.

It's the stories of student achievements, dedicated teachers, and proud alumni that truly resonate and make your school memorable. If your brand isn’t tugging on the emotional heartstrings of your target audience, it's a red flag.

Lack of Differentiation

Another issue is when your school looks just like every other school. Each school is special in its own way, and your marketing efforts should show what makes your school different.

  • Does your school focus on athletics, a STEM program, or a state-recognized academic program? 
  • Does your school concentrate on real-world experiences or an outdoor education program?
  • How does that differentiation translate to your school website’s design, language, imagery, and user experience?
A photo of a student sailing on Tabor's site

Tabor Academy's refreshed brand and website capture the school’s missions, values, and signature programs beautifully. “While we have modernized our look and feel, we remain dedicated to our core values,” said Lindsey McColl, Assistant Director of Digital Marketing.

“The redesigned site reflects this; we’ve highlighted our signature programs by putting them front and center on the homepage and really emphasized the importance of our vibrant student community. With a sleeker design, more intuitive navigation, and an enhanced language translation tool, our website makes it easier than ever for families to discover the Tabor way of learning.”

Disconnect Between Brand and Experience

Any school can talk a big game, but it's important to ensure that your branding lives up to reality. If your students’ actual experiences don’t align with the promises your branding makes, trust is lost.

If there are more negative comments or feedback about your school online or in the community, it's a sign that your branding might be off track. It's crucial to understand if there's a gap between how you see your school and how others see it. Long-term, this helps in adjusting your branding to reflect your true values and strengths.

Inadequate Engagement Metrics

Numbers often tell a story. If fewer people are visiting your school's website, interacting with your social media posts, or attending school events, it might signal a branding problem.

Ignoring Feedback

Imagine a teacher who never listens to their students' questions. Not very effective, right? Similarly, feedback about your school's rebranding is a goldmine of information. If parents, students, alumni, or even staff are offering insights and they're going ignored, you might be overlooking valuable advice to improve your branding.

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Assessing the Situation: Gathering Feedback

Now that we know what the problems are, how do we know if they're serious? One way is to ask people. Your school can send surveys or forms online to get feedback and pinpoint where the branding is falling short and where it shines. 

You can also have group talks where students, teachers, and parents can share their thoughts. And, sometimes, just chatting with people around school can give good information.

The Foote School announced its new logo as part of the rebranding effort included in its strategic plan. Among the priorities was to affirm its identity in the marketplace, a process which asked its community: “Who are we? What is our story? Does the greater community see us the way we see ourselves?”

Foote logo announcement

As the school shared on its website, it was a nine-month, research and review process, which involved many members of the community who were not only interviewed in focus groups but included in the decisions about positioning, messaging, and design.

Protecting Your School's Brand & Getting Your Brand Back on Track

Spotting problems is only half the battle. Once we know what people think, we can start fixing things. Your school can sit down and think about what's really important and help make sure your branding matches what your school is all about.

Regular Brand Audits

Schools should regularly check up on their existing branding to assess if there are problems—before things get out of hand. This means looking at all your branding materials and making sure they're consistent, up-to-date, and effective. Ensure they align with the set guidelines to prevent drifting away from the core brand message—this also allows for a timely intervention.

Keep Reading: Does Your School Need a Brand Audit? 9 Questions to Ask

Encourage Open Communication

The best schools thrive on open dialogue between teachers, students, and parents. The same goes for branding. Create ways for everyone to share their thoughts and feelings about the school's branding.

FAQs about Hayward logo

Howard Unified School District offers a comprehensive Q&A about their rebranding efforts, why the decision was made, where users can find helpful resources, and even best practices to support the rebrand.

Revisit Your Brand's Core Values

Realigning with core values ensures authenticity in your messaging, so organize brainstorming sessions to clarify what your school truly stands for. Remember, your core values should be the bedrock of all your branding initiatives.

Develop Brand Guidelines

To keep the new branding strong, schools should have simple rules about how branding elements are used. For example, always using the same colors, logos, or fonts. And everyone in the school, from teachers to office staff, should know these rules.

Pro Tip: Document everything about the visual identity and brand image—from the exact color codes to examples of photography and the tone of voice for written content. Clear guidelines ensure everyone stays on the same page and supports your school's branding campaign.

Valley View logos branding

Just like Valley View Local Schools has done, share your branding guidelines and resources or conduct workshops to familiarize staff with the brand guidelines. They should know how to represent and promote the school brand accurately.

Educate and Train Faculty and Staff

A school's brand isn't just the job of the marketing team. Everyone, from the principal to the custodians (seriously) plays a role. Make sure all staff understand the school's branding guidelines. When everyone's on the same page, your school's image is clearer and stronger.

Partner with Experts

It’s always okay to ask for help. School branding experts can determine if it's time to rebrand and offer fresh perspectives and strategies to make your school shine.

Partner with school branding experts who are familiar with working with schools around the world. They bring fresh perspectives and proven strategies, and branding pros can identify gaps you might have missed and recommend impactful strategies.

Key Takeaway

Your school’s brand is its story—how it’s perceived and the feelings it evokes. By identifying and addressing branding red flags, schools can ensure that their branding reflects the best they have to offer.

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Connor Gleason Headshot


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.

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