How do you ensure that your school stands out in a competitive marketplace and cuts through the clutter without compromising on its fees and value? In this blog, school marketing expert Tracy Tigchelaar recommends seven elements to help schools develop and embed their brand, and effectively communicate what differentiates them from others.
What Is Branding And Why Does It Matter?
According to business guru Seth Godin, “A Brand is a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product over another.”
A brand is ultimately what you do, it’s how you present yourself every day, it’s like a promise (we’ll come back to that later) but how does it help you and your school?
- It helps an organisation speak with one voice.
- It offers your existing stakeholders a concept they can identify and feel a sense of pride in.
- It allows people to see what’s different about you, and what makes you unique.
- It can help your school move forward with a clear focus.
The Seven Elements Of A School Brand
Now let’s delve into how to use the following seven elements to help you create a successful school brand. The seven elements are a great way of breaking down your brand to form a coherent brand strategy. Although all 7 are important, it is the first 3 that you will need to nail first when you start working on developing your school brand:
- Brand Promise
- Positioning Statement
- Visual Identity
1. The Importance Of A Brand Promise
Let’s begin with the difference between the brand promise and mission statement. Your mission statement describes what the school does and almost every school will have this.
Your brand promise tells the world your purpose. It provides a beacon to guide your marketing strategy and holds you accountable for delivering a consistent and genuine message that matches your customer experience.
Take care to ensure your promise is genuine – that it truly reflects your school. It’s very important not to change your ethos to match another school, however successful they may be. If parents or students experience a mismatch between what you say and what you actually are, it will hurt you in the long run.
If you’re an aspirational school striving to excel in a particular area in the future, you need to carefully think about how you will deliver this message.
To help you with your brand promise and statement, download this value proposition worksheet and template.
2. Position Statements: The Holy Grail Of The Perfect Tagline
A positioning statement is a short, memorable phrase (or ‘tagline’) should sum up your brand promise. It should immediately resonate with both prospective and existing families. You want your statement to be short, aim for around 2-6 words, anything much more than that is likely to lose impact.
Consider these examples:
“The Mead School - Learning That Lasts.”
“The Independence School – Expect More. We Do”
“The Post School – Challenging the Norm”
All very different in what they are offering and suggesting to prospective parents, but each is truly aligned with that individual school’s mission statement and brand promise.
3. Visual Identity: Your logo (and a few other bits too!)
This is often the area most people think about first, but if you haven’t done the first two steps, visual identity becomes just an icon on the page.
At Finalsite, we work with a huge variety of schools ranging from independent, MATs and international schools and we appreciate that not everyone has a large budget to spend on graphic design. Good design, however, is just as important as your brand promise and tagline, invest what you can in this area to at least establish the basics (logo and colour palette). Focus on developing a clear and distinctive visual identity that you will be able to manage yourself going forwards.
Finally, you should communicate all new designs internally. Create a branding style guide and make it easily available to all staff and faculty – a page on a staff portal is an excellent place for this. Provide them with different versions of your logo and clear instructions on the do’s and don’ts. and not just for external use. Make sure you police your brand to keep it clean!
4. Differentiators: Setting Yourself Apart
What differentiates you is a key part of your brand message. Communicating differentiators visually is important and quick facts, infographics and statistics are an excellent way of ensuring you get your messages across. This makes it easier for visitors to recall key information. Cutting through the noise is a buzzword phrase but it’s really important. It's also important to think beyond your homepage by tailoring infographi etc to specific pages, e.g sports, drama or academics pages.
5. Finding Your Voice: Let Your Personality Shine Through
Your tone of voice is not what you say, but how you say it has to fit your brand so the language you use is very important, you have to match the type of school you are with the type of voice you use. For example what viewpoint do you use in communications about your school? First person (we) or third person (name of school)?
It is essential that you stick to grammar rules, and make sure that you are consistent with terminology and level of formality. When building a website, multiple people are providing content, so someone needs to have an overview to ensure the language remains the same. This follows for your printed material too.
6. Branding Communications: Everything Matters
It’s often the ad-hoc communications that get forgotten. Have you thought about your email signatures, newsletters, notices on school boards, banners and flags? It’s all about the detail, and you can let yourself and the branding down by not following this through in all your communications. Make sure you keep your colour palette front of mind at all times.
7. Your Brand Story: Building Trust
You can’t develop a brand story without having completed the above steps first. Schools have many powerful stories to tell that will attract the right families and increase enquires, but the challenge is knowing which stories and using the right language and tone to attract the right people. One key technique is developing a face to your brand, people are looking for a reason to believe you and testimonials are an excellent way to reassure your audiences. Testimonials can come from parents, students, teachers and alumni. it is great if you can develop testimonials that focus on a particular area (sports, science, arts) as well as general ones.
However, your brand story is about more than just testimonials, it’s about the stories you create on social media, the newsletters your school is publishing, the blog posts your Head of School is writing and so on – it is the culmination of the stories you’re sharing both on and offline. All of your messaging and communication channels should be aligned with, and supporting your brand promise- any content that is at odds with or contradictory to this should not be used.
In using these 7 elements, remember all of them (perhaps aside from your brand promise) are part of an ongoing process. A brand does not stand still, it should continue to develop and grow with your school. Make sure you continue to review your messaging to ensure you are staying loyal to your brand promise, and that your visual image remains strong and relevant in your school's marketplace.
Tracy Tigchelaar supports and guides Finalsite schools with a wide range of marketing and communication challenges. Working closely with the school marketing staff she provides expert insight and practical day-to-day guidance to ensure schools develop achievable plans, stay on track and achieve their strategic goals.