A school's logo design, tagline, or even specific color scheme can evoke memories, emotions, and a sense of belonging. For many alums and graduates, these elements are deeply ingrained in their memories of your school, forming bonds that can last a lifetime.
When your alums see your old logo, it takes them back to friendships, memories, and moments that shaped them. But when nostalgia goes up against a modern redesign, it can stir strong emotions among those who cherish it most — you alumni. And let's not forget the donors...
They’ve backed your school for years, sometimes because of that rich history and tradition. Launch a rebrand without considering these connections, and you might just find fundraising and donor relations taking a hit. Navigating this can be tricky, especially when real money is on the table.
But schools must evolve, and sometimes, this means a school rebrand. Rebranding isn’t merely about updating the mascot or jazzing up the website design. It's a careful balance between moving forward and respecting the past.
So, how do you rebrand a school without leaving a big chunk of your community feeling a little left behind?
The Roots of Alumni Nostalgia
Schools are made of living stories, communities, and shared experiences. Alumni relive those moments through reunions, old photographs, and beloved traditions. It’s why alums can still hum the school song or recount that legendary football match decades later.
Branding often becomes a symbol of these cherished times. They’re markers of identity, and these designs anchor alums to a time, a place, a family, and a feeling. Understandably, any shift in these familiar elements can feel like a threat to those memories.
Updating to a Modern School Logo Design
Your school welcomes new groups of students year after year, and with changing times comes new expectations. Your school's image, often first encountered through your website design, plays a pivotal role in setting these perceptions. Prospective families and potential donors get their first impression of a school from its branding, which must be relevant to them to make an impact.
Updating your school's website design and branding isn’t about forgetting the past but ensuring your school's image aligns with the present and is ready for the future. A fresh, contemporary design can appeal to a broader audience, foster engagement from newer alums and students, and play a vital role in development efforts.
Tabor Academy eloquently explained the reasons for its updates to its new logo and seal to its constituents at the start of the school year, stating:
"Tabor values tradition and values the beloved School Seal. By nature of the design, the Seal honors the history of the school, and at the same time, Tabor recognizes that change is essential to growth. While the Seal looks backward, there was a need for a brand transformation to look forward, to better resonate with Tabor's diverse community and global outlook."
Balancing Tradition and Progress During a Rebrand
Yes, rebranding can be about changing a logo, but it’s also about managing emotions, understanding concerns, and navigating change without jeopardizing alumni trust.
Sometimes a rebrand is needed to modernize a look and feel; sometimes, the catalyst is more heated, like the stories of schools changing names or mascots after outcry over their connotations of injustice or the mistreatment of indigenous peoples.
On the one hand, there's a pressing need to resonate with the times, and on the other, the rich tradition holds meaning for alums. A sudden, drastic rebrand can feel jarring, and alumni relations might strain as graduates feel sidelined.
Sometimes even the smallest changes can have a significant impact. The University of South Carolina announced a rebrand — of its rebrand — after three years of pushback over the shift from “USC” to “UofSC.”
“The actions announced today reflect our commitment to enhancing our iconic brand,” said the USC President. “Alumni and other stakeholders have told me how important it is to return the USC name back to the institution.”
As Metro Tech unveiled its new branding and logo design, school leaders weighed on the transition, saying, “While our current logo has served us well for 20 years, we realized our students expressed a desire for a fresh look,” Metro Tech Superintendent Aaron Collins said. “As we move forward with Vision 2025, it is the perfect time to evaluate our brand and image.”
The school shared that 93% of students voted for new district-wide branding, resulting in 30 different versions of a new logo before deciding on the final design. A comprehensive webpage helped celebrate the new branding and outline the process.
5 Strategies for a Smooth Rebranding Process
Launching a school rebrand while preserving alumni relations can seem at odds: How can you move forward and still honor the past? With the right approach, it’s entirely possible to successfully rebrand, honor alums, and create a seamless transition.
1. Engage Key Stakeholders Early On
Every school has its set of influential alumni, whether they’re on an advisory group, members of the board, long-time donors, or their own rowdy section at the home game. Engaging them at the onset of a redesign can make all the difference and avoid major issues. They can provide valuable insights, predict areas of resistance, and even act as ambassadors of change. Their endorsement can set a positive tone and ease anxieties.
After more than two decades with the same logo, Moore Public Schools unveiled its rebrand to the public. As part of the process, MPS administration surveyed its internal and external stakeholders, asking employees, community and business partners, students, parents, and guardians to share how they feel about MPS.
“The new logo honors the story of our past and represents our district’s collective sense of identity and pride in the present while always looking forward,” said MPS Superintendent Dr. Robert Romines. "It is such an honor to have listened to what our stakeholders believe and expect of us, and now present our new logo during this time in MPS’s history."
2. Educate and Communicate
Keeping the alumni community informed about the reasons behind rebranding is crucial. When there’s a rebrand, there shouldn’t be any surprises. Be transparent about the long-term vision and the immediate benefits with a mini marketing campaign to spread the news to alums and even students and parents. Use newsletters, emails, or dedicated web pages to share updates, conceptual sketches, and the rebrand journey.
3. Build a Bridge: Honor the Old and Welcome the New
While the goal is modern visual elements, design, and aesthetics, it's essential to honor the past. Consider using elements of the old branding in the new design. This approach, whether it's the color palette, a motif, or a part of the old emblem, builds a bridge and reassures the school community the brand remains intact.
When Choate Rosemary Hall updated its award-winning website’s design and content, a web page was a communications hub for the changes. As Choate put it: “With these changes, we hope not only to serve you better, but to inspire the next generation of students to discover what makes us uniquely Choate.”
4. Celebrate the Legacy
Honoring the past is as crucial as embracing the future. Whether it’s a dedicated space on the new website, a physical spot on the campus, or commemorative apparel, pay tribute to the old branding. Document its history, its significance, and the memories it holds. This gesture assures alums that their past is cherished, even as the school steps into the future.
There’s a proud history behind the 100+ year-old Tuxedo Park School logo and colors. However, some felt it looked outdated, and others thought it didn’t support the idea of the school as a modern learning institution.
When it was time for a website redesign and a brand refresh, Tuxedo Park School partnered with the Finalsite Advantage team for strategic support and to position TPS as a modern, forward-thinking school while still valuing its sense of history and tradition.
The Finalsite Advantage team created a more sophisticated look for the “TPS tree” and reinforced the school's brand with quality education, working to develop variations to visually "anchor" the tree in its logo’s design — a metaphor for growth and strength.
The team also selected a softer green and gold for the primary colors and introduced a secondary color palette to the style guide. The updates to the brand identity complemented the primary colors and allowed for greater depth in the website and publication designs.
5. Host Feedback Sessions
A two-way conversation is always more productive. Organize sessions where alums can voice their views. They might have reservations, constructive criticisms, or suggestions that enhance the new design. Engaging them in the process makes them feel valued and heard.
Holton Arms kept its extended community informed with a comprehensive webpage detailing the launch of its new site. After its launch, an online form also provided a convenient avenue for feedback from alumni and other stakeholders.
Change, though necessary, is rarely easy. After all, schools are built on the foundation of community, including every student, past, present, and future. It’s about striking that perfect balance between legacies and future aspirations. By understanding the depth of emotions and addressing them proactively, your school can ensure that the journey to a new identity is collaborative and full of pride.
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.