In the increasingly competitive field of education, it is more important than ever for a school to successfully set itself apart from competitors. Schools now recognize the critical value of utilizing advanced marketing strategies to reach potential students and families. School branding can serve an institution’s purpose far beyond simply attracting a student body. Developing a strong, well-defined identity and brand can keep a school grounded in its story and engage a wider community in support of its mission.
How important is school branding? What does a successful school branding strategy comprise? This article identifies ten key ways a school can leverage strong branding to reach its goals.
School Branding Defined
There exists a seemingly infinite number of ways to define branding, each slightly distinct due to each experience, background, or industry of the definer. For schools, branding can best be described as the feeling one experiences when they think about the school. This is a higher-level approach to branding, and on purpose. Schools are uniquely challenged by the fact that what they market is not a tangible product, but rather, an experience that varies widely depending upon the manner of the interaction.
The experiences of an alum, for example, differ from those of a current student, faculty member, or parent. For schools, a brand is as much about the values, beliefs, and ideas that a school embodies as it is about a logo or mascot.
Owing to the fact that so many possible interpretations of a school’s brand may exist, it is imperative that schools take the lead by developing and communicating a brand identity that is cohesive and sound.
Determine Brand Goals
Undoubtedly, many schools have the ultimate goal of increasing the number and/or quality of applicants. An effective brand strategy, however, aims beyond enrollment and includes wide-reaching, long-term goals that are specific to the unique desires of the school.
Does our school wish for a more engaged alumni population? Would we benefit from a tight-knit community, or an energized student body? How will we know if the brand strategy is effective? These are all questions a school should answer before diving into the details of designing a brand. A well-developed strategy begins with goals that are defined and quantifiable, so that the success of its implementation can be measured.
Identify Your Audience
One of the most crucial elements of a school branding strategy is its target market. The demographics this market embodies will determine much of the direction, voice, imagery, and tone that a school will take in order to communicate effectively. Therefore, it is imperative that a school take the time to investigate its target market.
Who are our prospective students and parents? What are their values, likes and dislikes? What type of themes and ideas do they connect with? How do they communicate with each other? What other brands do they identify with?
The expansive nature of schools means that most will have several target audiences, with likely overlap. Taking the time to get to know these markets deeply will inform a school’s direction and ensure that its branding efforts are efficient and impactful.
Asses School Competitors
A strong identity will not only help a school communicate effectively to its target audience, but also set itself apart from its competitors. In order to do so, a school must know as much as possible about competing institutions and position its brand in a way that differentiates it from the rest.
Students have a plethora of educational options at their fingertips. Schools that market themselves well are able to communicate those special elements that no other school can offer. These are not necessarily academic offerings, but rather unique features and characteristics that entice students or energize alumni – a close student community, a world-class reputation, or an intriguing institutional history.
Understand Your Current Positioning
Branding strategy allows a school to define and communicate a brand that it chooses for itself, rather than allowing its brand to be defined by others. But regardless of the level of marketing a school has or has not engaged in, every school has an existing brand. In order to decide where a school’s future plan should lead, it must first know where it currently stands.
An analysis of the environment in which a school exists and its positioning within that market will aid the school in better understanding its current status. The analysis can take many forms, including focus groups, surveys, internal deep dives, and data collection. This crucial step will also provide a school with important information about existing beliefs or incorrect conclusions that others hold about the institution, which it can then address directly through its marketing activities.
Engage in Conversations
An authentic brand is driven not by marketers, consultants, or administrators, but rather by the people it represents. To communicate a school’s identity, the school must first learn what and who it is, information best uncovered by engaging its community in conversations.
Pose questions to members of the school community – and really hear their responses – to most accurately determine what feelings and ideas your school’s branding should express. What are some of the best things about attending this school? Who are we as a school community, and what do we stand for?
A winning strategy will incorporate feedback received from the people who know a school best, and translate that feedback into the genuine expression of its identity.
Build a Brand Story
Behind every successful school brand is a narrative that encompasses the school’s history, values, and mission. As humans, we’re drawn to stories, because they build trust. Your school website is a perfect place to tell this story!
Why does our school exist? A compelling brand story involves three elements: a problem; a solution; and, success. Delving into the history of a school and the many key figures that contributed to its development can easily form the basis for a great story.
Discerning students and parents want to know why they should choose a particular school. Answering those questions with a unique and fascinating story builds trust with your audience.
Develop Your Voice
Consider posing this question internally: If our school was a person, what kind of person would it be? How would it sound? Would it be formal, relaxed, funny, pensive?
An excellent school brand should have a unique personality that is consistently expressed in all communications through the brand’s voice. The voice should be descriptive of the brand, representative of the school’s culture, and attractive to the school’s audiences.
Humans naturally prefer to listen to others who speak similarly to the way they do, because familiarity breeds trust. Consider the demographics of your target markets, the way they speak, and who they listen to.
Most important, however, is to develop a school brand voice that is notably and singularly your own.
In this era of flooded email inboxes and social media influencing, consumers are consistently marketed to in almost every interaction. This constant exposure leads to a desensitization to sales ploys and the rejection of marketing tactics that feel disingenuous.
Stand apart from the crowd by leading your branding strategy with authenticity at every opportunity. Students, parents, and the wider community should see and experience the same image that a brand projects. A genuine brand is a more trusted brand, and will breed loyalty and respect.
An impactful brand will increase engagement and strengthen school identity by helping members of the school community feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. A school’s brand strategy should include myriad opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and parents to contribute to the larger mission, which in turn creates a sense of ownership for the brand.
Here is where some of the more traditional brand elements – logos, mascots, and colors – come into play. A consistent focus on opportunities for interaction between a brand and its audience will help to develop brand buy-in.
Just as a school changes and grows with the passing of time, so should its brand. While a strong identity is the root of any well-defined brand, identities continuously evolve as people, communities, and societies broaden their understandings of themselves and the world.
A brand strategy is a living concept that should be revisited frequently to ensure that it most accurately reflects the school’s values, beliefs, and mission. Brands that respond to change represent schools that do the same.
Turn to Branding Experts for Help
Well-developed branding is an invaluable element of a successful school marketing strategy, affecting everything from identity and engagement levels to connections with prospective students and families. While branding can be a complex undertaking, the rewards to schools reach deep, and are well worth the effort.
The marketing professionals at VujaDay are experts in the development of school branding strategies that express the spirit of an institution and support its enrollment and engagement goals.
Let’s build something together: contact us today!