Let’s face it. Branding projects are a pain in the butt. They’re time consuming, expensive, require intense introspection, demand the finesse of giving stakeholder groups just the right amount of voice, risk exposing deep divisions about foundational principles in your school and when complete, will create an avalanche of work in updating admissions, development and other messaging as well as websites and all kinds of communications and promotional material. And all of that is after the painstaking process of decision making that led to a branding project in the first place.
So, given all of that, why bother branding?
Your knee jerk response might be to point to the potential enrolment benefits of re-branding. And that wouldn’t be wrong. However the benefits of branding extend well beyond the admissions office and into every facet of a school’s operation. Branding can have broad, positive and even transformative impact on a school.
Before going further let’s make sure we have a common understanding of branding. A school’s brand reflects its essence. It communicates the experience of being part of the school community. A brand is a representation of the multi-faceted relationship that parents, students, teachers, staff and other groups groups have with your school. Branding is the process of articulating a school’s essential nature.
Based on that, here are some examples of the profound benefits that come from a successful branding project:
- Admissions efforts. Well understood branding gives focus to conversations with prospective parents. Without the clarity of good branding, admissions staff can grapple with what to say about a school and feel like they are constantly reinventing the wheel. Branding uncomplicates admissions efforts and makes it easier for prospective parents to decide if your school is right for their child and them.
- Ambassadorship. Having a clearer understanding of what makes a school unique will sharpen the conversations that ambassadors have and ensure that the prospective parents they refer are a better fit.
- Parent experience. Current parents can be equal beneficiaries of clearer branding. Tailor your parent experience to match the brand and at every interaction your parents will gain a deep understanding of what makes the school unique, have their choice of the school validated and be better ambassadors.
- Customer service. Because the brand is all about the relationship that parents have with your school, more focused branding should make it easier to anticipate and satisfy the needs of parents. Great customer service is the foundation of positive word of mouth and intensifies the benefits of a strong brand.
- Community. A brand can be a rallying point for a school, uniting parents, students, administrators, teachers and even trustees around a common quest or cause. When there is clarity about what a school is supposed to be, there can be greater purpose to living up to the brand.
- Decision-making. Whether it’s about curriculum, policy, staffing or facilities, branding brings a clearer common basis for decision making. As Peter Gow says in an essential branding publication from NAIS, “Because it stems directly from experience, a school’s brand can be a reliable touchstone in the assessment of current programs as well as in future planning.”
- Business Operations. A school’s business office acts in support of the brand as much as any other department. Selecting and assessing suppliers, decisions about facilities and payment policies – just to name a few items – are all given greater focus by a strong brand.
- Advancement. A well-articulated brand will be a boon to fundraising efforts. It sharpens the case for giving and brings clarity to solicitations and fundraising appeals because prospective donors are better able to understand what makes the school unique. Likewise, a strong brand can re-affirm the commitment of alumni, strengthening their ties to the school.
- Staffing. The brand becomes an effective criterion in staffing decisions. The degree to which prospective teachers and other staff members reflect the brand and are capable of furthering it are key hiring considerations. Conversely, a strong and clearly articulated brand makes a school more attractive to prospective faculty members and helps them decide whether they want to work there.
- Classroom content. The head at a school that I worked with would regularly challenge faculty to consider how they would teach material differently if the school’s mission changed. Similarly a school’s brand can inform decisions about the way curriculum is delivered, integrating subject matter and making the brand deeply experiential to students.
- Inspiration. The best brands are aspirational. They provide a higher purpose to everything that is done within a school. They make the collective goal clearer. They challenge and, in that way, unite a school community. A vibrant brand will inspire a school to reach higher, achieve more and serve its community better.
All of these factors can also provide a meaningful gauge of your current branding. If it’s not delivering enough of the benefits above, it needs your attention. It may just be that the brand is not being communicated well or it could be time to go back to the drawing board.
The next time you are considering whether to “bother” with a branding project make sure it’s as 360 degree decision and take all the factors above – and more – into consideration.
What do you think?
What’s been the breadth of your school’s experience with branding? What other aspects of school life and operation does branding touch? How do you decide whether it’s time to re-brand?