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  • Writer's pictureMario

5 Essential Steps To Building Your School Brand

Branding - the term is now firmly entrenched in the lexicon of many educational instructions’ communication jargon. How strong is your school brand? Is your school brand clear? What are you doing to improve your school brand?

In this article we will review five essential steps to building your school brand.

Many universities, colleges and private schools have jumped on the proverbial band-wagon and embraced branding - and rightly so. Competition is fierce, especially in the private school sector.

The word ‘brand’ has its roots in searing a ranch’s mark/logo into livestock to clearly differentiate which animal belongs to whom. It can make an equally important and lasting impression on your school community. It’s your way to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

Step 1: Build a brand foundation

Whether you’re creating, re-creating or even tweaking your school brand, it is important to adopt a systematic approach that starts with building a brand foundation.

In most cases, for many institutions, what we are really talking about here is rebranding. For the purpose of this article, we will refer to it as branding. But whatever you call it, it’s a chance to make an accurate, forward-thinking statement and create a foundation that helps you stand out from other schools.

Tips for building your school branding foundation:

  1. Select a branding partner– This is highly recommended, especially as they will be able to assist you in developing a strategic framework for your project.

  2. Form a branding team – It’s critical to include executive-level administrators (board members, director/principal, and communication lead at the very least).

  3. Audit existing brand – Conduct a thorough audit, chronicling executions of your current brand in the most widely used formats – print and digital applications.

  4. Survey your audiences – Involve all your major audience groups to confirm how they perceive your school. Their perspectives can provide insights into your institution’s strengths and weaknesses.

Step 2: Define your school brand

Arriving at your new school brand – that distinctive personality, culture and voice for your school – first requires developing consistent messaging. More than just a new logo or color scheme, your brand derives from your messaging, which must be carefully considered.

Start by writing a concise statement, your branding communications mission statement. Not to be confused with your school’s mission statement, a branding communications mission statement serves as a springboard, helping you develop talking points, and helping guide the design process that your design partners need in order to articulate your brand.

It's not just about a cool-looking logo or new mascot. This statement serves as a source for many facets of your school messaging. Think of it as a summary document or a practical abstract that your communications team can visit and re-visit to draw inspiration and craft messaging.

Considerations to help define your school brand:

  1. Reputation – Credibility goes a long way in building recognizable trust. Your school's reputation is an essential part of the brand – history of school, academics, arts, athletics, board, total development of the student, etc.

  2. Future – Expansion, major renovations, referendums and planning initiatives can provide a catalyst for your new school brand.

  3. Audiences – How do you want to be perceived by each of your key audiences? For students, Is your school/institution a cool place to learn? For families, is it safe, diverse and motivating? For staff, is it a good place to work?

3. Create your brand identity

It’s now time to mobilize all your design resources. This is the fun, conceptual stuff, its where the messaging foundation you’ve created is translated into visual elements.

Design concepts, logos, color schemes, sub-brands mocked up in various executions. Designing a look and feel that reflects the expectations and culture of your school is a pivotal piece of your entire communications planning, so jumping to this step without completing steps 1 and 2, is asking for trouble. Without the due diligence of a strategic framework, any design will be ill-conceived.

Keys to creating a great school brand:

  1. Logo(s) – Your school and ancillary logos that are part of a larger family of logos are the very core of your branding. Be diligent and critical in getting this part right.

  2. Invest – Most branding agencies will be happy to have your business, but many are cost prohibitive for many schools. Invest in quality and invest wisely. Insist on getting cost estimates up front for all phases of design.

  3. Specialize – It’s a good idea to work with a designer focused on schools, but watch out for overused, mediocre designs. There’s nothing ordinary about your school - the same goes for your brand.

4. Create a branding style guide

Now, once you’ve selected your design partner and approved designs, you need to pull it all together – or more specifically, your design partner should pull it all together – and create a branding style guide. Do not proceed with using your new look without a branding style guide.

Your style guide should address all the visual design fundamentals: typography, color palettes, logo usage, positioning, sizing and ratio restrictions/considerations.

It should also address the extensions of the brand that occur throughout your entire school/institution. A well-conceived ‘brand family’ reinforces the brand message while affording each school, campus or division within the institution to assert a distinctive sub-brand that fits within the larger brand architecture.

Why a style guide is necessary:

  1. Multiple personnel – Because you have more than one person using the school brand, the style guide keeps anyone from going rogue and diluting the message.

  2. Multiple levels/divisions within the school – The various schools and campuses that comprise an institution present both challenges and opportunities for brand consistency.

  3. Multiple media – And with multiple people and multiple schools you have all the various media, digital and non-digital that compounds the likelihood of brand miss use.

5. Execute your school brand

While the branding guide is the fruits of your labor, your work is not done yet. In fact, in many ways, it’s just starting. Now comes the time to roll-out and implement your newly created school brand.

It’s crucial that you let those closest to your school mission – your internal audiences – in on the new brand. Faculty, non-teaching staff, school board members, etc. Use staff in-service days and board meetings to give them the first look. You need to get their buy-in and then use a coordinated roll-out plan and your new style guide to kick it off.

Your other key group is your external audiences. But before fully launching your new brand to parents, public, business and community leaders, etc. – give your local media a sneak preview. They love good news.

Keys to successful brand execution:

  1. Full digital immersion – It starts with designing a website where your brand is clear and consistent and looks good on any device (read more about designing a successful website)

  2. Social media integration – Besides your website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the most popular platforms your audiences will use to recognize your brand.

  3. Non-digital communications –School signage, stationery, advertising, media relations, athletics uniforms, mascots, etc.

If you want to engage and keep engaging the constituents of your school community, distinguish your school from the competition and just generally capture the essence and beauty of your school, then why not embrace the definition and need for understanding and applying branding principles discussed in this article.


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