Coca-Cola. Mercedes. Nike. Amazon.
When you read each of these brand names, I imagine that an image is immediately conjured in your mind, right?
First, it might be the company logo: that globally-recognized bold red with white script markings on a cold, inviting glass bottle, or the understated yet unmistakable "swoosh" symbol.
Beyond that, the brand name likely stirs up perceptions - and even emotions - associated with the product. Classic and refreshing. Luxurious and high-class. Performance and speed. Convenience and selection.
Every organization has a brand. Yep, that means your school, too - no matter how big or small it may be. This brand is far more than just your name and logo. It is essentially all that encompasses who you are and how you are perceived by the public. It identifies you. And it is essential that everyone on your team - from the head of school to the teachers - be intimately acquainted with your school's brand.
Why? Because each of you works day in and day out to serve your students and further your school's mission and vision. You do this because you believe in the school and care deeply about your students. Shouldn't you all be fluent in what that mission and vision are? And most of you will come into contact with current parents, potential families, and the general public and in some way be called upon to represent the school - even if it's just answering someone's question about your place of employment. This is your chance - and your staff's chance - to spread the awareness of your school's brand to your future parents, students, partners, and other supporters.
What is a brand?Let's start with this simple question...whose answer is not quite so simple anymore. The term "brand" used to just mean company's name or logo.
Nowadays, its definition has expanded far beyond that, as marketers have realized the power of a brand and what it means for an organization.
A Forbes article refers to 20th-century advertising tycoon David Ogilvy's definition of a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” The article goes on to say:
Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name. It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic). Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it. It’s fixed. But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.Entrepreneur Magazine also provides a solid reference on what branding means:
Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.
Are you the innovative maverick in your industry? Or the experienced, reliable one? Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option, or the low-cost, high-value option? You can't be both, and you can't be all things to all people. Who you are should be based to some extent on who your target customers want and need you to be.
Your school's brand is not only your name and logo; it also encompasses your tagline, mission statement, vision statement, and core values. Each of these facets must be consistent with the others to ensure that your message is easily distinguished by the public, so that when someone sees your school name, its colors, graphics, and verbiage resonate in their minds to create a mental picture of who you are and how you can help their family grow and learn.
Now that you know what a brand is and why it's important to your school marketing strategy, let's look at how you can equip your staff to be brand ambassadors to help you spread your message.
We'll start with the most obvious and visual part of your brand: your logo.
Your school logo should somehow reflect who you are - your culture and the benefits you offer. If you've never had someone professionally design a logo for you, this is a good place to start. It is your cover photo, your signature, and your image representation, so it deserves apt investment.
Once you've got this logo, educate your staff a bit on what it means. Is there a significance to the colors chosen, the crest used, the fonts employed? Let them know; it's all part of who you are.
Then, make sure everyone has access to it. All staff members should include your logo in their email signatures, as well as on parent communications they send home.
Once the logo is established, make sure you also have laid out a set of usage guidelines, known as a Style Guide. This tells your team what specific fonts and colors are consistent with your school's brand, so that all messages and collateral that are put out look consistent. Basically, anything that comes from your school should be easily recognizable as such (like why you can often tell if a commercial is for Target right from the very beginning, simply because of the graphics and style they use).
Additionally, make sure your team knows what are proper formats for your logo. You don't want your design manipulated in a way that compromises its look (i.e., adding extra graphics on the logo, changing the color, stretching it out, etc.).
This is important for teachers too, especially those who may wear multiple hats as extracurricular directors or athletic coaches. They may decide they want to create t-shirts or other spirit memorabilia for their activities, and it's important that they understand the school's brand and ensure that what they create matches it.
Along with your logo, consider giving your school a tagline. This should be no more than three to seven words, something that encapsulates who you promise to be. This tagline can show up hand-in-hand with your logo. Continuing on the examples I provided earlier, think of Nike's classic tagline "Just do it." Or, Disney's promise to be "The happiest place on earth."
Look at the pillars of your school, and its mission, vision, values, and work with a professional if possible to craft a tagline that is memorable, catchy, and true to your school's identity.
Mission, Vision, and Values
These three statements might have a reputation for being a little vague or even pompous, but these are the guiding principles for why your school or organization exists. They should still be practical and relatable for your community. Together, they form the crux of why and how you do the things you do.
Every teacher, staff, and board member should know your mission, vision, and values inside and out, because with every decision they make and action they take for the school, they should be able to ask themselves whether it lines up with these three statements.
Heads of school or marketing coordinators may consider taking some time during each staff meeting to discuss your mission, vision, and values. Talk about how personally use these principles to govern your daily decisions.
To help them internalize these concepts, consider breaking down each statement into pieces, and focusing on one small portion of your mission statement (for example) for a month - or even a year - at a time. Talk about practical ways you can ensure that you're meeting that particular benchmark, and how you're seeing its implementation changing lives for the better.
Take it Outside
Now that your staff is equipped with the knowledge of your school's brand, encourage them to spread the word beyond your halls as part of your word of mouth marketing strategy. Boil all these pieces down into your "elevator speech" - that 30-second explanation of who your school is, so that the next time someone asks one of your teachers "So, where you do you work?" they have a moving and concise response that introduces who you are to a whole new audience.