The term ‘marketing’ in the education sector is no longer a swear word and is now a discipline that schools and colleges are interpreting and using to maximum effect. We believe there’s another term that is so commonly misunderstood but which schools and colleges should be embracing and capitalising on – Brand.
Who, what, how, why? Every school or college is a brand. A brand is your identity - who you are; it’s how others perceive you; how you operate and communicate, and the image and reputation you build. As people we crave a genuine connection with brands and by cultivating this connection we can tell a brand story that stirs an emotional reaction that goes on to inspire brand loyalty. Nowadays brands that excel, over deliver with an emotive, noticeable, engaged or captivating experience – and this is a brand journey.
Where are you on the journey to developing your brand story? How have you developed your branding over and above a logo or badge? How are you communicating effectively; storytelling and building a connection with your stakeholders? Many have inherited brands that are limited in terms of development and are decades old and have learnt to work within these constraints whilst others have new shiny comprehensive considered brands. These are usually emblazoned everywhere; stamped on internal and external signage, websites, prospectuses, stationery… even on children and young people! So, in our opinion, a school or college logo and brand, as part of its visual identity and communications to the inside and outside world needs to be revered, reviewed and tended.
In many ways, the challenge of branding within education is no different to any other sector. An understanding of external factors is a priority including the education landscape, competitors, the marketplace and audiences and then setting clear goals for the brand. The objectives will differ from school to school, college to college, but may include any or all of the following: increased student numbers, reputation enhancement, staff recruitment or retention, improved engagement levels, increased stakeholder perception ratings or number of enquiries.
A great school or college brand should represent the authentic story of what the organisation stands for; encapsulating its vision, values and ethos, and what sets it apart from its competitors. Stakeholders, particularly prospective parents and staff, buy into the vision; a compelling vision informs the key messages communicated about the organisation and contributes extensively to building the school or college brand. Ensuring your brand is relevant and helping you to impact and influence your audiences and local community thinking is key to continued development and growth.
The big question, therefore, is where are you in terms of your school or college’s future direction and the overt visual image and journey you are communicating to the world? In our mind, much can be changed, ramped up and improved before considering any major overhaul. These are the areas of paramount importance and worthy of reflection and consideration that need to be audited before undertaking one of the three degrees of change.
Vision, values and ethos: Are these captured in your visual interpretation through words and imagery? How are these communicated internally and externally? Are you using these to support internal cultural change/improvements?
Key messages: How have vision and values been interpreted into your brand story? Have you captured the experiences of key stakeholders, students/staff/families? In terms of messaging, how are you positioned in terms of your competitors?
Brand story: Brand has the power to make students, young people and staff feel proud to be part of your organisation. How are you capturing and communicating your successes and showcasing these to the wider community? What are the complex and multi-level communication processes that will help you build brand loyalty and transform your school or college?
Internal cultural transformation: A strong brand positioning, strategy and identity can support the recruitment and retention of staff (and students) whilst also improving culture and engagement. How are you ensuring you are keeping and developing talent within your organisation? What’s your strategy for building pride amongst students and other key internal stakeholders?
Relationship building: How developed are your partnerships and networks? This is the biggest game changer in terms of building your school or college’s profile – develop these as widely as possible and communicate consistently, resolutely and effectively.
Marketing channels: Have you audited all channels of communications to effectively build brand loyalty amongst current and prospective stakeholders? What channels beyond the website, prospectus, newsletters, direct mailshots, advertising, press/media are you using? How developed are your online platforms?
Evolution or revolution? The three degrees of change
Any branding project, no matter the sector, needs to come from within. Whichever degree of change you decide upon ensure you are engaging with students, parents and staff throughout the process, and using their insights to guide and inform everything, from design through to strategic decisions. Everything needs to be inspired and led by the vision, culture and feel of the organisation.
- Change without change
Your current brand has served you well – people know and recognise you in a positive way. Is it time to review the steps above and drive change through other key areas whilst leaving your logo and branding intact? Start with a visioning exercise with key staff, research your competitors, review and audit your brand and those of your competitors. What can you improve on? Act now.
Brand evolution, or more accurately visual identity evolution, keeps the strength and the history of your brand, but reinterprets it in a fresh new way. It might be taking your existing brand and developing it in a more modern or dynamic style – textually, orally and visually. Nip and tuck or tweak and refine? Whatever you choose, ensure you have evolved and modernised all whilst using the steps above.
A complete face lift is typically associated with major strategic change or as the organisation matures or morphs. Creating a new brand and a fresh new look has lots of benefits and also creates a new perspective and, most importantly, a new impetus.
Whatever direction you choose to take, the importance of the marketing strategy linked to your brand will ensure effective communication through engaged storytelling and bringing your brand to life. We will be exploring and discussing brand and the creative interpretation through effective messaging, design and content in our free online workshops and future blogs. Join us now to find out more!