Every year, a new cohort of families shops around for schools and considers where they want to send their children. As an educator, you want to do everything you can to get their attention and show them what you’re all about. But how do you do that when you’re not sure how or where they’ll encounter you?
That’s where school branding comes in. Branding is the process of presenting your school’s character and personality in every way you communicate, from your newsletters to the banner in your front hallway. It’s the best way to put a particular image in people’s minds when they think about your school.
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Below, you’ll learn why school branding is an important part of your school’s marketing strategy. You’ll also find school branding strategies that you can implement right away to strengthen your school’s marketing. But before we get there, let’s cover the basics.
What is school branding?
The process of branding is familiar to consumer product and service companies, and increasingly so in higher education, but it’s still new to many elementary and secondary institutions. That’s okay — the concepts translate easily.
Entrepreneur magazine offers a great and accessible definition to start from:
“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.”
Replace the word “customer” with “students and families,” and “products and services” with “educational experience,” and you have school branding in a nutshell.
It’s about creating a consistent image so that no matter where people encounter your school — on your website, on social media, and beyond — they’ll recognize you and connect with the image you want to present. Here’s an example.
Now, look at the welcome message that goes to High Grove’s new email list subscribers.
The examples above show excellent school branding. Even if someone is only at the point of asking for more information, they’re already familiar with the kind of school they’re considering.
Why is branding important for schools?
School branding matters for the same reasons that consumer branding matters. If a customer needs to choose between two competing products — two sneaker brands, for example — they’ll choose the one that they feel matches their aesthetic best. They might even identify themselves as “more of a Nike person” or “more of a Converse person.”
If brand fit matters this much for sneakers, it matters exponentially more for schools. Whether the person browsing your website is a potential student or the legal guardian of that student, they want to know if they’ll fit in. Does the school align with the family’s mindset about education?
Branding can ease those concerns for students and their families. It also makes the school more memorable and recognizable.
How does branding benefit a school?
When a school has a recognizable brand, recruitment and publicity instantly become more effective. Here are just a few advantages of school branding:
- It builds trust. The more consistent a brand is, the quicker people become familiar with it and know what to expect. That familiarity breeds comfort, which is extremely important when committing to a school.
- It sets you apart. When families are shopping around for schools, you want to hold their attention. A consistent and appealing brand helps them remember your school, what it’s all about, and what makes it different from the other options available.
- It improves student fit. Different students thrive in different environments. A consistent and recognizable brand can help you to attract the kinds of students who will thrive in your school’s atmosphere.
Branding and your school’s marketing strategy
Branding enhances an existing school marketing strategy and lays the foundation for a new one.
First, your brand gives you a design concept for your website. Once you create or update your site using your brand colors, fonts, logo, and image style across every page, you’ll have the beginnings of a consistent brand.
Check your content, too. The voice and tone you use on your website will contribute to your brand. Make sure it reflects the right message.
Carry those consistent style elements into your email marketing and social media. This will be easy with an all-in-one marketing tool like Constant Contact — a single platform that lets you consistently apply elements like the color scheme, fonts, and images to your website, email templates, and paid ads.
Include social media marketing in your branding efforts, too. You can’t maintain your visual aesthetic in the same way as you can on your website or in your emails. However, you can still maintain a consistent tone and use on-brand image styles. Check out High Grove’s Facebook page as an example.
3 tips for great school branding
Think of your school’s brand as its character and how that character comes across. If you’re struggling to build a mental picture of your school’s brand, follow these tips.
1. Ask the audience
Talk with your community about how they perceive your school. Ask them:
- How would you describe our school?
- What do you like best about our school?
- If our school was a person, what three words would you use to describe it?
Collect answers from varied sources — teachers, students, parents, and so on — and look for common elements. Ask yourself:
- Do those common descriptors match what you want to communicate about your school?
- Are they evident in your website and marketing materials?
- What would you change to create more consistency?
2. Check out similar schools
You may not like thinking of your school as having competitors, but people choose between it and other similar institutions. Examine the schools that people also look at when they consider yours. Ask yourself:
- How do those schools present themselves?
- How can you set your school apart?
3. Create a brand personality
You know what makes your school special. Now you need to decide on the style and voice elements that will communicate that to the world.
You probably already have the basics of your visual branding. Your school colors, for example, can be a great starting point. So can your logo. (Don’t have a logo? No problem. Create one easily using Constant Contact’s Logo Maker.)
Look at these visual elements and think about how they communicate your school’s character.
- Font styles. Different fonts provoke different emotional responses. For example: Helvetica and Arial are more modern, while Times New Roman has a more traditional feel.
- Page layouts. A simple and streamlined page creates a very different aesthetic compared to a page with a lot of different colors and shapes.
- Image choices. Look at the photos you have available. Which ones match the brand personality you’re going for?
- Content voice and tone. The way you talk needs to match the image you present. For example, a more formal aesthetic calls for a more formal tone.
Don’t overthink it. When a choice matches your brand personality, it will look right. It’s all about creating a consistent and genuine character.
Now that you know why school branding matters and how it works, you can start applying it to your website, email, social media, and beyond. Need more ideas? Check out The Download — Constant Contact’s comprehensive marketing guide for schools. It covers website design, email marketing, social media, and more.
Who knows? You might get the brand inspiration that brings in your next top student.