Branding. It's the buzzword that makes most marketers shudder. We're all somewhat aware that branding is important — after all, a quick search in Google for 'branding' brings up thousands of how-to guides, branding consultancy businesses and research papers. And most of us recognise that a branding exercise goes far beyond slapping a logo on your school website and calling it a day.

Unfortunately despite knowing in our heads that brand identity is far more than a set of visual brand guidelines, many schools still miss the mark when it comes to pinpointing their brand identity. We'll be looking at why schools are failing when it comes to their brand identity, and what you can do to make sure yours doesn't. Let's get started.

Why does branding matter?

Branding, done well, builds a network of families who are loyal to your school and are proud to be a part of your community. Branding takes your school's values and places them front and centre in every touchpoint that a family will have with your school: from your billboard ads, to your social media posts. It even encapsulates the way that your staff speak with families — after all, they are brand ambassadors, and can make a huge difference in how your business is perceived. 

Richard Branson, king of branding, tells his story about building the Virgin brand when he started the company:

We knew very little about marketing or branding when we started Virgin Records, back in 1972. We simply formed the business around our personal values, and went from there. 

Virgin’s success can be attributed to a lot of different things, however this was the best decision we ever made. The defining factor that has kept us in business, and growing, for more than 50 years has been the strength and reputation of the brand.


Why do schools fail at branding?

We've all seen them: the spectacular branding fails that continue to haunt the world's biggest companies for decades. But your school doesn't need to release an uncomfortable ad or a poorly-thought-out logo to fail at branding. Put simply, your school fails when your brand feels confused. 

Confused brand identity is pretty easy to spot. It might look like a social media advertisement that uses clip art images, mixed with off-brand colours and fonts. Or, it might look like stock images of students who don't look at all like the students that attend your school. Most of the time, it simply looks like brand messaging and visual brand elements that seem at odds with your school's values and community.

There are a few reasons why schools struggle to get their branding right:

  1. You haven't created a long-term brand strategy.
  2. You have brand guidelines — but not everyone is aware of them (or cares about them).
  3. You don't take the feedback from your community seriously.
  4. You don't have the resources to properly execute brand assets.

Yikes! Do these points sound familiar?

Fortunately, this does not have to be your story. There is one key to nailing your brand strategy, and it starts with your values and USP. 

Go deep into your school values and USP

The best school branding comes directly from the heart and soul of the business — your values and their unique selling proposition (USP). In order to succinctly identify and refine your brand, you'll want to start by going deep into the nitty-gritty of each of these to make sure your brand assets align.

A great exercise to really understand your brand values is to create a list of words that describe each value and some examples of where you see the value being lived out in your school. For example, at Digistorm, one of our brand values is committed. 'Committed' is a fairly broad and potentially abstract term, so we defined the value further by describing it as trustworthy, generous and supportive. We also asked our team for examples of times they noticed the value of 'committed' at work, and they mentioned things like:

  • when clients remark that they feel cared for by Digistorm
  • when two team members disagree but can respect a different opinion and move forward
  • when a team leader shares the credit for a successful project
  • when we quality-check work before sending it through to a client.

A good exercise to deep-dive into your USP is to simply ask your staff what makes your school unique! If the answers are fairly similar, you'll know that your school branding is working — at least at the employee level! If the answers are wildly different, you'll know that you have to roll up your sleeves and do a little more digging.

Align your brand touch points

Once you've covered off on your brand values and USP, you need to ensure that every time a family (or prospective family) interacts with your school, they are, in some sense, seeing your values and USP in action. This includes all of your brand touch points, including:

  • your visual brand elements — colours, logos, photography, fonts, illustrations
  • your written and verbal communications
  • your social media channels, website and blog
  • your email marketing
  • your print collateral.

Some of these are easy to align with your brand. For example, if your school lists 'inclusion' as a value, you may look to ensure that your tone of voice is welcoming, kind and uses inclusive language. You will probably look to ensure there is diversity and a sense of belonging in all of the imagery that you use. Your social media profile will likely be filled with stories about the great experiences that students have had with their teachers and classmates.

Other elements, such as matching your brand colours can be a little trickier to ascertain. You'll need to research colour theory and take care when using your school colours to ensure they accurately reflect your school's brand personality. We've written a whole post on doing just that: Unlocking the power of colour theory — make sure you check it out!

Bringing it all together

We could go on and on about branding — nailing your brand is not the easiest task in the world! However, there are definitely commonalities between schools that have a strong, cohesive brand presence... and those that don't.

Published 14 January 2021