Five Reasons Every School Needs to Brand

It’s woven in every aspect of modern daily life, but branding isn’t new to the scene. Archeologists found branded wine casks in the ancient ruins of Pompeii. The legacy brand, Quaker Oats, turned what was cattle feed into a successful breakfast staple.

In the next decade, Amazon’s Alexa and her virtual assistant buddies, Cortina and Bixby, are poised to be the homey brand face of artificial intelligence that will connect every aspect of our domestic lives. So, finally seeing the brand conversation bubble up in the education space isn’t a surprise. It’s actually a bit overdue. If you are associated with a school in any way — as a leader, educator, staff member, student, parent, community member or potential co-business education partner — you need to be talking about branding your school now. Here are five reasons why.

1. No More Ivory Tower

It used to be that schools were masters at one-way communication and controlled the information sent to their communities and stakeholders. However, now the Internet has introduced our schools to “engagement” and “user experience.” The way to create informed, loyal educational communities is to collaboratively create a school brand and understand how to promote it.

A community of stakeholders can co-exist around a recognized and valued core mission that gives the school experience power. In the age of the Internet, a unifying brand presence can be shared with the world outside of the school door. In a brand mindset, the community grows in an exchange as it opens up to empowering relationships within the community and across the globe. The ivory tower crumbles.

2. Think Telling, not Selling

Today’s business brands live through their unifying digital and social media narrative. School brand isn’t about the business of sales and profit. Rather than selling, schools need to be telling.

By sharing what they know to be the stories of school excellence, schools push perception of their identity beyond a label of a single test score. As leading educator Yong Zhao, Ph.D., Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas, explains, modern, innovative educators must stand up for their ideas and actions instead of being judged and branded by external agencies using standardized measures.

3. Every School Needs a Promise

Schools today are part of a new, competitive environment of school choice and limited resources. Attracting dedicated stakeholders is now part of a school plan. Taking on a brand mindset raises a school’s voice in a larger community of educational opportunities.

A brand promise is about persuading. Schools who strategically brand lose their typical “humble educator” demeanor and communicate with authenticity power. The brand promise leads to new relationships and resources. Bragging rights only used for extracurricular activities are now elevated as messages of promise to the community. Every school needs to define its promise to reflect the unique value the school brings.

With the knowledge of what your school does differently, the promise of what the school delivers is clear. As advertisers say, having a well-defined promise is “the reason to believe” for any brand-loyal community.

4. It’s a Do-It-Yourself World

If ad men and school leaders don’t seem to share the same vibe, think again. Brand has been a revolutionary business tool for sharing ideas among like-minded communities. Brand brings the benefit of connective, emotional reward. Disney is one of the best brands in the world at creating loyalty out of emotion. So are Starbucks and Nike.

Schools don’t need a Madison Avenue budget to bring the same unifying culture of brand to a school that these global companies do — a brand that creates connection and feeling. With the help of an internal team of teachers, staff, students and parents, a brand plan can take root quickly just as well as a marketing department or Madison Avenue creative group... and at low cost or no cost. It’s a DIY creative endeavor. In the words of Scott Kerr, Time Inc.’s executive director /Strategy + Insights: “Like great disruptive brands from Apple to Uber, educators now have the ability to get the community engaged and immersed in the school’s brand equity.”

5. Digital Leadership

Brand has been simmering in the minds and beta-tested in the schools of progressive leaders, but every school leader is impacted by the digital world and deserves a brand presence. Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a brand and five minutes to ruin it.” In our Twitterverse world, that five minutes has become mere seconds.

Schools must be resolved in building a brand and sharing the range of messages and stories of the good work they produce daily. Amplifying messages has never been more important. We live in a new decade, an era of acceleration, where communication around real stories and fake news touches a school community. Schools can be known for their authenticity through building a brand and being a digital leader in education.

A solid brand is an essential beacon for a school; one that not only unifies but also strengthens. A well-crafted school brand is key to a school’s communication effectiveness in our unpredictable social media and digital age.

About the Author

Trish Rubin is the founder of Trish Rubin Ltd., a communications consultancy based in New York City and co-author of BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning. A self-described "educationalist," she has worked as a K-16 teacher, reading specialist, literacy coach, program developer, and central office administrator and now as an advocate for schools. For more information, visit www.trishrubin.com.

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