Seven Branding Mistakes Private Schools Make

Your school’s brand is critical for your marketing effort. In my years of working with private schools, I have seen brands of all types—from terrible ones to those that are outstanding.  

What is branding?

Let me use two of my favorite quotes to define branding: 

“From a business point of view, branding in the marketplace is very similar to branding on the ranch.  A branding program should be designed to differentiate your product [school] from all the other cattle [schools] on the range; Even if all the other cattle on the range look pretty much alike.” (Al and Laura Reis, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding)

“Brand is the promise, the big idea, the expectations that reside in each customer’s mind about a product, service or company.  Branding is about making an emotional connection.”  (Alina Wheeler, Designing Brand Identity) 

Based on these two definitions, branding is the way that you can differentiate your school from your competition. It is the visual imagery and messages that set your school apart in a crowded marketplace. It is a promise of what your school offers. It is the expectations that exist in the minds of your primary customer—parents. It is the opportunity to connect emotionally with your parents.

Private schools need to embrace the importance of their brand in their marketing effort to remain a viable choice in the future. This is especially true as growing competition from other schools requires that you effectively market your school. Parents are attracted to schools that represent excellence and a good brand should convey excellence. 

The quality of your brand should match the quality of your school. It should be a true reflection of your school’s mission and values. Your brand has a direct effect on how people relate to your school and as a result, impacts enrollment, revenue, funding and your bottom line.

What are some branding mistakes schools make?

During the last decade, I have had the opportunity to review many private school brands. There are several mistakes that stand out:

  1. Using multiple logos – One of the first things I look for when assessing a school’s brand is the consistent use of one logo. Often, I find multiple logos. I still remember finding seven different logos at one school. When you use multiple logos, your brand will be diluted. When you use one logo, your brand will be consistent and strong.
  2. Using multiple taglines (or no tagline at all) – A tagline is an opportunity to sell your school in an emotionally compelling set of words. Usually the shorter the tagline, the better. Just as you should have one logo, you should also have have one tagline and use it consistently throughout your marketing effort. Your tagline should sum up the main message of your school.
  3. Lack of consistent brand elements – The brand is not only comprised of a logomark and a tagline, it also should use consistent colors and design elements. For example, your admissions brochure should have a similar look  and feel to your school’s website. Take a minute and lay out all of your marketing materials, ads and your website on a table. What do you see? Do you see a consistent brand? Do all the pieces look like one school?
  4. It’s just plain boring and bland – Think about your brand as the packaging for your product. If you want someone to take a closer look inside the package to discover your school, you need to give them a compelling and high quality image that attracts them and motivates them to take the next step. Vibrant colors, compelling photos and engaging messages all contribut to this brand. A boring and bland brand will not attract prospective parents to your school.
  5. Using a designer “wanna-be” or parent volunteer to create your brand – Parents expect a high level of quality in your school because of the significant cost. While you might think that you are saving money by using a parent volunteer or designer “wanna-be,” you are potentially hurting your school’s image with poor quality. Developing a brand for your school without professional help should not be attempted (there are some exceptions to this).
  6. Using poor photography – Photos can make or break a brochure or website. Photos should express the life of your school through images of your students, faculty and staff in action.
  7. Letting everyone brand what is right in their own eyes – A brand should be controlled, maintained and protected by a person or group at your school. If everyone does what is right in their own eyes, then your brand image will be diluted, inconsistent and unprofessional. 

Are you making any of these branding mistakes at your school?

Are there any other branding mistakes you want to add to the list?

4 Responses to Seven Branding Mistakes Private Schools Make

  1. Rose McC says:

    I’d love to hear from some other folks who have gone through a “rebranding” process on a particular note. We are a very small school (total enrollment 210) with a strategic plan to grow to 375 in the next handful of years. When I started in the marketing role, I saw a very wide usage of the logo. Everything from size to location, and from bold to watermarked. Materials had a broad selection of clip art, as those were made by school parents, and the logo was just slapped in here and there. So we started with a new logo, and have begun the transition to consistent branding. but I’m running into two obstacles:
    1. Cost. It is very costly to do a massive turnover, even when you just consider the cost of throwing out former materials. So we decided to deplete most materials, only throwing out the worst of them. How should a very small school manage the cost of this process?
    2. Parent conformity. Being a small community that has been around for a while, people feel free to do “what they’ve always done” and are very slow to want to change anything. Until last summer, parents were doing everything on paper – paper weekly newsnotes, paper re-enrollment, paper applications, paper everything. We’ve been successful in getting some changes in place and will continue to move into the current century, but I have THE HARDEST time convincing parents to trust me that branding is critical and they need to use the new logo and the new colors. I hit road blocks EVERY time. Any suggestions?

  2. Amen to that! Thanks, Rick, for your wisdom and insight!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *