It really is important...
Several years ago I toured a charter school that was nice—a new facility, decent classrooms with windows and the students used tablets. Halfway through, I could not work out what the school was really about, so much so that it was kind of distracting me as the tour progressed. I finally asked the tour leader, “What is your school’s niche?” She looked at me quizzically. “What is your school known for?” I asked. Finally, after thinking for a long time, she said, “Well, we’re here to help all kids do well.”
Her dilemma was totally understandable—a lot of us probably would say something similar if caught off guard. And that sentiment of ‘helping all kids’ is probably true of a lot of schools. Sadly, though, it wasn’t helpful. Parents are looking at lots of schools and want to make quick decisions with as much information as they can get. That’s why having, and knowing, your brand is vital.
Later that day I told a friend I had toured that school and she immediately said, “Oh, the one where every kid learns at his own pace on a tablet. That’s where under-performing students go for extra help.” So that was their brand!
Before you begin
Before embarking on a branding exercise, do consult with your principal and/or district marketing department. Your school may already have a distinct brand or the marketing department may want to create it. Either way, you want to make sure your school has a brand and sticks to it.
But wait, what exactly is a brand? In a nutshell, it’s a succinct, specific statement (or promise) about your school and what it offers. Some say it’s your school’s reputation or identity.
Establishing your brand allows you to focus on, and market, your strengths. It distinguishes and identifies you and creates loyalty and trust. This is because you seem organized and like you know who you are and what you are doing.
1. Seek out information. Collect opinions. Have the board, and anyone else who is interested, complete a branding worksheet. On it, have people list pros and cons of the school, as well as competitors; what makes families choose the school; what makes families leave the school, and what is the school’s reputation in the community (email me for a worksheet example). Get as many voices as you can. Of course include school administration.
2. Determine your brand. After you review the results, figure out what the brand should be. Don’t be vague or general with statements like, “We are the best” or “We help everyone.” A lot of schools do this which makes it so hard for parents to differentiate. Even public schools can’t be all things to all people and that’s okay. Ask yourself what accurately reflects the school at its best? I do think this can be a challenge for some public schools. Contact me for a list of ideas if you’re having trouble.
3. Please note the visual aspects of your school’s brand—i.e., the school logo, signage, letterhead, font and colors—are almost always up to the district. You may choose to come up with various graphics for your parent group, but just make sure to understand what you can/cannot do.
4. Make sure everyone knows the brand. Everyone from volunteers to the principal and everyone in between should know the brand.
5. Let the brand inform all you do. For example, testimonials, open houses, social media, website and newsletter always should reflect your brand.
Now that you know your brand, you are ready to read about retention and figure out how you can help.