Q: Does Your School Have A Brand? A: You Bet It Does!

Q: Does Your School Have A Brand? A: You Bet It Does!
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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power branding has on our understanding of companies around the world.  When one thinks about companies like Apple Computers, for example, it’s not unusual for people to associate words like hip, trendy, youthful, rich, and educated.  This association is by no means an accident, and is another example of the power of effective branding.  As proof of this I’m reminded of a story I read this summer about the US-based travel website Orbitz, which would channel visitors using Apple computers to more expensive hotels and vacation packages because it was believed that these users would prefer options that started on the higher end.

I believe that few would argue that branding is an important part of any business or organization (heck I’ve even taken a lot of time to think about what brand I’m creating at Learn[ed]Leadership)…but what about a school?  As I’ve interviewed various school leaders over the last year, some have seemed to be uncomfortable using the word brand while others have fully accepted it.  Either way I believe, whether we realize it or not our schools create a brand in our community for better or for worse.  However, unlike multi-national companies that can spend billions on building their brands and reputation, our schools’ brands are built on their standing in the community.

I had a chance to speak with Nick Kent the current Assistant HS Principal at Concordia Shanghai, who put it this way:

“[I find that when I] try to have conversations with people about marketing & PR of their schools, their immediate inclination is to think about advertising, and that’s not it at all.  It is about recognizing what your brand is and who you are.  It’s also communicating your vision, most importantly with your faculty and then secondly with your current families.  I’ve found that marketing is significantly more important than worrying about advertising to potential families, but getting everybody on board and understanding what we as a school community believe in, what direction we’re moving, and [making sure] we’re all moving there together”

I believe Nick is exactly right when he says that creating a brand is more than just about marketing or advertising.  Instead a school’s vision has to be more than just a statement on the wall, or your brand will become just that, stuck on a wall.  However, I add that if we want to help shape our brands, we need to harness the power of effective design used by marketers and advertisers, not to reach an external audience, but instead to reinforce our beliefs to send a message to our internal community about who we are.

Today more than ever I’m finding myself, and my students, to be ultra aware of quality and visually stunning pieces of media.  I think this is because of our ever-increasing connectiveness and increased screen time that we’ve somehow become hypersensitive to beautiful design.  In other words our standards have risen and with them has come an expectation that the messages worth listening to are the ones that come packaged well.

As an example of this you might remember last year, the organizers at Invisible Children, a non-profit based in the US that raises awareness on a number of human rights issues in Africa, grabbed the world’s attention with its KONY 2012 campaign.  At the time I wrote a blog about it because I was amazed to see how my students were quickly captivated by the campaign.  I could assume that it was the issues that grabbed their attention, but living in the Philippines my students have grown up witnessing different levels of injustice without being too moved.  Although the issues and purpose of the KONY 2012 movement are powerful, I believe it was the non-profit’s powerful imagery, effective branding (it’s cool to be socially active), and its amazing use of social media that captured my student’s (and worldwide) attention.

So getting back to the title of this post: Does your school have a brand?   The answer is most certainly yes.  However, the more important question is, do you like what your brand’s become and does your brand match your mission?    **Let that sink in for a second**

So does your school pay attention to its brand and does it match your mission statement?

Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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