Competition and choice in education have changed everything. The neighborhood school is no longer the only game in town. In fact, online schools have made being in the same town not even a requirement. This means school leaders need to continually make the case for their school and find ways to stand out from all the competition.
One important strategy is to create and manage a consistent brand for your school. How do you do that? Begin by creating and using a branding guideline.
What is a Branding Guideline and why should a school administrator care? Let’s begin with the what, and I believe the why will become clear.
What are brand guidelines?
Brand guidelines are used by all large corporations (and many small businesses) to share the standards for all the elements that represent them. This information should apply to anywhere your logo/mascot and branding are included such as use on your website, social media, stationery, marketing, etc. This typically includes the following elements:
- Your color palette: the exact colors used in your logo or mascot, including the color names and codes for the different formats such as CMYK, HEX, PMS, RGB, and Pantone. This should also include any supporting colors that might be used to add variety or interest (including text, lines, or other assets). This information provides easy access to colors for both digital and print versions.
- Color variations: logo color variations that are allowed, including black, white, transparent background, etc.
- Logo/Mascot design: how your logo and mascot should be displayed in different formats, including size restrictions (if any), colors, how it should be displayed on different backgrounds, etc. You might want to include what NOT to do with your logo or mascot, like stretching the logo in odd ways or putting it on difficult-to-read backgrounds, etc.
- Typography: the fonts or typefaces associated with your brand (for both logos and fonts to be used for body text and headlines). You should also include how caps or lowercase are used as well.
- Logo/Mascot spacing: should include any required “padding” around your logo/mascot.
- Examples of use: It is helpful to show instances of your logo, mascot, colors, and fonts as they apply to items like business cards, T-shirts or uniforms, advertising, and more. Your staff members will have fewer questions if you provide examples.
Additional helpful areas of inclusion, especially regarding content and text:
- Grammar: when it comes to areas of written text (like your website, brochures, flyers, signage, etc.), include guidelines outlining your preferred style guide (Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, APA, AP), or at least provide common questions like whether or not you require an oxford comma or if lists require bullet points or numerals, etc.
- Brand tone: Include what tone your school strives to present to the public. The overall tone should reflect your desired brand image. Are you welcoming? Artistic? Active and sporty? Techy? Your tone and word choice can build on your visual brand images.
Why establish brand guidelines?
Now that you understand what brand guidelines are, maybe the why is more obvious, but let’s go over them here:
Whenever people visit your website, see a team uniform, receive a business card, or view any of your marketing materials, they receive an implied perception of your school. When all who touch your image follow the rules you have established, you create a consistent brand identity.
This not only makes your school brand recognizable, but this consistency also sends a message of reliability to your audiences. It shows that your school takes pride in the details—and you maintain professionalism in spite of the many hands and minds who are using your brand in a variety of ways (staff, coaches, parent organizations, volunteers, sponsors, and more).
When you maintain a cohesive brand image, it increases your brand’s perceived value. Your school appears professional and reliable. A cohesive brand image also makes it easier to maintain this quality.
When your brand remains consistent, it becomes immediately recognizable within your community and with your target audiences (parents, community members, business partners). It can take a long time to establish a recognizable brand and reputation, but with consistent and professional brand guidelines, you can get that recognition much more quickly.
Developing your brand guidelines
Keep it simple. Corporations that provide guidelines to sub-contractors, copywriters, and marketers may benefit from developing a lengthy, comprehensive brand guide (including your brand overview, brand purpose, brand promise, brand values, and other information). But your school staff, not accustomed to the complex requirements for marketing and public relations agencies, would be better served by a few pages of explanation in the form of a flyer or brochure. Too much detail is simply more than the average school staff member would care about or have the time to wade through.
Here at School Webmasters, we use a simple four-page brochure that not only incorporates the approved colors, logos, and fonts but also our mission, values, and core beliefs. This is useful because it helps our designers understand the why behind our brand and what it aims to accomplish.
Make your brand guidelines available on whatever shared drive your staff has access to so it is available to all. Share it in a PDF format with any vendors, printers, logo designers, website developers/designers, or anyone who will be using your school logo, mascot, or who will be developing designs or marketing using your school colors.
Also, be sure to keep all formats of the logo and mascot files that have been provided to you, even if some do not open for you. You may simply not have the correct software to open it—but do not get rid of those files; they may be useful in the future for different types of print work and be requested by the printer. Keeping all the different logo and mascot files in one easy-to-locate folder is a great way to ensure that the quality will forever be consistent. It is always best to get a print of the highest quality requested file instead of a low-quality screen capture or a .jpg.
Keep it professional
We have nearly 19 years of experience developing school websites, logos, mascots, and business cards for schools. The schools that have maintained professionalism with their communities have treated their brand with respect. That means they took the details and consistency of brand management seriously.
What NOT to do. We could give you a few examples of schools that failed to have brand guidelines and allowed various departments, teams, or staff members to design and produce a variety of school mascots, logos, and color variations throughout the district. Some designed their own or let students do so. Some principals changed school colors on a whim. Some websites used different colors and fonts on every page or even with each paragraph. Before long, the effect was comical, unprofessional, and embarrassing.
What TO do. Hire a professional graphic designer for logos and mascots. To learn more about this topic, check out our article “School Logos and Mascots Done Right.”
Align all touchpoints
Once you’ve determined what your brand guidelines are, be consistent across all channels and platforms. Get everyone on the same page, from website management to staff business cards to letterhead stationery and email signatures—create and use brand guidelines. Share these guidelines, and the reasons for them, with all your school staff to assure consistency across every aspect of school practices, events, and communications. All touchpoints should align to support your brand.
How is your school managing its brand identity? We’d love to hear what works for you! Need to learn more about developing a strong school brand? Check out “School Branding: How to Stand Out from the Crowd.”
Posted by Tammy Carpenter, Art Director, School Webmasters, LLC.