Stellar School Branding

School marketing tips for creating a brand that's out of this world

stellar school branding

In the world of education, colleges and universities are the branding kings. Think for a moment of your nearest state university. Do you know its colors? The mascot? Can you visualize their logo? I’m betting you can. Colleges and universities put a lot of money into their brand. Our public schools and private schools run on much smaller budgets. The great thing about branding, though, is you can create a strong school brand with thought and effort rather than dollars and cents. 

The term “brand” is much more than a logo or school motto, and it encompasses much more than your school letterhead and newsletters. Your brand is an image that includes the ideals that you want to promote to your enrolled families, prospective families and visitors, and the community at large. A distinctive brand can be one of your school’s most valuable communication assets, especially in this time of school choice and open enrollment.

The Basic School Brand

We won’t spend too much time on the basic brand—chances are this is stuff you already know. A basic brand will include the consistent use of particular elements such as the name of your school, your school motto, your school colors, and your logo and mascot. These items are most likely already created for your school; however, if you happen to be going through a rebranding process, or if you’re a startup charter school or private school, here are a few tips for the essential elements of your school brand

  • School name. Make sure you have and follow consistent rules for your school name—and that includes the abbreviation you choose to use. Do you want to be known as Mountain View High School or MV High School? Or do you prefer MVHS after the first reference? If you want your audience to be aware of your school’s name, you need to be consistent in it’s use.
  • School logo and mascot. A logo is a graphic mark or emblem your school can use to attain instant public recognition, allowing you to spread your brand more easily. An effective logo becomes implanted in the memories of your target audience. Much like the importance of an effective logo, a good mascot will be an instant brand recognition tool.
  • School motto. If your motto is already set, your job here is to make sure it’s known. Take a look around your campus. Is it written on your walls? On your letterhead? Do you use it often in your assemblies? Your school motto can, and should, promote school pride. Make sure those words mean something around your campus.
  • School colors. There is science behind the use of colors that influences how we perceive, choose, and even react to different things based on color. What do your colors say about your school? What colors are designated as complimentary colors in your school branding bible?

The Good School Brand

Every school has a name, logo, mascot, motto, and colors. That’s the kind of blasé branding every school does. But you want your school brand to be better than average, right? To take your branding up a notch, take a page out of college and university playbooks—be different. 

What makes you different could be the deciding factor in an enrollment decision. Yale and Harvard differentiate themselves as academically prestigious and highly-competitive when it comes to admissions. Arizona State University has (some may argue “had”) a reputation as a party school that drove them to become one of the largest universities in the country.

Your school should have personality. If you’re not sure what your school’s personality is, start with what makes you unique. What programs do you offer that no one else does? In what areas does your school excel? What services do you provide that your stakeholders love?

Once you’ve identified your niché, take a walk around your campus. Spend some time people-watching with a notebook in hand. What do your students look like? Are they happy? Are they excited? What are they talking about? Watch your staff. What is their demeanor? Is your school a place people love to be? Why? 

Really good school branding includes these elements of branding—image and atmosphere. 

The Stellar School Brand

Really great school branding takes an image and atmosphere and shows it to the world! 

Arizona State University has a great campaign called “Sparky World Tour.” This is a campaign aimed to connect with (and promote) ASU Online students. To participate, students fill out a questionnaire, and, if they qualify, ASU sends them a doll of the school’s mascot—Sparky. In return, participants send in a picture of their Sparky doll in an interesting location near their hometown, which is then shared on social media. Campaigns like this fuel school pride and help to spread the brand.  

Don’t worry—your branding efforts don’t need to circumnavigate the globe; but they do need to permeate throughout your community. What can your school do to reach your community, increase school pride, and brand loyalty? 

One example of stellar school branding comes from a school in Minnetrista, Minnesota. Westonka Public Schools starts recruiting kids from the minute they’re born with “baby bags.” When a baby is born in the area, the district sends parents a baby bag filled with a district-logoed bib, a welcome letter from the superintendent, and a course catalog. The district follows up by sending a birthday card on the child’s birthday every year for the next five years. This simple marketing campaign gets the school on parents’ radar early and keeps them on their radar as they decide where to enroll their child. 

Minnesota is an open enrollment state, so it’s clear the schools understand the importance of school marketing and branding. With issues like school choice hanging in the air this year, establishing your brand and marketing your school becomes increasingly important. 

Stellar school branding incorporates school marketing to help you establish your school as the school of choice in your community. Creating a recognizable brand for your school is a must; it provides your school with the opportunity to tell your entire community who you are at a glance. 

Your brand is the visual and visceral representation of your school—make it an effective one. A well-thought-out brand gives your school the edge when it comes to school marketing and also helps your school communications and fundraising efforts. Through that one, united image, you can communicate your promise to deliver on your mission and uphold your values as a school.

Because brand is connected with logo, students and parents will feel a sense of pride when they see it on school publications, social networking pages, and even on their clothing. Visitors to your website will be reminded of your school’s commitment to excellence by the presence of your unique brand, and they will come to recognize and trust you by it.

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook

Katie Brooks, School Public Relations Manager