A friend asked my advice on branding recently. He’s just started his own business and wants to understand the branding process.
I started to give examples of interesting school brands when he stopped me and said ‘but schools aren’t brands’. It reminded me how difficult marketing a school is; a school is a brand. And the idea that a school should be treated as a business with a need for a creative and strategic brand is often not understood by people outside of the marketing and branding bubble.
We know how uncomfortable people can be when we talk about schools as if they’re a business. But in truth they are, and parents should rightly expect a school to match the professionalism of other organisations they’re interacting with daily.
Too many independent schools portray ‘cottage industry’ rather than ‘cutting-edge education’ in their branding.
Brands all around us are upping their game; garden centres, coffee shops, fish and chip takeaways and many more besides. Take a look at this family-run coffee shop in Battersea for example. Beautifully branded paper cups, bean pouches and merch with a mesmerising ‘brand story’ position them as a coffee shop that truly cares (and that I really want to visit!).
It’s easier for brands in their infancy to carve a compelling proposition; they don’t have the convoluted decision making processes, 100 year+ heritage, or thousands of protective alumni, staff and parents that school marketeers must consider. But that’s exactly why it’s so important for schools to up their game – the cost and emotional investment people put in to choosing a school is far greater than choosing where to buy their next cup of coffee.
You need to look at big ticket brands for examples of similar (but still not as significant) emotional and financial investment.
Take Audi for example; like schools they also have passionate ‘fans’ and many internal stakeholders to contend with, but unlike schools they have huge marketing teams and vast budgets. It’s no wonder they have every brand touchpoint meticulously designed and considered.
School marketeers therefore face a unique set of challenges; the baggage and bureaucracy of big companies but resources and expertise of much smaller companies.
But even with all these hurdles it’s great to see that there is a growing group of schools who are really upping their game, taking school brands into a new level of professionalism. Take a look at these examples:
We love the brave font choice and beautifully crafted logo of St Chris. The school is described as “more informal than most” and so the name ‘St Chris’ is a way of “formalising the more informal brand identity”. We think this, and other subtle design choices make for a very well-thought out brand identity that answers exactly what they set out to do – to present St Chris as a progressive school.
Branding by Pentagram
Stowe have bravely taken a different approach to their positioning. For those who know the school – and even for those with only a perception of the school – ‘Change Makers’ is perfect and will resonate with those families who share in the school’s vision.
Will this be the year more schools follow suit, crafting professional, memorable brands that both differentiate them from other schools and offer a compelling proposition for ‘right fit’ families? We certainly hope so.