Branding a School District: Establishing a Vision that Matters!

For many, a brand is a logo or mascot, but in truth it is much more. The brand represents a promise to your customers. For public school districts, the product is quality public education. It’s a visual representation of the feeling students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the entire community have when they walk the halls of your schools. A successful visual brand builds loyalty that unites a community under one culture, promotes their uniqueness, and instills pride. Higher education has been doing this well for years now. They’ve used branding as an important method in addressing their goals of attracting and sustaining top talent, recruiting academic leaders, and gaining alumni support. Utilizing a highly tailored marketing strategy revolving around brand identity, differentiation, and consistency has provided successful outcomes for many universities. As the climate in public education evolves, branding has become a necessary solution to some of the challenges facing public school districts today.

We live in a competitive world! Parents have more options for their children’s education than ever before. It’s easily understandable that parents will choose to live in an area that closely aligns with their family values and provides the best options for their children. With 29% of home buyers citing school quality as a major factor in their decision-making, let’s face it, school choice can be considered a threat to the future of a school district unless its value is communicated effectively. But it has become more than a public school versus private school debate these days. Districts face competition from not only private and charter schools, but also from open enrollment at other public school districts. In addition to school choice, the battle is on for obtaining top teaching talent. As a result, school districts are vying to attract and sustain staff. There are additional threats to fast growth school districts experiencing rapid growth. As a fast growth district expands, they can lose their identity, finding it difficult to not only define and differentiate themselves, but they can also struggle with building a connection internally and with the community. A well-defined, visible, and influential brand supported by a strategic plan allows a district to get ahead of these challenges, connecting the existing community, increasing enrollment, sustaining and retaining top talent, and addressing concerns that become present with rapid growth.

The first step in branding a school district is to develop your vision and to establish a strategic plan. Ideally, your mission statement is the cornerstone of your decision-making, and the vision that everyone rallies around. By developing a vision and strategic plan, districts can establish guidelines to follow and set parameters for not only the district, but also for each campus from the top down. The strategic plan is implemented through a communications strategy that drives the district website, social media platforms, billboards, and promotional materials and gear.

What is it that makes your district different from the next or from the private or charter school challenging you? Identifying that key information assists you in realizing your value to the community you serve and those considering moving to your area. Where the district’s vision and value meet is the sweet spot that solidifies and shapes the perception of your brand. By doing so, you strike a consistent impression and create an educational expectation. At that point, the experience is built and realized.

How you communicate the vision is of the utmost importance. Perception is reality! Decades ago, there was a one-way release of information. Typically, it was received through papers sent home to parents. Later, email became the optimal, less expensive means of communicating and informing staff, parents, and the community. With the emergence of social media and millennial engagement, the rest of us began receiving a firsthand view, seeing what goes on inside school walls from the perception of students. In order to take control of the information, districts created their own websites and social media profiles.

Your branding efforts are only successful through time and consistency, which requires a great deal of persistence and commitment to the plan. Every message or campaign should be on point with the vision and values that you have created. Building a successful brand doesn’t happen immediately, but instead evolves over time with repetition and consistency.

As you consider building a brand or defining an existing brand, it is clear that culture plays a huge role. If your brand represents your culture, everyone becomes an extension of it. As it’s communicated, experiences occur within and because of it. In some cases, we create the brand and as it comes to fruition; it creates experiences. In others, the experiences within, illustrate the brand. Regardless of the situation, it is clear that developing a strong, well-defined, and consistent brand that supports your vision is key to rallying your community around public education and your school district.