Not too long ago, educational institutions could rely almost entirely on their reputation to get students to apply and support their schools. Education is a tricky business to be in because you’re having to continually walk a fine line between being a business and creating social value to engage your audience.
While it’s critical to offer a relevant curriculum, high-quality educators, and technologically advanced platforms, merely investing in these features won’t magically get students to enroll. Your students and their supporting decision-makers (usually parents) will look to you to see why your school is better than the other options.
But how do you make your school stand out, and how do you pull from intangible features to convince your audience to choose you? The key is your educational brand and the ability to create a marketing introduction that clearly makes you the best choice.
If you’re not sure where to start to create your brand or how to leverage your brand to build your success, you’re in the right place. We’ve broken down the basics of branding and given you the five keys required to unlocking a successful educational brand! Read on to learn more!
What is an Educational Brand?
When it comes to understanding your brand, it’s helpful to look at this from an “educational marketing for dummies” perspective, rather than a “symposium for the marketing of higher education.” Breaking down the details will help you look at each piece and start to work out the critical information that will serve your process well.
But first, what is NOT your brand? Your brand isn’t your school logo, tagline, color scheme, or typography. While those are all pieces of your brand, they don’t represent your brand, specifically. Your brand is more abstract and less tangible, which is what makes building it so tricky!
To build a tangible brand, start by answering the following questions about your educational institution and referencing these through the process. The clearer your understanding is of your brand, the easier it will be to design a brand development process that will serve you for years to come!
What is Your School Ethos?
Your beliefs, values, and worldview are essential to crafting your brand. What is the spirit of your educational process, and what does your “About Us” or value statement say to students and educators?
Identify your ethos, express it, promote it, communicate it, and make it part of everything your school represents. In order to build a reliable brand, you need to know clearly what your business convictions are and how they impact your school.
What is Your School Atmosphere?
Whether you have online classes only or if you operate from a physical campus, your atmosphere likely plays a significant role in whether or not students choose to enroll in your school. It’s human nature to be influenced by first impressions, and your school’s atmosphere could sway students in a major way.
Consider how you can leverage your online or in-person presence to create your brand and invest in a stellar website and high-quality photos and college marketing videos to help them decide.
Do You Have a Promise or Guarantee?
When prospective students, teachers, donors, alumni, or just the general public visit your school or website, is there anything you’re promising them? When it comes to your marketing materials, your brand promise should be consistent.
If you’re showing a lot of students socializing through online platforms or engaging in diverse groups, your promise could be a welcoming and accepting experience for all education seekers. If you have small class sizes and high pass rates, you should promote these features to show that learning and success are valued above all else!
Pulling from these brand promises, descriptions, or statements can give you a compelling brand angle you may not have previously considered.
What Are Your Student Perceptions?
The way your students perceive your school is a powerful detail that many schools overlook. You can’t control how your students feel, but understanding how they feel about your school can help you make significant and valuable changes that can go a long way in helping you create a successful brand.
You can start by breaking your students down into different groups and sending our polls to rate their satisfaction with your school’s various features.
- Break students up into segments based on behavior or interests, not by demographic
- Ask targeted questions that can help you identify what your students want from you the most
- Study what their generation is interested in and how to communicate with them effectively
- Monitor data and create content that is engaging and interesting to them, specifically
What is Your School’s History?
If you want to move into the future with your school, it’s essential to understand where you came from and what steps were taken to get you where you are today. What has and hasn’t worked in the past, and where do you want your school to go?
If your school’s history is a little unclear, consider the following questions:
- When was your school founded?
- Why was your school founded?
- Who is your school’s target audience?
- How have cultural expectations and marketplace demands changed since your school opened?
- Who were the founding members of your school?
- What are some pivotal moments in your school’s history and global history that made your school what it is today?
5 Keys to Building Your Educational Brand
Your educational brand is one of the most valuable marketing assets you can utilize, so taking the time to understand how to build a brand is the first step towards turning the tide on your marketing strategy. These five keys can help you finally establish a clear brand that will serve you well now and in the future.
Start by working through these steps and then referencing your findings against other schools that offer similar degrees or certificates to remain on par or to surpass them completely. Monitoring your competition and identifying leaders in your industry will serve you well while you’re developing your school’s brand.
1. Your Brand is Your Culture
One of the most important things about building your brand is understanding that you’re not selling something. Your brand should show what you offer potential students and what makes your institution unique.
Higher education branding is about focusing on being something to your students and catering all of your promotional materials to speak to these details. Brands that are culturally-driven nurture a desire to participate and encourages participation from everyone involved.
Does your school have specific values? Those values can be the building blocks of your culture. Listen to your educators and students to identify and highlight what makes your school unique.
2. Your Brand is Community Driven
It’s important to remember that your brand comes from within your organization. All the members of your staff and all of your students should want to support your school and promote what you have to offer.
The best and most successful schools focus on creating a mission that people want to be a part of, rather than just trying to sell them a degree. Your school’s lifestyle, distinct offers, and success rate are all the building blocks of your community.
Everyone who is part of your school needs to understand your brand, believe in it, and support it from different angles. A successful brand will only survive when the community backs it and makes those promises a reality.
3. Your Brand Inspires Student Behaviors
What inspired your educational institution’s current core values? Do they sound a lot like other schools, or are they unique to what you offer to your students? Your students want to be proud of where they go to school, so by encouraging positive behaviors and rewarding their support; you’ll most likely receive enthusiastic responses.
Your student behaviors are critical to creating and maintaining your brand, and they should go beyond fundamental human values. Generally, people want to do the right thing, but how do you determine what the right thing is for your school?
A successful school brand should not only be defined; it should also be rewarded and articulated in a way that’s easy for the masses to comprehend. If, for instance, you want to make learning accessible again amid global changes caused by the pandemic, you could promote your online learning options and the accessibility of your educators through web-based platforms.
Whatever angle you choose to pursue, it should be clear how this will serve your students, help them succeed, and how you’re doing it differently than other similar institutions. You can do this through brand building, content marketing strategies, and consistency across all platforms.
4. Your Brand Should Evolve
A great brand will never stop growing and changing to suit the current needs of the market. At your core, you will likely have values that represent your school, but as your students grow and evolve, your school will need to as well. Not long ago, online learning was a luxury that only a few schools offered, but now it’s become the new normal for many learning institutions!
As you consider your school’s essential functions, what you do day to day, take some time to consider what your projects and initiatives say about your school. Do they tap into your company culture, are they engaging to you students, and do they reinforce what your school says it does?
If your brand is clear, specific, and future-focused, it will help keep you ahead of industry changes and make it easier when you need to make a significant shift. A well planned educational brand that painlessly changes with the times and clearly advertises your college programs is more likely to be recognized and appreciated by students.
5. Your Brand Should Be Specific
Before you start making grand plans for your brand, you must remember that your brand should be specific to your school! Creating a cookie-cutter band that could easily represent any institution won’t serve you well, so you need to take some time to identify what specifically makes your school unique.
What is NOT your brand is a straightforward way to set your school apart if you’re not sure how to start narrowing down what makes you unique. When it comes to marketing your school, rally around a specific theme, and then tweak that particular feature to keep things fresh but bring your promises to life in powerful new ways.
Where to Start
Now that you understand what pieces go into creating a strong education brand and the keys to unlocking your branding success, what should you do first? To start, take some time to get to know your brand and identify what makes your school unique. Then, poll current students to see what made them choose your institution over your competition and use those details to build a marketing strategy that will reach your target audience.
Whether you’re a trade school, a vocational school, or a college, your brand is a critical piece to standing out amongst the competition. As more schools are moving online, it will be more important than ever to help students quickly and clearly identify why they should always choose you!
To learn more about marketing your school and digital trends, check out the other informative articles on our blog. If you could use a little help marketing your school and ranking on search engines, check out our valuable services to see which might be the best fit for you!