According to SmallBizGenius, consistent brand presentation can boost revenue by up to 23 percent. Even so, however, many vocational colleges and trade schools have found that building a memorable brand is often easier said than done. The president has to sign off on the rebrand. Post-secondary institutions are spending up to $623 per enrolled student as it is. And when you’re not sure how to build a brand that drives results, staying the course just feels safer.

But here’s the bottom line:

If you don’t have a unique brand, your school is leaving a lot of money on the table. 

Do you want to know how to build a brand that will have people excited about your courses, your programs, and your school in particular? Keep reading to find out.

The Branding Questions Your School Needs to Ask

We’ve talked about how to build a successful education brand before. And from high-level cultural analysis to sourcing tech solutions, it’s clear that trade school branding is a lot of work. 

Fortunately, there are two questions you can ask to get the ball rolling in your institution:

1. Who Are You Advertising To?

In business advertising, niche marketing is all the rage. Why? Because small, identifiable groups are almost always easier to focus on and engage.

As a school, chances are that there’s a specific type of student you’re looking for. Some of the student personas on your list might include:

  • Recent immigrants
  • Blue-collar workers in dying fields
  • Unfulfilled workers in other careers
  • High school graduates

Within that list, the concerns of a former miner or postal worker with a family will likely differ dramatically from those of a future high school grad. And if you were to whip out Harvard’s branding — well-established, prestigious, and ivy league — many of your programs would likely suffer for it.

That’s why we recommend sitting down and asking the question, “What student groups do we want to attract?”. Once you’ve got a working answer to this inquiry, crafting an appealing brand becomes a lot easier.

2. What Are You Offering?

Let’s do a quick exercise.

Imagine that you’re a member of your school’s target demographic. You’re interested in learning a skilled trade and you’re exploring your options to that effect. One day, while looking around online, you stumble across your school’s website.  

Are you offering any benefits that would make your target demographic stop what they’re doing, fill out your form, and request a course catalog on the spot?

When you get right down to it, most trade and vocational schools have a unique value proposition. But sometimes the team has to spend time digging for it.

Maybe you’ve got an apprenticeship program or an employer network that puts your students to work right away. Maybe your students have gone on to win awards or you’ve got a super-affordable way of structuring your tuition.

Before you can start developing your brand, however, you need to think very seriously about what your students are looking for. Of course, the process of reimagining your offer can be painful and difficult. But it’s necessary if you want to create a rock-solid brand for your school.

Building the Foundation of a Brand That Makes Sense

Okay. So at this stage, you’ve set the table for your new brand. You know exactly who you’re targeting and you’ve framed your course offerings in a way that’ll appeal to your dream students. 

Now it’s time to start working on the practical aspects of your brand. These aren’t necessarily the final end product that people will see on your website and your business cards. But they’re the pieces that will make your brand instantly recognizable.

1. Establish Your Voice

For many Americans, there are some cartoon characters that have reached icon-level status.

Donald Duck. Mickey Mouse. Homer Simpson. 

You don’t even have to look up to know when these characters are speaking. 

When you’re done crafting your brand, you want it to have a voice that’s so distinct that people are able to read your writing and say, “Oh I know that place!”. 

Are you planning to be the straight-talking, tell-it-like-it-is school that’s saving its students from short careers in dying industries? What kind of vocabulary are you planning to use?

As a general rule of thumb, most trade schools will want to sound somewhat professional regardless of their exact brand positioning. But you’re really only limited by your creativity and your branding preferences here. 

2. Establish Your Brand Guidelines

Have you ever wondered how Nike always is able to feature the same swoosh symbol on its shoes and clothes? Have you ever watched a soda commercial and wondered how Coca-Cola’s capital Cs stay the same?

These logos and symbols might feel like relatively small details. But in the world of major company advertising, strict guidelines and creative assets can do a lot to maintain consistency in a business brand.

Some of the details you’ll want to think about include:

  • Color schemes
  • Font sizes and types
  • Pictures and images
  • Logos 

For more assets like your logo or your fonts, you may want to create an internal folder for your leadership and design teams. This way you can ensure that nobody’s building their own customer-facing assets from scratch.

3. Write Your Origin Story

In a famous Stanford study, students gave short speeches that included three statistics and a story. Five percent of listeners could name a single statistic. But 63 percent of people remembered the stories they’d heard.

Just like any other company or brand with an “About Us” page, your school more than likely has an origin story. Maybe your founder was on a mission to make education more accessible. Perhaps your school was launched with the express intent of preventing another labor shortage within your state.

According to Social Media Today, 90 percent of consumers saw authenticity as an important factor when choosing which brands to support. This is your school’s chance to shape its own narrative.

Bringing Your School’s Brand to Life

At this point, you’ve pinned down your target demographic, you’ve mined your course and curriculum offerings, and you’ve laid the foundation for your school’s brand. 

But how do you turn those plans into a real, bonafide brand? Here are three necessary steps:

1. Create Your New Marketing Assets

When people are given information, chances are that they’ll remember about 10 percent of it. But if the same piece of information is connected with a picture, that number shoots up to 65 percent.

During this stage, you’ll be revisiting your branding guidelines and crafting new marketing collateral for your school. This asset list might include:

  • A new slogan
  • A redesigned site
  • A new logo
  • Updated social media handles

You wouldn’t expect a chef to prepare a five-course meal without a kitchen or a set of cooking knives. This step in the brand creation process is about making sure that your school has the tools it needs to shape the way that people perceive it.

2. Train Your People

Branding guides will often spend a lot of time talking about how you need to sell your school to potential students. But even before you start opening the doors and letting the public in, there’s another identifiable group of people who have to be sold on your new brand:

Your staff.

For older schools that have traditionally conducted themselves a certain way, you may even be faced with an internal mutiny during your rebrand. That’s why organizational buy-in is so important.

For instance, let’s say that your new brand is all about helping students find jobs after graduation. The staff members who are in charge of intake would ideally be finding ways to reiterate that message. However, if they don’t know what to say or how they’re expected to behave, you could find yourself caught up in a branding authenticity issue.

To preempt this issue, you’ll have to think about how your marketing, administrative, and faculty departments can all contribute to your branding. And then you may want to host a few in-house seminars to field questions and show people how they can make a difference in your school’s rebranded future.

Yes, it’s a lot of work upfront. But it’s a strategy that can pay off dividends.

3. Reveal Your New Brand 


You’ve done all the heavy lifting as far as creating and refining your school’s new brand. Now it’s time to reveal the rebranded face of your school to the public. 

If the thought of a full-scale roll-out seems intimidating, it may be worth your while to do a soft launch across multiple marketing channels. Regardless of how you decide to approach this, there’s one thing that you can’t lose sight of:

You’ve just built and a launched a new school brand from scratch.

Branding Tips for Trade Schools That Want Results

So let’s say that you’ve launched your new brand and you’re loving the results. But you’re looking for an extra edge. Are there any best practices that you should be implementing?

If you want marketing tips, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s some of our best branding advice for vocational and trade schools.

1. Be Consistent

We’ve talked quite a bit about the benefits of video marketing in higher education. In fact, the advantages are so powerful that if it isn’t a part of your marketing strategy, it should be.

However, here’s the bottom line as it relates to your school’s brand:

Nobody watches a Batman film expecting to see a bright and cheery movie. And the same logic should apply to everything that your brand puts out.

If you’ve opted for darker colors and high-contrast visuals, your new course launch video isn’t the place to experiment. To enjoy the full fruits of your labor, you’ll need to keep at it. This will give you the touch points that you need as you market across different channels.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Refine Your Offer

Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve gone through all the steps.

You’ve researched your target demographic. You’ve put together the website and landing page materials. And you’ve redesigned your logo in the process.

Despite your best efforts, however, the brand just doesn’t seem to have staying power. 

If you launched last week, you may just need to give the rebrand some time. But if it’s been a few semesters and your brand just doesn’t seem to be sticking with people, it may be time to go back to the drawing board. 

Don’t double down on a brand that isn’t generating the results you’re looking for.

3. Have a Dedicated Marketing Strategy

A lot of people believe that if they build an awesome brand, the students will start rolling in.

However, this approach has a serious flaw:

We live in a world where spam, commercials, and ads are all par for the course. In order for your new brand to attract students and increase enrollment rates, you’ll want to have a marketing strategy that’s up to the task.

Branding and marketing are like peanut butter and jelly. When both components are in place, they bring out the best in each other.

Build a Brand for Your School With Ease

If building a brand was easy, everyone would be doing it in their sleep. And if brand-building isn’t complicated enough on its own, things can get even more tricky when you’re marketing for higher ed.

When you’re not sure how to build a brand that gets results, offering the same courses as the vocational school down the street might feel safer. But it may not be good for the long-term health of your school.

Your school needs a brand that resonates with its student demographic. In addition, this brand needs to stand out and be impactful while also garnering respect. 

With that kind of a to-do list on the schedule, brand-building is a tall task for many vocational schools. Or at least it would be, if you didn’t have us in your corner. 

We’re a full-service marketing agency that specializes in helping vocational and trade schools enroll more students. We’ll help you build a brand that works — and then we’ll help you market it. Contact us to see what we can do for your school.


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