Branding 101: Best Practices You Need to Know

Notepaper on board that reads Who Are You

Branding strategy and creative execution are essential to a school’s successful marketing efforts. To help schools gain insight, we’ve asked Donna Balinkie, Kalix Marketing’s Strategy Lead, and Anne Schulte, Kalix’s Senior Designer for their thoughts. Both have decades of experience in their fields with specific expertise in branding.

Q: What is brand positioning?

Donna Balinkie: Brand positioning simply describes how a brand is different from its competitors and where, or how, it sits in audience’s minds.  It happens with or without your input. The market creates its own impressions of your institution and determines where your brand “fits on the map” based upon their own perceptions and experiences with your brand.  So, if you don’t actively and purposefully position your brand, your target audience will do it for you – and you may not always like it.

Being proactive about your brand positioning can have a positive effect on how your school is perceived in the marketplace. You need to create a distinct, desirable impression in your target audience’s mind about your school, something that differentiates you from the marketplace.

Anne Schulte: A brand is the ‘intangible sum of a product’s attributes,’ according to the father of advertising, David Ogilvy. This is the most valuable asset and foundation for brand expression.

Q: How do you create a positive brand strategy or brand position?

Donna: First, think about your favorite brands. Why do you love Starbucks or why are you loyal to Southwest Airlines? What would need to happen to get you to switch? A price increase? Something else? Corporate brands ask themselves these questions all the time to assess their brand. Educational institutions need to think about their organizations and mission the same way.

If you are going to tackle this exercise yourself, begin by asking some of your internal stakeholders (marketing and admission staff, parent and alumnae volunteers/donors, faculty, trustees) the following questions about your current brand positioning:

  • Is it memorable, motivating and focused to the core prospect?
  • Does it provide a clear, distinctive and meaningful picture of the brand that differentiates it from the competition?
  • Is your differentiator important and relevant to the target?
  • Can the brand own it?
  • Is it credible and believable?

If you don’t  know or can’t say definitively yes to all of those questions, it may be time to revisit your branding strategy.

Before you jump in and try to develop a new brand positioning strategy, you should absolutely gather market feedback from your core external target audiences as well including prospective parents and students.  Some topics to explore may include:

  • The most important criteria for selecting a school for their child.
  • How important or meaningful your school’s specific differentiators are to them.
  • How they currently perceive your school’s brand.

Q: What is brand essence or personality?

Donna: It’s a two- to three-word phrase, typically in the format ‘adjective adjective noun,’ that captures the heart and soul of your school (your brand). It’s really your school’s personality.  Are you approachable and nurturing or maybe structured and focused?

Choose adjectives that best describe your school and capture its true essence in terms of what makes it special.  This is not about features or benefits but characteristics and intangibles.

The brand positioning is about what you are saying. The brand essence is how you might say it – the tone, the look and the feel that is captured by the creative designers and copywriters as they develop your branding campaign.

Q: What makes for successful branding from a creative perspective?

Anne Schulte: All touchpoints must represent an honest, authentic representation of the positioning. Brands are dynamic and can mean different things to different people at different times. An undecorated, timeless approach to the logo, communications materials and brand assets is critical. Will these elements and key messages still be relevant five to eight years from now? Modern consumer behaviors may challenge and/or reinforce your brand. It is indeed complicated with a lot at stake.

A simple, three-word tag line can harbor deep meaning without using literal language. In the best cases, those few words can represent multiple meanings for multiple audiences. Paraphrasing the Roman poet Ovid, ‘It’s the art that conceals the art.’ When well executed, competitors stand up and take notice, too.

As part of a school’s new- or- rebrand unveiling, staff and administrators need to be guided as to how to communicate with prospects in a way that supports it. Again, look at a corporate example. One company that does this exceptionally well is Zappos. They dedicate a great deal of effort to service training and employee empowerment. It’s a lesson schools should take to heart.

Q: What isn’t branding?

Anne: Branding is not simply a logo, color palette, clever headlines or splashy info-graphics. And while an ongoing and detailed competitive analysis is essential, it’s not exclusively about a list of benefits or features, either.

Successful school brands invite families to envision themselves at your school before they walk through the door. Parents or caregivers want their child to become a better version of themselves. They try to imagine how their child will be transformed after being part of the community. If the school were a person, would they quickly become a close friend? Why families invest significant dollars on something they could get for free is, quite frankly, a decision based heavily on emotion.

Consistency is key, especially when roles are divided among staff and resources are limited. A style guide is of paramount importance, even if it is just a couple of pages that outline the rules of representing the brand. Every piece of communication that is seen externally and internally needs to adhere to a unified system of usage rules for the logo and tagline, fonts, colors, message and tone of voice. This includes something as simple as an email signature or even typeface and point size used in Word documents. Every faculty/staff member and administrator should have easy access to these rules and take pride in upholding them, as it makes their job easier.

A brand not policed will rapidly become diluted. Remember, the more a school appears to have its act together, the greater influence and confidence it demonstrates to all stakeholders and prospects.

Need a fresh perspective on your brand? Kalix Marketing can help. Tap here.>>

Liked this post on branding? Find more on the topic here:

Summer Marketing Series #5: What’s Your Position on Brand Positioning?







President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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