For many independent schools, when your admissions season ends (if you’re lucky enough to fill all your seats and actually have an end) there is a black and white answer on whether or not enrollment goals were met. If you missed your goal, by a little or a lot, the first place you should look for opportunity is your brand strategy. Ask yourself two questions:
Are prospective right-fit families clear about and delighted by what you stand for? Are existing families active, energetic ambassadors of your mission? Are they crystal clear about how you are truly different from other schools? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then your school will benefit from a strategic and disciplined effort to strengthen your brand.
What Happens If Your Brand Isn’t Strong Enough
Your brand isn’t a logo or mission statement. Your brand is that big idea that comes to your families’ mind when they hear your name or see your logo. That big idea has to ignite them, and clearly differentiate you from all the other schools they are considering.
It’s not enough that your school is special. And it’s insufficient to hope families will feel it when they visit campus. You have to intentionally and powerfully demonstrate what families can only find by choosing your school. Strong school brands focus on the value only they can deliver, and value is measured by how vital your right-fit families view your unique offering to be.
When families see what you offer students as indispensable and not found elsewhere they’ll choose you with unhesitating enthusiasm. But, if your brand and its value aren’t crystal clear, if families see you as similar to other schools, or just aren’t sure what you stand for, it’s harder to attract their support.
Takeaway: The more clear and strong your brand, the stronger your admissions funnel and your enrollment results will be.
What Happens If Your Brand Is Strong, But Your Admissions Program Doesn’t Embrace It?
With a strong brand, your school almost sells itself to families. But not if you go rogue, creating admissions communications that don’t align with your brand.
We often see enrollment professionals struggle with the balance between “fresh, new admissions messages” and steady, brand-centric communication. If you think you have to come up with a new set of messages each year, or a new theme for that viewbook or video, you’re probably not embracing your brand as strongly as you should.
Your brand strategy, and accompanying messages, should form the bedrock of all admissions communications. Use them repeatedly. Look to them first to communicate anything to prospective families. Don’t dream up something fresh and new when repetition of your key brand messages is what actually helps families understand you.
To them, the repetition is comforting. If you change up your language so the message on tours doesn’t match what’s on your website, and that’s different from your video and viewbook, families won’t gain the depth of understanding required, nor the confidence that they really know you. Truly understanding what you offer that they can’t find elsewhere, and confidence that you are who you say you are, are at the core of any family’s decision-making. So be consistent – year after year and throughout each admissions season so families are clear and assured.
Added bonus: The more you show up looking and sounding consistent with your brand, the stronger your brand becomes. And the stronger the brand, the more enrollment success you’ll continue to have.
Here’s what we deliver to our clients that allows everyone to understand the brand, how to bring it to life, and where to start when creating fundraising communications.
Takeaway: Let your existing brand strategy itself be the guide for all donor communications.
Did you find this useful? We hope so! We have quite a few how-to’s that you can download for free to make sure your donor communications materials are as good as they can possibly be. Take a look:
Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.
See all posts by Jennie Winton