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, mission-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.
Your brand isn’t a logo or mission statement. Your brand is that big idea that comes to mind for families 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, public, private and charter.
It’s not enough that your school is special. And even before COVID-19 cancelled school tours, it was insufficient to hope families will feel how you’re unique when they visit your campus. For maximum appeal, 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 mission-aligned 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 clearly you position your school’s brand as unique, the stronger your admissions funnel and your enrollment results will be.
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 (and fundraising) success you’ll continue to have.
Takeaway: Let your existing brand strategy and key messages be the guide for all donor communications.
Learn how to activate your brand strategy with some of our free how-to’s, ensuring your school communications are as strong and unique as the school itself:
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