Your school has a special vibe that can only be felt by visiting campus, right? We’ve heard our clients call it “special sauce” or “the (school name) way” or “campus feel.” There’s a belief among independent schools that just by stepping on campus the magic of their program can be felt.
We strongly disagree.
If your magic can only be felt by physically experiencing it, your ability to attract families will be limited. This was always true, and with the worldwide pandemic limiting families being able to visit and experience your campus, this truth is going to start to hurt your admission and enrollment results.
You need to show and tell with fresh, evocative language that expresses something families won’t hear from other schools they consider.
Schools who engage us do so because they know what makes their school wonderful, but struggle to communicate that in a succinct way to families who are not already in the community. Most are also not clear enough in demonstrating not just how their school is wonderful, but how it’s different, and better.
Resting your reputation on whatever a family happens to see on a campus tour as your main admissions strategy just won’t cut it. And neither will expecting parents to deeply research your school, reading pages and pages of content, before they truly “get you.”
Your school needs a strong brand strategy like never before, meaning that you need to stand for one single big idea that differentiates your school and can be clearly projected to families.
A school asked us recently whether we should begin their brand project now, when we couldn’t visit campus because of COVID-19. They wondered: “Isn’t your job to feel what our campus is like and put words to it?”
If that’s all your consultant does, you’re not getting a brand strategy; you’re getting viewbook copy. And you’re overpaying.
Instead, our job as your brand strategists is to study a range of realities including how your school is perceived by the families most important to your success, how those families perceive the other schools they consider in relation to you, what you offer that is truly a differentiator, and how to wrap up the complexity of your pedagogy and community into an authentic, single, inspirational concept that can’t be copied. That can’t be accomplished by walking around campus. The right brand strategy is born from rigorous research and analysis by us, married with your insider knowledge of the school culture.
Even in non-pandemic times our methodology intentionally rests on mostly off-campus research and new-found insights. Families and students are interviewed by phone and video to allow for private (and therefore more candid) conversation. Surveys are administered digitally to allow for the greatest number of responses. And our frequent consultations, roundtables and huddles with the school brand team happen via video.
Do we visit campus and love it? Yes! Is it required for our clients to emerge with the right brand strategy to support their enrollment goals? Absolutely not. For the same reasons you can’t rely on a campus visit to win over families, your brand strategy and enrollment campaign team don’t have to be there to be effective on your behalf.
So if your enrollment numbers aren’t where they need to be, or if your school’s unique brand can’t be conveyed in a sentence, you need a brand strategy and accompanying admissions campaign to bring it to life — and fast. If you think the 20/21 admissions season is going to be weird, imagine still being behind the 8 ball this time next year.
The time to invest in strengthening your school’s brand is now.
Is your school thinking of refreshing your brand, but not sure how to in these uncertain times? Reach out to us! We’d love to support you in your upcoming brand strategy projects.
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.
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