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How a Clear School Brand Benefits Enrollment and Creates Community Alignment

Posted by on November 4th, 2022
Posted in Blog, Independent Schools   

When your school’s brand is well-defined, you and your community know exactly what your school stands for, what it doesn’t, and why that matters.

But when your brand is unclear, you run the risk of others defining your brand for you, and this can create a reputation that is neither authentic nor accurate, thus creating distance between you and mission-aligned families.

This was the case with one of Mission Minded’s clients, Villa Duchesne in Saint Louis, MO, formerly known as Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School.

Read on to learn from the challenge they faced, how they tackled it, and their takeaways.

Villa Duchesne’s Brand Challenge

Despite being well known in St. Louis as one of many Catholic school options, Villa Duchesne was misunderstood. Few had a clear understanding of Villa Duchesne’s unique approach to education, especially prospective families. And due to frequent leadership turnover, some in the internal community of families, faculty, and staff were unclear about Villa’s brand as well.

Though Villa is a Catholic school that welcomes all faiths, many people were confused by what ‘Sacred Heart’ and ‘Catholicism’ really meant in the context of culture and academic programs. Villa Duchesne was clear on these points, of course, but they had not communicated the meaning and value of these attributes. This meant stakeholders were left to define for themselves what these identifiers meant.

Defining the Villa Duchesne Brand

Led by Mission Minded, Villa Duchesne successfully rebranded to be more clear, confident, and authentic in its school’s reputation and brand signals. This work began with a period of deep discovery, including interviews, a school-wide survey, student focus groups, and an evaluation of the school’s competition. 

Our findings revealed that while the community debated about institutional issues such as what kind of school Villa Duschene was or should be, and how to position itself on a relative scale of Catholicism, something even more wonderful was quietly happening: its students were thriving precisely because of the lived Sacred Heart values. Their pedagogy integrates faith into school life, and that, along with a thriving student body, is what Villa needed to celebrate. With these discoveries, we helped Villa Duchesne lay the foundation for a new, clearly defined brand, one that enabled them to unify their entire community under a shared mission centered on what they are: a school led by Sacred Heart values, not a parish-based Catholic school.

Villa Duchesne launched their new brand in August and early results have shown a more unified school community, increased enrollment inquiries, and a sense of celebration that the school can finally explain with confidence exactly what its brand stands for and how that benefits students.

Villa Duchesne’s Takeaways

We asked Villa Duchesne’s Assistant Head of School for Strategic Advancement, Alice Dickherber, what her takeaways were that other schools can learn from. She responded:

Owning our brand and story as the school we truly are is the best possible way to communicate our value and move forward confidently, bringing our community along with us.

We can be the best ambassadors for our school when we take the time to reflect on our reputation, discern what is most important, and collaborate to define ourselves to the world in a unified way that is true to our mission. 

Even if we think we know what the best direction is for our school, the rebranding process is so valuable. Now our entire Villa team deeply understands our brand and finds ways to incorporate it consistently into our daily work. This process has allowed us to lean into our mission together with a renewed spirit and commitment to our work and our students!

After letting others define their brand, Villa Duchesne took charge and came together with their community to create a brand that stands for one big, bold idea that they all rally around. Their brand strategy goes far beyond admissions or marketing and creates the anchor for their culture and community that allows them to live their brand every day in a way that deeply serves their students, families, faculty, and staff.

If your school’s brand is unclear, contact Mission Minded so we can help you explore your own brand opportunities.

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Sarah R. Moore, our Director of Brand Strategy, joined Mission Minded from a career that has spanned both the private and nonprofit sector.

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