If you are a boarding school teacher or administrator anywhere across the nation, your vocabulary has inevitably expanded in 2020. Who ever thought de-densification or effluent sampling in residence halls would be on your summer to-do list?
If you’re lucky enough to not be familiar with those terms, you likely aren’t a boarding school educator. But it’s precisely because of your unconventional and unprecedented summer to-do list that you can launch into your 21-22 admissions season with confidence, and lean into a three-word value proposition that parents near and far are longing to hear right now: “peace of mind.”
With all the uncertainty your current and prospective families have had to navigate in 2020, imagine how you’ll make them feel when you paint a picture in which protocols can be closely followed, unknowns can be minimized, and a semblance of “normalcy” can be regained. Boarding schools are in a unique position to offer 2021 solutions to 2020 problems and your school’s brand strategy should reflect that loud and clear.
If you don’t already have a clearly defined brand strategy, we recommend taking these steps right away to communicate the boarding school advantage to families.
1. Commit to how you want your students, teachers, and families to feel when they engage with you.
The most over-used word of 2020 was undoubtedly “uncertainty.” For-profits and nonprofits alike used the word liberally because it was the only way to say what we were all thinking: “We have no idea what’s ahead.” While this was true, it left customers, stakeholders, and members feeling… well, uncertain about the organizations they engaged with. In a time we were craving a semblance of certainty, there was none to be found.
This fall, as you begin to kick off admissions events for the 21-22 school year, consider how you want prospective students, their parents, and even prospective faculty and staff to feel when they engage with your school (spoiler alert: it isn’t uncertain) by completing this sentence from their point of view: When I engage with _your school name_, I feel ___________, because I know _______________.
You’ve just written what we call a brand value proposition for your boarding school, and now, in your communications and in your actions, do everything in your power to make students, teachers, and families feel that way.
2. Put “confident” at the top of your boarding school’s list of personality attributes.
If you were to describe your boarding school the way you would if they were a person—listing the positive (and even aspirational) attributes that define what it feels like to engage with you—you’ve articulated what we call your brand personality. Just as every person has a unique personality, so too, does every school. If your school has been around for hundreds of years, we’d expect to see a personality attribute such as “credible” on your list. If your program is as progressive as the day is long, we’d expect to see “innovative” as one of your attributes.
Not only have you done the heavy lifting this summer by playing out every scenario, sealing off all of the exits, and developing contingency plans for your contingency plans, you are the experts in knowing what your students need to thrive. You know what they need intellectually, emotionally, and socially, and whether they have been with you on campus, or learning from a distance, every step you’ve taken has been with their best interests in mind. As such, presenting confidence in every single communication and exchange should be at the top of your priority list.
While you may be unsure of the nature of the next challenge(s) we’ll face as a nation, exuding your confidence—earned by your expertise in what students need—will help parents, students, and faculty trust and work with you in a productive way.
3. Articulate what distinguishes your boarding school from others (in both COVID and non-COVID times).
You may be certain about how well you’ve prepared for this year, and confident that you know what’s best for your students, but if your boarding school’s unique reason for being is unknown, this is a great time to carve out your niche so families understand what they can get at your school that they can’t get anywhere else—boarding, day, public, or charter.
To get to the bottom of understanding your school’s unique reason for being when compared to other boarding schools—or your brand positioning as we call it—look closely at your peer schools complete this sentence: Ours is the only boarding school that/where: ____________.
To be effective in making you stand out to the families you want to attract, the way you complete that sentence must be considered from the families’ point of view. Ask yourself what you offer that they want, and can’t get at another school.
If you struggle on any of these concepts—how you want families to feel about your school, how to project confidence, or how to stand out from the crowded field of schools—consider using this reflective school year to embark on a branding initiative that gives you the brand clarity you need to tell a distinctive story that stokes admissions and enrollment.
The team at Mission Minded invites you to reach out if we can help you strengthen your boarding school’s brand, admissions campaign, messages, or facilitate your next strategic plan.
If you are considering a brand refresh, here are 5 questions to ask yourself first. We love a good brand story, so please keep in touch to share your experience.