Back to school on academic branding
Private prep schools. Community colleges. Name-brand universities. International programs. Vocational and technical institutes. Academic organizations of all stripes are competing harder for business – and looking carefully at their branding practices.
Not just the logo or the ads. Not just the mascots and marching bands. Not the varsity team jerseys. More and more, schools are asking themselves a larger, more critical question: How do we brand the essence of who we are, i.e. our curriculum?
Recognizing the obstacles
Academic environments, generally, are not marketing environments. They are learning environments. So their marketing culture is usually not highly evolved – and is often handled by Admissions, an affiliated but separate discipline.
The other challenge is political. Academic organizations frequently must practice inclusion to secure buy-in at lots of levels and optimize the chances of success for any change in how the school operates. Big initiatives make big targets.
So it’s best to think long-term and include the correct stakeholders early and often.
5 baby steps toward curriculum brand development
Step #1: Step back. Waaaaay back. Look at your curriculum end to end and try to describe it in basic language. Example: A private school client wrestled with the task of how to describe its curriculum, which is evenly split between traditional liberal arts courses and highly creative electives. The course of action became about Balance. The Sorry-But-We- Can’t-Name-the-Client curriculum “strikes the perfect balance between classic studies and progressive, student-driven inquiry.”
Step 2. Consider culture as well as curricula. Sometimes it’s not what happens inside the classroom, but outside it. One private school client has an informal Peer to Peer counseling program that matches underclassmen with juniors and seniors, so there’s always a person to turn to for advice. This is not unique, but no one else has branded it, so an opportunity exists for a P2P initiative that underscores a supportive culture.
Step 3. Brand the faculty. No, we don’t mean that you should assign “superstar” status to any individual. Rather, think about the faculty as a team, which shares a common goal. Consider a faculty t-shirt day when every teacher wears the same shirt with the same message, like: I teach great students great things. It’s a small step toward creating the perception of a unified spirit and standard.
Step 4. Consider brand partners. The Learning Company is not a brick and mortar institution. But check out the alliances they’ve built with Smithsonian and National Geographic. Those associations command a lot of credibility for the courses offered. If you co-brand a course with a local university, 501C3, or other entity, you can begin to brand the curriculum from the inside out.
Step 5. For extra credit: Believe in the blog. The Darrow School, a private high school in New York, has a charismatic head of school who can blog.
We remind clients that blogging takes tradecraft and time and it shouldn’t be done by just anyone. But a blog program that features a rotating field of faculty experts, coaches, guests, alumnae, and other stakeholders can be interesting – and can feed social media channels and site content with fresh images and opinion.
Your turn. Give us a shout and we’ll be happy to buy you a beverage and talk in more detail about your school and its brand.