23 Feb 2022
How do you get to know more about a school? Until recently the answer was pretty simple – visit, take a tour and talk to staff, students and school leaders. Depending on the school you might listen to their orchestra and see sports teams in action, talk to teachers about the curriculum and reporting process, and have a chat with a pupil about the school day and the quality of school food!
Hopefully you would receive a positive, consistent and clear impression of what makes that school different, backed up with real examples – the real ‘brand experience’.

But it is not that easy at the moment. So, what can schools do to ensure that parents (and other stakeholders) have an equivalent experience? Here are some ideas for schools facing these challenges…
1. Be clear about the importance of the ‘brand experience’

All members of staff should ideally have some degree of marketing training, even if you don’t call it marketing! For private schools this is especially important at the moment if the schools is facing financial challenges as a result of COVID19.

Everyone needs to understand what makes the school special and be able to show or say how that applies to their particular role within the role. In a time when you’re not able to bring people together, consider making this part of a virtual staff meeting – and then giving people a chance to share their thoughts and concerns either on- or offline.
2. Create a shared and lived brand

It’s easy to impose a brand from the top – but this falls apart very quickly when teachers are unable to explain how the brand applies to them. And a brand cannot be a series of statements to learn and repeat by rote – this makes the school look robotic and untrustworthy.

Schools must involve all staff in creating key messages and make sure that they are realistic. And they must also be asking regularly for feedback as to whether the brand and key messages are standing up in practice. For example, a school might choose to emphasise the high quality of their teachers, but this is difficult to maintain if staff are not trained and developed.

It’s also vital at this stage to give staff time to work out how the brand applies to them. For example, if your school has decided to focus on how it develops individual students, has everyone had the time to think of people they have helped to do this?  It would be the first question I would ask as a visitor!
How can you do this remotely? A good idea would be to use virtual department or team meetings to find and share stories that show the school brand being lived in difficult times. These stories can then be fed forward into the next stage of the process!
3.Tell lots of stories

Following on from the last point, it’s so important to share stories that show your school living its brand in lockdown. Using a content plan like the one below is a great way of focusing on these key messages, the ‘hub’ messages – and spreading them out over time.
4. ​Make sure that staff and students are still visible

In a time of remote working, communication can be channelled through a limited number of people – in my experience the vast majority is coming from the headteacher in many schools. While this is a good way of maintaining control over critical information, think how other staff and students can take on other roles – for example staff providing video updates on the best work they’ve seen in their department or class or students sharing project work or making presentations. 

5. Think about a ‘brand journey’ that uses digital and physical interactions

Given the importance of visits, schools often focus the vast majority of their marketing activities on persuading people to visit the school.

But with uncertainty about visits likely to last for months, if not years, schools should think about offering more interaction and more stories from the start of the process – for example rather than adverts that just advertise the date of an Open Day they should encourage prospective parents to sign up to a regular newsletter or social media updates – so that the school can tell stories over time and then arrange large-scale events, personal tours or virtual meetings depending on what is permitted at that time.
Please share your ideas by commenting below...