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Why School Branding Is Important and Tips To Pass the Test

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Do you remember your school days (or perhaps you were in a daze)?

It’s time to sharpen that #2 pencil. We’re talking school branding.

My first interaction with school brand were cutouts for the Park Ridge Falcons (made from coroplast). I walked past them on a shop floor hand truck. Before moving to Chicago from Charlotte, NC, I would see private schools advertising in parent magazines. Not many were installing window or wall graphics.

Why School Branding Is Important and Tips To Pass the Test 2 School Spirit Park Ridge

Ten years (and 650 miles later), the landscape has changed. On the syllabus?  School branding, community impact and why it’s important. We spoke with a former athletic director, current athletic director, and two school marketing firms.

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Watch Mr. Wizard

Yes, this blog provided an opportunity to drop in a retro video. After all, 80’s design’s are trending in 2017 so for the fans of Nickelodeon’s Mr. Wizard this is for you.

Karl Costello is the former athletic director at Niles North High School, and no stranger to the value of brand. You must “pump your own tires about your athletics programs,” he says. After retiring, he became the Midwest regional sales manager for Wizard Creations. Based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the branded solutions firm was recently spotlighted on CNBC’s billion-dollar buyer.


How does this come into play? Wizard Creations sells items such as branded coffee mugs, apparel and coozies. Karl meets with athletic directors at least once a week and awareness is on the agenda.

“You want people to know your school and that you are part of the community,” he says. One of the projects he directed on was branding the bleachers in the school’s stadium. The school fields faced the interstate and that real estate was an opportunity too good to pass up. “It was a chance to promote our campus,” he says, “and share school pride with the community.”

Why School Branding Is Important and Tips To Pass the Test 3 Karl Costello Article Quote

Across departments, faculty and personnel shared this philosophy. It comes with this caveat as Karl learned from years at the school.

“You need to be consistent. There were times departments would create their own event programs or information and use an old logo or the wrong logo,” he says. “and you can’t have ten to twelve symbols or logos floating around, it causes confusion.”

Let’s turn the page.

Pop Quiz

Rob Norman is the Best Boy at InspirED School Marketers. For over twenty years, he has advised independent schools on branding and messaging. I ask him where a school should start when thinking about their brand? (You may want to take notes; know when there will be a pop quiz!)

“You need to have a style guide, if you want adherence to a visual of the brand.”

And just as important, you need a steward for the brand.”

This could be faculty member or a communications professional. I wish I had a blackboard right now because the phrase for today is: Be consistent. wait a minute …

Why School Branding Is Important and Tips To Pass the Test 4 Blackboard Be Consistent

“You have to be consistent. Think about Apple’s logo – it’s in your head the moment I say it.”

He’s right: it’s the first thing that comes to my mind.

“Or Starbucks, your logo should be a visual representation of your school. Or athletic program. Notre Dame. University of Miami. They are so on-point you don’t read the words anymore.”

Why School Branding Is Important and Tips To Pass the Test 5 School Branding Infographic


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And why is it so critical to have a style guide (and adherence to the guide?)

Rob tells me a short story.

“A school had just gone through a process of creating a style guide – the director of marketing communications had redesigned the logo and created a new style guide – the head of the groundscrew found an apparel company, on their own, and did not notify the marketing head.  The apparel company came up with creative, for the jackets, which had nothing to do with the school or mission.

Developing a style guide is an important first step. Adherence is just as important and here is an instance where it would have saved money and time.

What goes in a style guide?

Keep it simple: two pages with the approved logo and summaries of how it can (and cannot), be used.  Rules help with adherence – or people are going to do what they want.

Things to Consider

“If the logo is red and white, how’s it going to look in black and white? 4 color? Can you stack it?” Is it horizontal? Is it vertical? Is it ABC Academy? Can it just be ABC? Or just the Academy?

What if you don’t have any visuals or messaging?

  • Understand what you want to accomplish.
  • Get a collection of assets that you need: logo, mascot.
  • Work with a graphic designer to develop those assets.
  • Make sure whoever needs them has secure access
  • Do it right and do it right the first time.

And one final thought from Robert:

If you don’t have a communications contact, consider hiring one or go to the top (principal, head of school) and ask for a budget to find a firm.  There are plenty out there with experience.

From On High

Jon Rowley is the Athletic Director at Highland Park High School. Last year he installed banners across athletic fields and dugouts. And it was not on a whim.

When did you start thinking branded graphics would make sense for the school?

“We have a fairly new complex – new turf, stands etc. from 2011. And we are almost done with a massive project, including a new fitness center, and we had a lot of blanks walls. In my prior role, we were always working on getting the word out there for the school and this is part of that process. The community loves the school, and wants the brand out there. It makes an impression on kids and adults, and is a source of pride.

There is a functional element to installing graphics but thought must be put into the process and it’s not just about slapping up graphics. Yes, we’re filling blank walls but we also need to keep the brand consistent.”

How important are the graphics for community engagement?

The more that you see us out there, the better. It keeps us top of mind when you drive by the school and it also brightens the baseball field.  It’s not just the graphics on campus. The logo is thankfully consistent – so the t-shirts are a nice complement to the school graphics. It plays a part in promoting the school, local efforts and the community feels great about it.

Why School Branding Is Important and Tips To Pass the Test 6 Highland Park Jon Rowley

See the Highland Park Installation

What type of direct feedback have you received?

Our coaches love them; it’s almost like a college atmosphere. The boosters love it, parents love it. When photos end up in the Chicago Tribune, coaches from other schools call to ask about them!

At the Buzzer

Converge Consulting is a higher education digital marketing agency based in Cedar Rapids, IA, and Philadelphia, PA. They assist universities in creating compelling digital advertising and content strategy campaigns.

“Creating a compelling digital campaign requires care, intent and measurable outcomes,” says Melissa Chua, Converge brand & digital marketing strategist. “We nurture campaigns from concept to delivery and craft brands for academic programs that are aligned with a university’s strategic vision. Through data and analytics, we are able to connect clients with the right students.” Clients include Notre Dame and UCLA. The firm recently debuted in the Inc Top 500 (#1 in Iowa!)

The horizon for learning is broadening quickly toward an “education anytime, anywhere” model. Chua was kind enough to share her thoughts on brand proposition and this evolving landscape.

Why do schools, university level to the local junior or high school need a strong or recognizable brand?

“The traditional on-campus academic experience is getting harder to pitch,” says Chua. “especially amid the flourishing availability of online learning, hybrid programs and tech/vocational training.”

From printed programs or window graphics to strategic social media marketing, Chua suggests employing a multi-channel marketing mix. Create brand extensions and channels.  Have an innovative program to attract students? Communicate it!

“Now, more than ever, schools need to create provocative, engaging and memorable brands. From K-12 to university-level studies, schools no longer just compete with one another, or with other in-person teaching methodologies.”

“It is important for schools to think holistically about a brand and image,” says Chua, “I think schools make the mistake of asking for a new tagline or a new logo without considering where that fits in with the larger story.”

Chua argues that short-term planning too often overlooks long-term implications. Chua says, “What happens when you come across a visual element you produced ten to fifteen years in the future? Does it fit in with your institution’s identity? Will it survive the test of time? Will it resonate for both current students and alumni?” Connect your present, history and future. “If you are going to change your visual identity, what is the story behind the change? And tell that story.”

Why not get ahead of the competition?

Sixty percent of higher education marketing officials who responded in a 2015 survey created a brand strategy to increase awareness of their institution. Chances are one of your neighboring schools is thinking about extending their brand reach.

Why School Branding Is Important and Tips To Pass the Test 7 Melissa Chua Quote

Chua argues that a brand’s visual identity should just one part of a larger equation, which includes a school’s strategic roadmap and recruitment goals. Logos and graphics can create a human connection if they’re rooted in strategy. Be sure to get buy-in for new ideas and communicate refreshed brand identities to both internal and external stakeholders. Having an online portal or central blog to share updates is a good place to start. Don’t have one? Start one.

“In-person relationships and quality experiences develops brand loyalty, and you can’t really replace that,” Chua says. “Make sure you have a clear plan to promote your brand experiences on your web and social channels. Finally, keep brainstorming novel ways to engage your students with loyal alumni and weave that into your brand story. Think about what makes your students and alumni feel special.”


Why School Branding Is Important and Tips To Pass the Test 8 Melissa Chua Converge Consulting

Making connections, promoting your school to filling blank walls around campus, we hope you found this helpful!

See more installations on our education services page and let us know if we can assist with anything!

Jon Davis

Jon Davis is Cushing’s Marketing Manager. From blogging to online communications, Jon writes about client developments, environmental branding, and much more. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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