CEO Notebook |
Now is the time to invest in your school’s brand. While you are managing a great many pandemic-driven considerations, this may not be intuitive to your school’s leadership team, but it is more important than ever and will likely have long-term implications.
The case for prioritizing branding came to my attention through a recent leadership article, “Why Associations Should Emphasize Brand Strategy Amid Covid-19” published by Associations NOW. Its primary point extends beyond associations to all nonprofits, including independent schools. “When you can’t hold meetings and receptions [or classes in-person], it [your brand] may be the glue holding everything together,” noted author Ernie Smith.
“To many the concept of brand suggests logos, colors and taglines. But brand is also, and maybe more importantly, about experiences and expectations,” added NBOA’s own Barry Pilson, vice president, membership and marketing. “A trusted brand is one that exceeds expectations to the point of providing products and experiences that consumers do not even know they need.” The pivot to online learning quickly and successfully this spring is a great example of demonstrating your school’s brand. “Branding is a critical tool inside of every school’s enrollment success,” explained Heather Hoerle, executive director and CEO of the Enrollment Management Association and a member of NBOA’s Board of Directors. “Branding is the sum of all of your stakeholders’ perceptions of you. It allows you to amplify your purpose time and again, building deep loyalty to your school and what it stands for.
During this time of crisis, schools that can amplify their brand through the noise around us will benefit greatly. It’s strengthened further when you can articulate your school’s distinctiveness and describe the educational experiences that students and families will have at your school. Perhaps most powerfully, consider stories that are both authentic to your school and appealing to your target market. The pandemic likely provides numerous examples. You might show the strong leadership that brought together your school community in a virtual environment when you were suddenly separated in the spring or the measures that you’re taking now to help ensure a safe and healthy physical plant when you return to campus.
The independent school market in Washington, DC, my home for 25 years, provides ample examples of specific missions that have prepared schools to meet the moment in unique ways. Schools that value and seek to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion on their campuses might share how they have provided thought leadership over the course of a tumultuous summer. Schools that value a globalized education and growth mindset might share their expertise in blended learning or flipped classrooms. Similarly, schools that have highlighted a STEM education might share their advanced understanding of COVID-19 at this time. Schools that value community service and service learning might share what have they been able to accomplish in their communities while campuses were vacated.
These stories communicate a commitment to 21st-century learning. They communicate your school is more than its campus and is in fact a learning community. They communicate that safety has always been, and will continue to be, your first priority. These stories are relevant and meaningful to both your current and prospective students and families.
While it’s hard to imagine a post-pandemic world, the many extraordinary actions your school is taking to get through it will likely be a critical part of your school’s brand that you will want and need to share when we reach the other side.
CEO Notebook: The Reopening Dilemma
CEO Notebook: Meeting Our Market
Digitally Communicating Your School’s Value
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