Five rebranding pitfalls to avoid

The competition is getting tough, enrolment enquiries are stalling, or your school doesn’t stand out anymore … it’s time to rebrand. Wrong.

The temptation to rebrand can be very strong, but often the results are lacklustre and misguided attempts can even damage your brand and the outcomes you desire. Before embarking on a rebrand, it makes sense to first understand what constitutes your school brand and how brands add value.

Your school’s brand can be defined as who you are, what you promise, and your ability and willingness to keep that promise.

Branding, in its widest sense encompasses what you stand for, what you value, what you parents, students and alumni think of you, as well as what you look like. Your school’s appearance often mistaken to be your whole brand. It is not. It is simply a very effective way to give a visual representation of your whole brand. For this reason, is commonly referred to as your brand identity or your visual identity.

So, to be clear, a true rebrand would consider everything that forms part of your brand. This means that what you value, what you promise, the marketplace you serve, your price positioning, educational offering and your school’s personality are all be in the mix. It is your unique mix of these elements that make you who you are.

It is rare for schools to have the opportunity to consider a true rebrand. It is a significant undertaking that will set the course for your school for decades to come. But if you believe now is the time to rebrand, it should make you swallow hard. If it doesn’t scare you, it probably won’t create meaningful change.

More commonly, schools sense the need to adjust their brand identity. This could be because they feel the need to shed excess baggage or negative PR, sometimes it’s a merger with another school, sometimes it’s a shift in their approach or structure, and sometimes it’s time to dust off a dated look and refresh their position in the market.

An update to you brand identity — from here on called a rebrand — when it’s executed for the right reasons and executed well it can turn your school around. But there’s many pitfalls imageseven have identified that will, at best take the edge off your rebranding efforts, and at worst, condemn it to an expensive failure. Here’s the five most common.

No internal alignment

When a rebranding project is conceived and driven by the marketing team, it’s probably going to fail. The purpose of rebranding a school is to signal change. That change needs to be clear through the entire organisation and obvious at every interaction. Every part of the school needs to be clear and aligned behind the new brand. Board, the enrolments team, the business office, teaching staff, reception, support staff … everyone.

A brand is the sum of the perceptions your customers and clients have about your business. A brand is not something you own, it’s what your target audience perceives about you. It stands to reason then that simply changing a logo, but not changing attitudes will be ineffective. Action changes perceptions. Great copy and graphics rarely do. Unless they are backed up with actions from across your school that reinforce the promise implied by your rebrand, there will not be much change. It’s quite possible you will do more damage than good. It’s better to do nothing than it is to imply a new brand promise and not deliver.

Trying to jump too high

The reason you are considering a rebrand is to change perceptions about your school in the marketplace and to reposition it in their minds. However, that position isn’t dictated by you, it’s based on what your customers — current and prospective parents — believe about your school. The brand positioning is given to you by your marketplace.

When working inside a school every day, it’s easy to lose touch with the reality of the marketplace outside the school boundary. It’s easy to be seduced by our own versions of reality. This is understandable because a leader’s role is to strive for the vision — what might be — rather than what is. But it also explains the tendency for school leaders to set the rebranding bar much higher than the marketplace can reasonably be expected to jump. Ask yourself, “What positioning can be reasonably attained by my school and is a logical step in its evolution?” When considering a rebrand, keep your focus on what is achievable, not the aspirational. If you ask the market to jump too high, they won’t believe you and may not jump at all.

Not lead from the top

Regardless of where the rebranding concept originated, the leader must be actively leading. If the school Head isn’t on board, don’t set sail. It’s not sufficient for the Head to ‘support’ the concept. It’s not enough for the Board to have it ‘on their agenda’. The key business leader — the school Head — is the only one who can influence all areas of the school. The Head needs to become the Chief Branding Officer and do what they do well … set the vision and lead the charge to ensure that all aspects of the organisation are aligned and stand ready to deliver on the promises implied in the rebrand.

Absence of real change

Sometimes a rebrand is simply a tidy-up … a tool to sharpen the image of a school. So don’t expect too much from it. On the other hand, don’t underestimate the power of it either.

As we’ve already discussed, a rebrand signals change. Your new look will cause people to give you a ‘once-over’ to see what has changed. If you are the same old school dressed up in a new party dress, you will simply confirm the position that you already have in their minds. The opportunity will be wasted. Opportunities to invite your marketplace to look again and re-evaluate their perceptions are too valuable to dismiss so lightly. Use them wisely.

Positioning without clarity

Rebranding should make your positioning clearer for your marketplace. Your objective should be to make it easier for your current and prospective parents determine why your school should be at the top of their list and that other schools can’t deliver comparable value. During a repositioning isn’t the time to indulge in meaningless messaging. Claiming to be the best is without basis. Words like ‘quality’ and ‘academic excellence’ just tip the sceptic scale into positive territory.

Use your rebranding as an opportunity to demand focus. Now is the time to better define your offering in a clear and compelling way. This will often mean being more specific about who you are, who you are not, and what you promise. Generalised position statements do just that … position you as a generalist. To win enrolments, generalists have to win with other generalists and then try to beat the specialists.

It’s your school brand. It’s your school rebrand. Do it well.

Brand versus brand identity

Branding, in its widest sense, and brand identity in its visual sense are broad terms that refer to how an organisation acts, feels, and wants others to feel about it.

As an example, consider the Virgin logo. If we talk about the company’s brand identity, then we are talking about the hand-drawn text logo, use of the particular shade of red and how it is applied on aircraft and credit cards.

If we asked the broader question, ‘what makes up the Virgin Brand’, we are adding a whole set of company values, their positioning in most markets as a ‘challenger’, the personality and exploits of its founder, Sir Richard Branson, and more. The brand is all encompassing. The brand identity is just the visual part … the tip of the branding iceberg.

insight applied

  • Your brand is not your logo
  • Brand identity (or visual identity) represent your broader brand
  • Rebranding carries significant risks
  • Rebranding should be a careful and planned process

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