To tell your brand story effectively, you don’t need more people on your communications team. You don’t need to hire influencers. You don’t need to spend money on advertising. You do need every one of your employees to be clear about your brand—not just the leadership team or building-level administrators, but everyone. Every employee—both teachers and classified staff—plays a critical part in building and supporting your brand. They are all brand ambassadors, whether you have thought of them as such or not.
Each time someone interacts with your district, be they a student, parent, or someone in the community at large, they are developing a perception about what your district stands for, about your brand.
“Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touchpoints.”
– Jim Mullen, Scottish businessman and CEO of the publisher Reach
Every interaction is a brand touchpoint.
To tell your brand story effectively, start by recognizing that every single employee across your district plays an important role in branding. These interactions happen on campus and online. They tell a story. They are the way the people experience your brand, through multiple touches throughout each day.
The illustration below depicts some common brand touchpoints that your audiences have with your school district. And it is within each of touchpoints that great opportunities await, opportunities to craft an experience that gives your audience an authentic and true impression of your brand.
Most employees are not familiar with brand or messaging priorities.
To take advantage of all of these brand touchpoint opportunities, all of your internal teams must know what your school brand is. But a recent SchoolCEO survey of over 1,600 school employees across every level found that most cannot recall key elements of the brand:
- Only 40% could recall mission or values.
- 33% could recall tagline or motto.
- 13% could recall hashtags.
When well over half of your employees cannot recall your mission, values, or tagline, how can they help tell the brand story? How can they navigate their daily duties in a way that reinforces and supports your brand story?
But if you educate everyone in your team about your brand, you are providing them with knowledge that helps them be brand ambassadors. And everyone is a brand ambassador, whether they recognize it or not.
To give you an example of how this plays out in the real world, let’s take a common event to demonstrate how a district brand can “show up” differently based on brand values: getting on the bus in the morning. If one of your values is “professional,” perhaps the bus driver greets all the kids in a formal, somewhat serious manner, e.g., “Good morning, Miss Anne. Please take a seat quickly so that you will be on time when the school bell rings.” Using the same example, let’s change the value to “fun.” How might this change how the driver greets the kids? Maybe they use more colloquial language, e.g., “Good morning, sleepy head! Go find a comfy seat and start to fire up that mind of yours.”
This guide will give you a tool you can use to educate and train everyone in your district about the district brand and messaging priorities. By being consistent in the way you and all of your employees interact with target audiences, you are building and reinforcing the brand narrative you want.
How to help: create a “brand-on-a-page”
To help your employees better know the brand and messaging priorities, start with creating a single resource that captures the key elements of your district brand, effectively building a “brand-on-a-page.” By consolidating these brand elements into one resource, you will
- Provide clarity about what your brand is
- Create consistency in the experiences people have with your district brand
- Have a tool to help you train everyone on school branding
Building your district “brand-on-a-page”
A brand-on-a-page necessarily contains the most important elements of your brand platform. This can vary from district to district. The point is to capture them in one place that can then be shared and used to teach your teams.
Below are the different elements typical of school district branding. I will review each one, providing guidance on what these elements are and how to think of updating them if needed. This is not an exercise to build your brand style guide, nor does the brand-on-a-page contain the brand visual elements (logo, color palette, typography). The brand-on-a-page captures the way in which you want the content to be delivered and received from anyone in your district to any target audience or stakeholder group. It’s about content. Messaging. Tone and manner. So, as we proceed, check what you have established for each element against the definitions provided and modify based on your strategic plan and community mindset.
Your brand platform is the collection of brand elements which may include the following elements: your audience, mission statement, vision statement, values, beliefs, personality, brand voice, tagline, hashtags.
NOTE: If you haven’t yet defined some of these elements, or if your brand platform is dated and needs a refresh, take the time now to update your brand platform and then use this guide on how to share your work. If you need help on a brand refresh, reach out to Apptegy. We’re here to help.
A group of people who can be defined by demographics, attitudes, beliefs and/or behaviors.
Though it may seem obvious, it’s important to know your audience. Who are you trying to reach? What do they think? What are their lives like? While a lot can be said here, for the purposes of focus and efficiency, keep this at a high level—but provide an honest, insightful summarized answer for each.
Worksheet: Create a descriptive summary of your key target audiences. Focus on the most relevant aspects of each. Keep it local; if you work at the elementary school campus, for example, you need only fill this out for the audience of that particular campus. There aren’t any incorrect answers either, so use your best judgment and don’t be afraid to be colorful. By going through this exercise, you are developing a personification of the audience that will later guide you in delivering more relevant messages that better resonate, rather than missing the mark.
To help you get your thoughts started, consider these guiding questions:
- How do they feel about living in the community?
- How does the decision to educate their child in your district make them feel about themselves?
- What do they think of the education their child receives there?
- Provide your best guess about how your audience thinks and feels, even if it’s anecdotal. If you have survey data about a target audience group, include relevant insights. Include negative sentiments if they are common and relevant to the atmosphere and overall mindset of your audience.
- Make this a description of demographics only.
- Get stuck if you don’t have any data about your target’s mindset. Use what you already know from being part of the community.
- Try writing in the first person to help you articulate feelings, as if you are the target audience: “I take pride in my decision to educate my child in this school district” or “We were zoned to go to this school so we had no choice.”
Describes what you do, how you do it, for whom you do it, and the value you bring. It can be described as your “why,” and it ought to reflect your values or be in harmony with them. Although school districts share a common mission of education, each school district does approach how they operate differently. To develop a mission statement that works for your district, be honest while also allowing for inspiration.
Review your mission statement now. Is it still relevant? Does it reflect the current environment of your school community? Does it align with your strategic plan? Is it reflective of your culture? If it’s out of date, now is the time to give it a refresh.
“Building a mission and building a business go hand in hand.”
– Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta
- Allow your brand personality to come through in your mission.
- Try to cram everything you do into your mission.
- Write in a straightforward manner that is easy to understand rather than relying on “eduspeak” jargon.
The foundational beliefs your district stands for, which guide how your brand engages on any topic.
Values are often easier to recall than mission statements. For example, your district values might include “friendly” and “transparent.” While those two adjectives don’t share an obvious link, they are both appropriate and can reflect a single district’s brand, depending on the context. Friendly is appropriate when welcoming kids back to school, but transparent is an appropriate value to lean into when dealing with a serious issue or event. Use your district values to inform the way in which you communicate based on the situation.
“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”
– Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks
- Ask yourself and your team if your stated values reflect the district today.
- Include a spectrum of values to provide guidance for different contexts .
- Use your values to help prioritize all the actions you take, whether online or offline.
- State only values that are similar, e.g., “approachable” and “friendly.” School brands need to reflect the totality of values, which includes ones that might be more serious, like “professional” or “authority” or “challenge.”
- Make a list that is too long; try to have no more than five.
- Tap audiences beyond leadership to gut-check your list.
Brand personality is a set of human characteristics that are attributed to a brand. The brand personality helps elicit an intended emotional response to the message being conveyed.
In the private sector, the personality of a brand is often within the broader construct of a “persona.” While this is a pretty good framework, my experience working with school districts is that describing your brand personality is more relatable and informative. One way to establish your brand personality is to ask your stakeholders. Using a simple survey tool, take a quick, qualitative pulse among key stakeholders to help define your personality. A common question would be, “If the district brand was a person, how would you describe them?” and provide a list of personality attributes from which to choose.
- Consider the mindset of your top target audiences because you want your messaging to resonate.
- Imagine the emotional response your audience will have to your personality.
- Define your brand personality based on how you want it to be in the future. While it’s totally acceptable to be aspirational here, it must be grounded in reality—otherwise, it will be inauthentic.
Describes the unique way in which you intentionally communicate your message i.e., how you speak to your audience. Sometimes referred to as the manner in which you communicate, brand voice is not dissimilar to your brand personality. However, the manner in which you communicate encompasses inflections and emotions that give more nuanced meaning to your message and how the audience will receive it.
It might be helpful to start by describing what your brand is NOT. As an example:
“We are not pretentious. We don’t talk down to anyone. We don’t overinflate to make ourselves look good or sound smart.” Then write your brand voice based on these descriptions of behavior, which might be,
“Our brand voice is humble and honest.”
Articulating your brand voice provides an important dimension to your brand, and it’s important to be consistent here as well.
- Apply your brand voice consistently across all communications channels.
- Ensure that your brand voice is harmonious with other elements of your brand platform like your values and personality.
- Forget that your social media posts are part of your brand narrative. Social media channels are a common way folks experience your brand and what’s happening in your district and community.
- Think of your district as a person to help you describe your voice.
An attention grabbing phrase that taps into what’s unique about your district.
Your tagline should highlight your brand in a memorable, positive way. It acts as a rallying cry for your entire school community.
Taglines create unity across campuses, expressing something that everyone in your greater school community shares. They should be short, pithy and energetic. The tricky part is trying to keep it short while also encompassing what’s unique about your district. In terms of word count, aim for three to five words.
How often you refresh your tagline is up to you. They should last for a minimum of a year, but often they are relevant for many years. The main goal is to be true to who you are. It may not last as long as your logo before it needs to be refreshed or updated, but ideally, it has lasting power and resonates with your employees as well as your external stakeholders (students, parents and caregivers, and the community at large).
- Check your tagline idea with a few folks who represent your key stakeholders, internal and external. Ideally, your tagline is relevant to all.
- Assume that you have to include everyone in updating your brand platform. As a district leader, you have the insights needed and can tap other leaders representing the diverse functional roles to help you in this journey. In other words, this step can be effective without being a burden.
- Make sure the tagline can’t be misconstrued to mean something you don’t intend.
A branded hashtag is a custom hashtag used on social media that's associated with a specific brand. It can include the name of the organization or a unique program or campaign.
Some of the benefits of creating a branded hashtag include:
- Creating community around a topic
- Making it easy for folks to find and engage in the digital conversation
- Building brand awareness
- Providing further identity to your brand
- Promoting a campaign or initiative
- Make sure your hashtag doesn’t spell something unintended. Adding “cares” to a district acronym like “ECS” will make #ECScares—which includes “Scares.”
- Make it too long, i.e., not more than 6 words
- Choose a hashtag that doesn’t contradict your brand platform.
Download this Brand-On-A-Page worksheet template or create your own.
It’s imperative that all of your employees know the district brand. It’s also imperative that your employees see themselves as brand ambassadors. Use the brand-on-a-page to align how your employees interact with your key target audiences. This will help you build consistency across all touchpoints. It puts you (and your employees) in control of your district’s brand narrative. It creates loyalty. And it lets your employees know that you recognize their role and value their contribution to the brand. Everyone is a brand ambassador for your district.
“It is a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be clear about what we want them to know about us.”
– Steve Jobs, founder of Apple
Oftentimes, school districts struggle to think of their “differentiators.” After all, most districts at their fundamental core are trying to do the same thing. Your brand can be one of the most impactful differentiators you have, creating a unique experience that is distinctly you.
What to do next
- Create your brand-on-a-page.
- Establish a central location for your brand resources.
- Build out your training modules.
- Develop or update your brand style guide.
Read more Apptegy resources
The visual identity of your brand is also important and requires appropriate and consistent application. To learn more about effectively using your brand’s visual identity, read The Comprehensive Guide to School Branding.