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Creating a high-end brand for your school on a low-end budget

 

It was 6pm on a beautiful spring day and I was about to go home. In my past professional life, as an account executive at a luxury retailer, this was considered “leaving early”. But today, I was determined to share a few moments with the light of day.  

As I was leaving, my supervisor approached me. “I need you to stay for a few more hours,” she said. “I need you to babysit.”

Come again?

“The Creative Director isn’t happy with the design work that the agency did on our latest catalog and it needs to go to press tomorrow. I need you to sit next to her and make sure that she focuses and finishes it tonight. Don’t let her go to the bathroom. Don’t let her get a snack. Don’t let her make a phone call. You both cannot leave until it’s finished.”

The catalog in question was very expensive to create. It represented several concept meetings, days of photo shoots, and countless rounds of revisions and photoshopping. Yet, it looked anything but expensive.  

I watched the Creative Director spend hours building on one subtle, imperceptible adjustment at a time on each page. A darker background. A sleeker font. One artistic photo on the page instead of four. Suddenly it clicked for me; every small detail carefully attended to is cumulative and adds up to a brand – for better or for worse.

What I learned that night is that a brand is a visceral reaction; it’s how the experience of something makes us feel. What’s important to note is that indifference and boredom are feelings too. I also realized that it’s a process that with the right tools and priorities, can be be inexpensive, effective, and even fun.

Every Jewish day school already has a brand – even the ones that don’t think they do because the absence of a brand is a brand. How does your school’s brand make your students and faculty feel? What impression does it leave when someone experiences your school – whether directly or indirectly – for the first time?

Far too many schools and organizations view sharp and polished branding as a luxury – one they simply cannot afford. But I’m here to tell you that it’s a necessity and one that can be affordably attained. Who is the “you” that I am speaking to? Great question. “You” could be anyone from a Communications Director to a secretary or a parent volunteer who is tasked with creating all the marketing materials. “You” could even be a Head of School who cares so much about this, but has no time to take anything on. Maybe something I write will help you identify someone in your school who would be good at this marketing stuff. You are who I am writing for.

Let’s talk about WHY your school’s brand is essential.

You might know that it’s the key to getting the word out about your school and attracting new students. But did you know that it is also the superglue that can unite the teachers and students you already have and keep them in your building?

Similar to the psychological phenomenon, “enclothed cognition” – which studies the effects of how one dresses on their cognitive processes, your school’s marketing impacts not only the audiences you are trying to attract, but (more importantly, in my opinion) the individuals who are already in your school. Salient and effective marketing and branding is a marriage of form and function in that it is as aesthetically captivating as it is meaningful.

A beautiful website or a brochure that stands out can work wonders in inculcating a sense of pride in the school community and make them feel part of what marketing genius Seth Godin calls a “tribe” – a group of people who march to the beat of the mantra “people like us do things like this.” There is no more powerful marketing tool that will attract the right kind of talent and students than getting the people already in your building enamoured with your school’s brand. This is because people love to feel part of something they are proud of and even more than that, they love to talk about what they love. There are other factors that drive this behavior – culture, leadership, vision – but an inspiring and cohesive brand brings it all together.

Ok, so what if your brand is non-existent (so you think) or terribly pareve or just completely outdated and not aligned with the spirit of your school?

Or what if your school is broke, or lacking the talent or time to even think about rebranding?

Stay tuned as next week I will share 10 tips that anyone can implement to achieve a beautiful, effective, and compelling brand on a budget.