In the corporate world, branding may not be “everything”, but it is highly significant.  It is also important for schools.

Branding allows high-speed identification of an organisation’s character.  Branding may include visual cues such as a logo, easy-to-memorise slogans, and at a deeper level, an extensive understanding of the organisation’s values, priorities and uniqueness.

Brands represent a form of simplified, constructed recognition.  At their best, branding is also intentional.  Unintentional branding occurs when a brand is “trashed”, such as through negative media articles, well-known incompetence or negligence, internal divisions, or even co-ordinated social media attacks.  As anyone who is involved with branding knows only too well, it takes much longer to build up positive branding than it takes to destroy a brand’s reputation.

In spite of the best efforts of advertising agencies, brands do not have their own innate personality or consciousness.  They do not have a moral compass.  They do not feel pressure or pain or indeed any emotion.  People and organisations can own brands, they can create brands, and they can direct brands, but they should never aspire to be a brand.  Brands reflect identity and character; brands do not determine identity or character.

Perhaps the ultimate example of the power of corporate branding is the Nike logo.  When we look at Nike’s global operations, the Nike logo is the most profitable part of the organisation because it is the only thing that is “authentically Nike”.  Everything in Nike’s operations apart from the logo is outsourced.  The manufacturing is outsourced to supplier organisations, the advertising and marketing are outsourced, and retailing is done through other companies.  In effect, Nike IS the logo (and nothing else).

Nike branding

For schools, branding is expressed through visual symbols such as the crest / logo and the motto, and more deeply through mission and vision statements.  At their best, logos and mottos, the mission and vision, all work together harmoniously to communicate the character and reputation of the school.

An important question arises from this principle – if branding communicates identity, who are the targeted recipients for such communication?

The short answer is “any actual, potential or perceived stakeholder”, which in turn begs the question “who are the school’s stakeholders?”.

Schools operate in extraordinary wide networks of stakeholders – students, parents, teachers, non-teaching staff, the board, alumni, neighbours, the local council, state and national governments, government authorities and bureaucrats, local and wider businesses (especially those on whom the school depends, such as bus companies, catering companies and recruiting organisations), the media, banks and financial institutions and ultimately the general public.  In the same way that Jesus taught everyone is our neighbour, anyone and everyone can be an actual or potential stakeholder in a school.

Ideally, all these stakeholders need to have a consistently positive – even enthusiastic – view of the school’s character, integrity, efficiency, mission and values.  The more advocates a school has, the easier it is to advance and flourish.  As I found in every school where I was Principal, the most powerfully positive advertising a school can have is the enthusiastic stories told by parents while they are chatting beside a sports field or at children’s birthday parties about the school’s love for and impact on their children.

The consequence of this is that a school’s branding must accurately reflect the positive identity and character of a school to a very widespread, diverse and dispersed network of stakeholders.  Achieving this begins with getting the mission and vision right, then infusing these authentically through the school so that everyday practice matches the rhetoric. 

As organisations like Apple and Coca-Cola understand, effective branding may (and should) look simple, but it reflects profound philosophical thought, effective practice and deep authenticity.

-Dr Stephen Codrington

The board’s responsibilities regarding developing and maintaining the school’s mission, vision, identity and reputation are discussed in detail in several of our workshops as described on our Board Professional Development page

Detailed advice on school leadership and governance is also provided in the book "Optimal School Governance", which can be ordered directly through Pronins.

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