Over the last century, brand and associated brand values have become big business. Sometimes the value attributed to the brand is worth more than the company residing beneath it. Today, intangible assets like brand or “goodwill” as it is sometimes known can increase a company’s worth several times over.
When you think of the word brand, what does it mean to you? If you were to think of a brand you know and have a strong affinity towards, what would it be? Most of us will immediately think of giants like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, Ford, Virgin. But 25 years ago, we could have just as easily said Woolworths, Smiths Crisps, Leyland and BHS.
What might this tell us? Certainly, that things change and our perception of a brand can change depending on certain factors (time, experience, etc.). Brands can become more valuable (Virgin), but they can also lose their value (BHS). Almost everything can have a brand with brand values attributed to it – so why not your school?
How important and valuable is the name/emblem/motto of your school to those who work and study within? To your local community? To your local authority?
As schools are encouraged to become academies and academies are encouraged to become part of multi-academy groups/trusts, a new and at times heated debate is surfacing – and it’s all about brand.
Take the following hypothetical example (although similar to a situation I have observed). One successful primary school (school A) is being encouraged (heavily leaned upon?) to finalise its academy status and create a Trust which will draw in two other (less successful) schools. This new organisation will then become a new entity with a successful formula in the middle, supporting improvement across the board.
Each individual school has a “brand” with associated “brand values” – whether they realise it or not. At the heart is school A which has a long-established reputation of high achievement, high quality teaching and learning and successful results. The other two schools “require improvement” but have had success in the past and support communities of mixed demographics.
So what should the new Trust be called? Should it keep the name of school A? The dilemma I’ve heard debated in school A’s staffroom is the fact that all the schools will benefit from school A’s brand, but that this same brand could suffer if improvements are not quickly realised in the other two schools.
The conversations in staffrooms B and C revolve around the loss of their identity and uniqueness, whether they should fight to retain this, or whether they should shake-off old beliefs and start again under a new and positive name.
This debate gives us all food for thought and while it is not my place to propose a resolution, I can provide more insight into the world of brand.
Identifying and building a brand
How can you and your leadership team, community, student body and parents engage in defining how important your school’s brand is? And how can you manage what it is? First you need an analysis of your current brand, including:
Stakeholder analysis: who/what are our “clients”, trends, motivations, needs, segmentation?
Analyse “competing” schools: who are they, what are their strengths, strategies, vulnerabilities, position?
Self-analysis: existing brand image, brand heritage, strengths and weaknesses, strategies, organisational values and aspirations.
Once this has been undertaken, you can then plan to develop your brand, which includes:
Values, behaviours (how we act).
Personality (our brand character).
Emotional (how does my school make me feel?).
Rational (what does my school do for a student?).
Core strengths (the pillars on which we stand).
Essence (a single word that encapsulates our brand).
Following this comes brand creation, which includes brand positioning (internally and externally) and creative expression (image, logo, emblem and so on).
Finally, your school can then live your values – after all, your brand values are representative of your school’s culture, beliefs and behaviours.
I would suggest that by undertaking this piece of work as a collaborative project with key stakeholders, everyone will be able to clearly articulate your school’s own brand values. Not only that, but you will be able to identify across different schools in your trust/cluster or partnership, values that are similar. You can then focus on how they could be combined or consolidated to create a unique set of values that is representative of all the schools.
While exploring school brand, let’s not lose sight of what we are in the business of doing. We are in the business of educating young people so they can lead beneficial, rewarding lives and support the wider community, both locally and nationally. We are not here to build empires or seek accolades as institutions. Although it’s fine to be protective of our school brand, we should not be closed to developing the brand further as we become part of larger families of schools.
Further informationThe 21st Century Learning Alliance is a forum involving practitioners and industry that debates difficult issues to stimulate improvement. Visit www.21stcenturylearningalliance.org or follow on Twitter @Learning_21C.
Amanda Peck is a board member of the 21st Century Learning Alliance. This article has been compiled with thanks to Fiona McLean, founder of Watergaw.