We tend to believe that branding, marketing and communication are important factors in any field until we put them in the education context. While branding can be dated back to 1100 BC, school branding is a relatively new concept that surfaced in the early 1800s. Today, parents and children are the customers while other schools stand as competitors in the business-like market. Gone are the days when parents had a handful of schools to select from; today, they want their kids to go to schools that have the best of everything. But how do they get to know that they are getting the absolute best of education? This is where an institution’s strong brand identity comes in. To become the best, schools need to develop and market their brand which makes them stand out in the race of vying for students and, in some cases, funding.
It is time that we, as educational institutions, ask relevant questions… Do we have a strong and recognisable brand? Does our institution have a reputation that generates positive emotional response? While considering such questions, it is imperative that we evaluate the value and unique selling propositions of the institution as well as what negates and drives the customer.
However, the key to branding and marketing of educational institutions lies in remembering that education is a powerful tool. Your brand communicates to and with your audience. They deserve to know the vision behind your institution reflecting through the brand identity. It promises what the student experience will be like.
Here comes the question, whether major institutions with a deeply ingrained brand need marketing. Of course, they do. Just like the infrastructure of any school needs renovation, their brands need renovation and touch up with the changing times.
Today, school branding is about finding the institution’s unique competitive advantage. However, many schools struggle as they develop their own communications department that often ends up delivering messy messages. Effective message delivering requires the entire faculty along with leadership to commit as one voice to the brand promise. Proper branding, marketing and communication helps students to decide whether the school is a potential match to their requirements. Without branding, the same institutions tend to suffer and get lost amongst typically similar schools.
Adding to the point, Dr Swati Popat Vats, President, Podar Education Network, and Early Childhood Association India, maintained, “There are two types of Indian schools, one that spends only on branding and marketing at the cost of teacher salaries and quality curriculums and focuses on advertising about large spaces, air-conditioned rooms, extracurricular activities, senseless technology integrations that look nice but have no pedagogical impacts. And the other are those that are doing great work with children, have a superb curriculum, pay their teachers well but are unable to reach out to parents because their advertisements and marketing do not focus on these things.”
With a similar point of view, Devidutta Kanungo, Vice President - Education, People Combine, shared, “Schools are not defined by just the classrooms and the playgrounds. More and more, schools today are learning communities which reflect the value systems, priorities and convictions of the educators, leaders, students and the parents who come together to form it. And these value systems vary largely from school to school. Therefore, in today’s world, where there are so many schools competing for attention, it is absolutely critical for schools to develop a strong brand image which clearly reflects the school’s value system as it will not only enable it to reach the right set of parents with whom its value proposition will resonate, but also to the right teachers who will become part of the school because they trust and believe what the school stands for and in turn, they will make the school’s brand and value proposition stronger. Today, a school without a clear brand identity and a clear and eloquent plan to reach out to the segment it aspires to cater to, will very quickly get lost in the cacophony of social media noise.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
In a world where information is readily available on just a click, parents and students tend to search for the best institutes on the internet. Dr Swati firmly believes, “Education is the birth-right of every child. Quality education on the other hand is something that every child needs but does not get. Some schools deliver quality education and some don’t and this is where parents need to know which schools to choose for their children so that they are assured that their child will get an education and not just be literate.”
The world wide web and social media have been major marketing development of the last decade. From adding SEO content on your website to showcasing your campus and available facilities through social media platforms, everything makes a difference! It is the perfect way to blossom an open persona and present your school as a place that is open to criticism, scrutiny, transparency and easy communication. Nonetheless, schools often tend to fall in the trap of branding through mere websites, brochures and even tours. However, brand development is the key ingredient that is often missing. Brand development is possible only when branding missteps are avoided, and how do you cross these hurdles? Showcase your brand in education magazines and work on your brand development through advertising companies such as Mad About Ed, which would help you achieve the right student demographics by creating a brand that stands out in a crowded market.
KEY BRANDING ELEMENTS
Talking about key ingredients, you might want to know the key elements to school branding…
First and foremost, school branding is nothing without the school name which may include the full or partial or even an acronym that the school is or wants to be popularly known as.
Secondly, it helps to have a visual representation of the school that identifies the school brand through a mascot or logo. Schools may even choose to have an interlocking logo with two or more letter interlocking to form an alternative logo or identity. An important element that has been given much importance in the recent years includes a trademarked logo with movement. Another important part of this element also includes the school colours that an institution might choose as a form of recognition.
Thirdly, a school’s vision is best represented through a careful selection of words in its motto, catchphrase or tagline. The branding slogan is typically used to create a memorable phrase that summarises the school’s and its pupil’s character; something that unites them.
“Branding should be about your principles, practices, and pedagogy and not about your mascot or name or how many schools you have. Marketing should be about your impact on the learning skills of children and not about false promises, tall promises about creating geniuses. It’s time to be real about education, it’s time to ditch the frills and froth of false branding and marketing and get real about children, childhood and education. It’s time to talk about the ‘why’ you do the ‘what’ and ‘how’ it is necessary for children. It’s time to be a brand…a brand that stands for trust and market your practices instead of how you ensured that five children stood first! It’s time to use branding, publicity and marketing to talk about the impact your school can bring on all children and not only on the achievers. It’s time to rethink and recalibrate your marketing to be about truth and not false promises.” says Dr Vats.
She also wishes for schools in India to be careful of the concepts of branding and marketing, “Impactful branding should be about advocating parents about the benefit of the curriculum and materials that the school invests in, for their child. Marketing in Indian schools should be about changing traditional mindsets that harm children instead of glorifying ‘material’ additions in schools.
Do not talk about physical assets in your marketing, talk about children…all children.
Avoid making tall promises, talk about the deep impact you have made on children and their education.
The number of years you have been in education or the number of children you have touched or the number of schools you have is not as important as the kind of changes you have brought about in education and how you made each child a winner.
Never spend on branding and marketing at the cost of teacher salaries or curriculum.
Never ever make discounts your selling point... people who discount fees will discount education!
BRANDING AND MARKETING BENEFITS
Amidst a plethora of benefits of branding and marketing in the education sector, here are a few major ones:
It reflects and increases school and student pride.
It builds brand trust and loyalty.
It unifies school sports and clubs to a single identifiable logo or mascot.
It validates the school’s mission and core values; further, establishing the school’s history.
It provides the school with discernible identification and recognition.
It aligns with the school’s internal culture and external reputation.
It establishes authenticity and helps in creating an emotional connect.
Pramod Sharma, Principal, Genesis Global School, believes, “It is necessary to introduce impactful branding and marketing in the education sector because it is the most powerful tool to maximise our impact and influence on all the major stakeholders. While most businesses do this for profit, education sector has a nobler aim of creating futures. Hence, the most fundamental unit of education sector, a school, needs to brand itself as a space in which tomorrow lives. It is also true that without proper marketing, branding and advertising the best of products fail. Having said that, there is more to education sector which goes beyond marketing and branding for the simple reason that while false or hyper branding might take a school to the top initially, the fall will follow soon. In other words, branding and marketing, in order to be impactful needs long and sustained effort and strategic planning keeping in mind the requirements of the larger community which we aim to serve. One has seen countless schools COVER STORY who had a dream start but were soon lost in the mists of time. Which means that a major aspect of impactful branding and marketing is the desire for staying relevant, more so because the scholars we serve today are citizens of tomorrow. One needs to be aware of the latest trends and be ready to take risks instead of basking in the glory of past achievements. While the latter strengthen the brand they will falter if the planning for future gets lost in the triumphs of the past. Branding and marketing must be done keeping in mind the lives affected by it. This will help us in keeping the priorities right thus keeping us motivated to our goal of promising futures.”
Ryan Pinto, CEO, Ryan International Group of Institutions, holds the view that, “India’s education sector needs a new brand and marketing strategy because of several reasons; firstly, the number of players in K12 education has grown exponentially over the past two decades, especially in large cities. Whereas in the past there might have been one or two schools in most neighborhoods, today it is not uncommon to see several. Secondly, by and large new entrants have modelled themselves similar to the existing players, thereby creating commoditisation. There are some differences created through graphic identity, such as lettering and logo, but this is largely superficial. Thirdly, differentiation is mostly in terms of curriculum offered from among SSC, ISC, CBSE, IGCSE and IB, and less so on ‘philosophies of education’ and other variables. Lastly, K12 generally attracts less top-class marketing talent and generally sees less marketing investment than other sectors. There is of course some admissions support communication, but very little genuine brand creation marketing.”
Pinto believes there are four thrusts that hold a school in good stead: 1. Investing in genuine holistic marketing at a brand level 2. Responding to stakeholder needs at a school level 3. Securing the best practices of the past while exploring innovation 4. Updating products and services with the times
It is an established fact that education is a big business in today’s world; if schools expect parents and students to spend big bucks on tuition, it is a necessity for them to have a strong, appealing and worthy brand with effective marketing through bona fide communication.
“Should education be a business and spend on Branding and Marketing? Well, yes education should be a business, because business is not a bad word. People who really ‘mind their business’ know that one cannot ‘play’ around with quality; business is all about good practices and keeping the customer happy! And this is what Indian private schools should do, keep the child and parent happy by ensuring that the parent is educated about what is right for their child and by investing in the right materials to ensure that children get the right education that is developmentally appropriate and meaningful for life.” concludes Dr Vats.
Thus, the key to marketing and branding educational institutes is to target and showcase everything you do; education is a powerful tool that has the ability to change people’s lives and the world, and your marketing should reflect that with crystal clarity.
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