School Brand Building: 5 Steps to Belonging

It’s simple. The concept of brand can be stated in one word: Belonging.

Belonging is a central part of the human experience. In a word, belonging is a simple  one word answer to the reason for building of a successful school brand.

The feeling of belonging ties a range of ideas found in busy schools. Creating an idea that unifies, one that will sustain belonging is work. Today we are seeing value attached to brand building in schools. What took us so long? The great brands of today create belonging in our daily life. Many of us claim we belong to the Apple, Google, Nike, Starbucks brands. We are loyal to those brands and serious about our conscious and unconscious devotion.  Brand is a powerful communicator of belonging. Why not use the same path in education?Adapting brand in schools  increases the feeling of connectivity in a school community. Here are 5 steps to embrace belonging in the process of building a school brand community. A brand leader can come from any part of the school,but  brand building  is a collective experience.

1.     Awareness – The world is a noisy oversaturated place of endless messages. Schools are part of that world. The school community consumes messages, but also must create  a range of persuasive messages in a digital and social era. Stakeholders, internal and external, want to be connected  in traditional, digital and social exchanges. Good content that comes from across every part of the school will create a community that offers that feeling of safety and belonging to all members. Become aware. Start with the “why” of branding. A best practice comes from  leaders building a personal professional brand and  getting the community’s attention for brand building with their own one word brand. Leaders, both administrators and teacher leaders can deliver on the value of their own one word brand for the community at formal meetings or casual school events.  Introduce the concept through a model and gain early brand ambassadors or pioneers. Leaders can write about brand in newsletter, through a leadership  blog, or in a video on a school website to get the attention of the community and build awareness for belonging through brand.

2.     Differentiation--- Following the “why” of being part of a brand effort, spend time building a school brand with a collection of people. Imagine what is unique and special to those who experience the brand every day. Schedule time with stakeholders including kids, staff, teachers, and parents to seek their help in describing what’s different about the school. Use a short survey to those in the community who are aware of brand. Their participation can make them brand pioneers. Collect a bit of data on what’s different about the school that can lead to creating messaging about the brand . The school’s authentic brand is the magnet for belonging. Finding the difference a school provides is necessary step  to crafting a school brand.  Why would anyone want to belong to something if they didn’t understand the core, the beliefs and the essence that sets it apart from others? What makes the school different, its reason for being, is a powerful way to unify  across the community.

3.     Articulation --- Identifying,” Unique brand Value”  the difference of the school, leads to telling the  story of a school in an authentic way.  Articulation fuels belonging. Who will engage with your story? You have a range of stakeholders in a school community. Who will want to belong? Different segments of your community will engage with your school content once storytelling is launched. Spend time talking to people: staff, kids, parents, and community members. Build knowledge of the various demographic segments in a school community and find out what types of communication they value. Traditional, digital, social and face-to -face channels are open for sharing the content of new brand. The stories create belonging that is important to sustain good vibes about the school  brand. Invite your community to share their stories of interaction with the new brand using social media, video, and digital content.  Collecting data in informal conversations or through formal surveys of the community, reveal how the community wants to be engaged in communication with the school.

4.      Accessibility--- Make the belonging easy to achieve. Make the interactions with the brand frictionless as possible. After investing time and energy in the development of a brand, continue to make engagement with the brand as simple. The image of the school brand and the identity features of the brand image can be strategically placed through visual reminders and messages. Use school websites in new ways to access and communicate with stakeholders by posting  informational “Help Content” and “Storytelling Content” that is based on the good work the school is doing every day. Broadcast the brand with excitement and engagement in the chose channels of access. With professional development linked to a school brand, schools can consistently define who they are and control the narrative of the good work they do. Having a strategy and direction for accessing the school brand is about “promotion”, and educators haven’t been promoters of their good work. Accessibility  creates the positive “user experience” that stakeholders value in their brand daily engagements. It is key to the feeling of belonging.

5.     Emotion---  Brands that are best at belonging are not afraid to create connection with their community through emotion. Once a brand establishes the intangible connections with a tribe of supporters, the feeling of connection is so strong that people in the community move to a feeling of brand insistence, of wanting to belong at a deep, sustaining level to the community. As a school brand conversation develops, emotion figures into the plan. This as recognized as the “H2H” value of a brand, the Human to Human value.  A school that builds a branding with belonging in mind develops messages, both visual and print, that create emotional connection to the community. People come to believe in the community through authentic stories . Your chance to sustain a strong brand position with the community is  strengthened when a school identifies the common, emotional  bond that stakeholders share and weaves that through communication message online and offline.

Each segment of the school  stakeholder community can find their  connection to a school brand in a plan that focuses on belonging from brand awareness to emotional brand allegiance.