Independent Schools shouldn’t brand…they should blog!

Cocktail Conversations and BrandingBranding in independent schools is an interesting proposition. Facebook launched in February 2004, before its launch branding work was relevant and necessary after its launch branding work, for the most part, has become frivolous and wasteful.  Why? Because independent schools don’t define their brand anymore, the public does.

Branding as Cocktail Conversation

Public definition of brand has existed for a while now.  It most often occurred at cocktail parties and other social events where persons associated, and not associated, with your school would discuss what your school was really like.  These conversations were fleeting however and were not indexed and searchable by Google, Yahoo, and Bing.  As a result, the content and reach of these conversations was limited.  With the advent of blogging and social media the game has changed.  These “cocktail conversations” are now occurring everywhere on the web in social media channels, blogs, and most importantly, in comments at these sites.  All of this content is now indexed and searchable which means it has a long shelf life and unlimited reach.

The other side to “cocktail conversations” is trust.  A person was, and is, more likely to believe what their social circle is saying and believing as opposed to the glossy brochures and polished websites of a school.  A certain apprehension occurs after a prospective family reads an independent school’s marketing material which usually results in their asking, “Is ABC Academy really like that?”  To answer that question people often turn back to their “cocktail conversations” for corroborating and defining information.

Is Defining Brand Hopeless?

No! Rather than trying to find a company to which you can pay thousands of dollars to update your logo, stationary, and value proposition, I would suggest that you jump into these new “cocktail conversations” by creating a blog, creating a Facebook Fan Page, and a school Twitter account.  Not only can you create content that is authentic regarding  your school but you can also participate in the conversation by listening and then responding appropriately.  A school doesn’t fully define their brand anymore but I feel that they can participate in these “cocktail conversations” to make sure that the information being discussed is correct and subtly guide the conversation around topics of importance to the school.

I would love to hear what others think about branding and my opinions by commenting below. Thanks for reading!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Robert S. Donovan

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://twitter.com/jandev Jan Devereux

    I agree. If your product doesn’t deliver on its brand promise or value proposition, your customers will be the first to know and tell others. The chatter is amplified on the Web.

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Thanks for the feedback Jan. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Blake S.

    This is a very interesting argument. I agree with many aspects that private schools should defiantly open up the doors and become part of a social buzz, or “Cocktail Conversations” happening everywhere. Blogging, Twitter and Facebook are all great tools to accomplish this, however there is something to say about the brand as well.

    However, I disagree that schools should drop their brand and logo. My personal opinion is to take your idea and possibly take it to the next level. Let’s simply combine the ideas. I think that private schools should have their audience who “creates the brand”. Lets open up the doors to students and see how they would brand their school. I mean after all schools belong to the students, we just facilitate.

    This way we (as private schools) can open up the ideas to the public and welcome that “cocktail conversation” even more. Let’s create the buzz within and build the community around such a drastic change, not in action, but in thought. It has been my experience form the inside that this change needs to start from the top, and trickle down. Change is hard for everyone, but like students Faculty love it, that is, if it’s fun.

    We all need to incorporate what students know and love into school and social media is something we all love. Not to get too far away from the topic, the brad is spread through social media. Let’s think of placing the logo students created, and the board approved everywhere on the internet.

    I agree we should leave the stationary behind! Let us embrace the brands the community already gives us as private schools. This brings me to the next question…Does our community recognize an “official” brand, or is it just image recognition at its finest?

    Keeping the conversation going…..

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Blake…well said. I like your extension of my idea!

      I do want to clarify a little because I think my original post was fuzzy regarding my definition of brand and branding. I whole-heartedly agree with you that schools should have a consistent and common look and feel including logo, tagline, stationary, etc… but that too many schools get caught up in thinking that those tangible, arguably meaningless items, are a schools brand. I don’t mean to suggest that we throw them out and I’m sorry for not being more clear.

      I really do like your extension to my idea to begin the process of allowing students, faculty, and staff to create logos, etc…. Boy that would be fun!

      Thanks again for commenting Blake. I really do appreciate your time!

  • http://twitter.com/TMcDonough1973 Tim McDonough

    I agree, and wrote something similar recently. It is important for schools to remember that even if they do not completely own their brand they still need to have a brand mentality. Consistency, longevity, singularity etc. All schools need to be able to define their brand and brand promise.

  • http://twitter.com/TMcDonough1973 Tim McDonough

    I agree and wrote something similar recently. Although schools may not completely own their brand they still need a brand mentality: consistency, publicity, advertising, singularity, quality etc. They still need to be able to define their brand and brand promise.

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Tim…thanks for your feedback and I would love to read your article. Could you post a link here or send to me on Twitter?

      I’m sorry that I was not more clear with my argument [See my comments below to Blake] and I agree with you.

      Thanks again for your feedback!

  • http://www.facebook.com/travis.warren Travis Warren

    Good post. I mostly agree, however, given the relatively small size of our communities don’t expect it to just happen. “Show, don’t tell” is the way to go, but don’t dismiss the planning and thought that goes in to making a strategy like this work. It’s not always as simple as getting out of the way!

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Well said Travis. I know you speak from experience. It is an interesting thought exercise though.

      Also, thank you for taking time to offer some feedback!

  • http://twitter.com/jandev Jan Devereux

    I agree. If your product doesn't deliver on its brand promise or value proposition, your customers will be the first to know and tell others. The chatter is amplified on the Web.

  • Blake S.

    This is a very interesting argument. I agree with many aspects that private schools should defiantly open up the doors and become part of a social buzz, or “Cocktail Conversations” happening everywhere. Blogging, Twitter and Facebook are all great tools to accomplish this, however there is something to say about the brand as well.

    However, I disagree that schools should drop their brand and logo. My personal opinion is to take your idea and possibly take it to the next level. Let's simply combine the ideas. I think that private schools should have their audience who “creates the brand”. Lets open up the doors to students and see how they would brand their school. I mean after all schools belong to the students, we just facilitate.

    This way we (as private schools) can open up the ideas to the public and welcome that “cocktail conversation” even more. Let's create the buzz within and build the community around such a drastic change, not in action, but in thought. It has been my experience form the inside that this change needs to start from the top, and trickle down. Change is hard for everyone, but like students Faculty love it, that is, if it's fun.

    We all need to incorporate what students know and love into school and social media is something we all love. Not to get too far away from the topic, the brad is spread through social media. Let's think of placing the logo students created, and the board approved everywhere on the internet.

    I agree we should leave the stationary behind! Let us embrace the brands the community already gives us as private schools. This brings me to the next question…Does our community recognize an “official” brand, or is it just image recognition at its finest?

    Keeping the conversation going…..

  • http://twitter.com/TMcDonough1973 Tim McDonough

    I agree, and wrote something similar recently. It is important for schools to remember that even if they do not completely own their brand they still need to have a brand mentality. Consistency, longevity, singularity etc. All schools need to be able to define their brand and brand promise.

  • http://twitter.com/TMcDonough1973 Tim McDonough

    I agree and wrote something similar recently. Although schools may not completely own their brand they still need a brand mentality: consistency, publicity, advertising, singularity, quality etc. They still need to be able to define their brand and brand promise.

  • http://www.brendanschneider.com Brendan Schneider

    Thanks for the feedback Jan. I couldn't agree more.

  • http://www.brendanschneider.com Brendan Schneider

    Blake…well said. I like your extension of my idea!

    I do want to clarify a little because I think my original post was fuzzy regarding my definition of brand and branding. I whole-heartedly agree with you that schools should have a consistent and common look and feel including logo, tagline, stationary, etc… but that too many schools get caught up in thinking that those tangible, arguably meaningless items, are a schools brand. I don't mean to suggest that we throw them out and I'm sorry for not being more clear.

    I really do like your extension to my idea to begin the process of allowing students, faculty, and staff to create logos, etc…. Boy that would be fun!

    Thanks again for commenting Blake. I really do appreciate your time!

  • http://www.brendanschneider.com Brendan Schneider

    Tim…thanks for your feedback and I would love to read your article. Could you post a link here or send to me on Twitter?

    I'm sorry that I was not more clear with my argument [See my comments below to Blake] and I agree with you.

    Thanks again for your feedback!

  • http://www.facebook.com/travis.warren Travis Warren

    Good post. I mostly agree, however, given the relatively small size of our communities don't expect it to just happen. “Show, don't tell” is the way to go, but don't dismiss the planning and thought that goes in to making a strategy like this work. It's not always as simple as getting out of the way!

  • http://twitter.com/JosieHolford JosieHolford

    Makes sense to me. Poughkeepsie Day School jumped in the deep end with a blog in 2006 – now one of several; a twitter account and two facebook pages. Word of mouth is always the most effective marketing and social media provides a platform for wom on a mega scale. Authenticity matters too so it’s probably a mistake just to use social media as the bullhorn equivalent of the glossy brochure.

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Josie. I couldn’t agree with you more concerning word of mouth. The issue as I see it is that prospective families are using third-party sites and social media channels to make decisions about schools and what certain schools are really like…they are looking for the behind the scenes reality. As a result, traditional branding is dead or a least very sick.I am also aware of your blog and Facebook page…I really like that you reference them in your “Welcome Letter” on your school’s website.Thanks again for your feedback!

  • http://www.brendanschneider.com Brendan Schneider

    Well said Travis. I know you speak from experience. It is an interesting thought exercise though.

    Also, thank you for taking time to offer some feedback!

  • Mark Bistline

    Agreed. Particularly for schools with tight budgets and multi-tasking and limited Admission/Communication/Advancement HR. I would also echo the point made about developing a strategy for social media rather than stumbling blind.

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Thanks for your input and feedback Mark. Great extension to my point and you are dead on with regard to tight budgets. The current economy has made everyone become very cautious with budget dollars.

  • http://twitter.com/JosieHolford JosieHolford

    Makes sense to me. Poughkeepsie Day School jumped in the deep end with a blog in 2006 – now one of several; a twitter account and two facebook pages. Word of mouth is always the most effective marketing and social media provides a platform for wom on a mega scale. Authenticity matters too so it's probably a mistake just to use social media as the bullhorn equivalent of the glossy brochure.

  • Mark Bistline

    Agreed. Particularly for schools with tight budgets and multi-tasking and limited Admission/Communication/Advancement HR. I would also echo the point made about developing a strategy for social media rather than stumbling blind.

  • http://www.brendanschneider.com Brendan Schneider

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Josie. I couldn't agree with you more concerning word of mouth. The issue as I see it is that prospective families are using third-party sites and social media channels to make decisions about schools and what certain schools are really like…they are looking for the behind the scenes reality. As a result, traditional branding is dead or a least very sick.

    I am also aware of your blog and Facebook page…I really like that you reference them in your “Welcome Letter” on your school's website.

    Thanks again for your feedback!

  • http://www.brendanschneider.com Brendan Schneider

    Thanks for your input and feedback Mark. Great extension to my point and you are dead on with regard to tight budgets. The current economy has made everyone become very cautious with budget dollars.

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  • Liza Fisher Norman

    Surprise! I’m going to disagree. Brand first; then blog. Social media, over time, will exhibit your brand (maybe), but not as quickly or as focused as social media paired with brand messaging. And I worry that those who are posting aren’t seeing the “big picture” of a school’s brand…only their individual version of it. Having done hundreds of focus groups with individual constituents of independent school communities, it is both fascinating and terrifying that in some schools, one person thinks the school is X, another Y and another Z. I don’t want all those people blogging without a common vision. They’re blogging for the school.

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Liza,
      Thanks for taking the time to post and to extend the conversation. I would also like to thank you for bringing me back to reality a bit, let me explain.

      I think the trouble is that “Brand” or “Branding” means different things to different people. Let’s use your firm’s own website to help define what I’m referring too: http://bit.ly/d2rxX7. I would whole-heartedly agree, especially in this difficult economic climate, that schools need to work on and have a common vision with regard to Positioning and Brand Development. I worry that some schools think Brand or Branding is simply related to your section under Partners in Design and Production. While a common look and feel is important, I want to urge people not to fall into the trap of all show and no substance.

      From this background, I also wanted to point out that prospective families are now becoming consumers as it relates to choosing an independent school and are looking for the equivalent of the Amazon.com “Customer Review” as they evaluate a school. I think that social media and blogging can, will, and is filling that role.

      I hope this all makes sense and thanks again for keeping me on my toes. Maybe this could be my next blog topic…
      -Brendan

      • Liza Fisher Norman

        Brendan:
        I can’t agree more. Branding/Brand does, in fact, mean different things to different people. At Turnaround, we like to try to distill it as Brand = Distinguishing Characteristics/Message + Graphic Identity. This seems to help individuals understand that Brand ? Logo.

        Thanks for creating great conversations. I’ll be listening.

        Liza

  • Liza Fisher Norman

    Surprise! I'm going to disagree. Brand first; then blog. Social media, over time, will exhibit your brand (maybe), but not as quickly or as focused as social media paired with brand messaging. And I worry that those who are posting aren't seeing the “big picture” of a school's brand…only their individual version of it. Having done hundreds of focus groups with individual constituents of independent school communities, it is both fascinating and terrifying that in some schools, one person thinks the school is X, another Y and another Z. I don't want all those people blogging without a common vision. They're blogging for the school.

  • http://www.brendanschneider.com Brendan Schneider

    Liza,
    Thanks for taking the time to post and to extend the conversation. I would also like to thank you for bringing me back to reality a bit, let me explain.

    I think the trouble is that “Brand” or “Branding” means different things to different people. Let's use your firm's own website to help define what I'm referring too: http://bit.ly/d2rxX7. I would whole-heartedly agree, especially in this difficult economic climate, that schools need to work on and have a common vision with regard to Positioning and Brand Development. I worry that some schools think Brand or Branding is simply related to your section under Partners in Design and Production. While a common look and feel is important, I want to urge people not to fall into the trap of all show and no substance.

    From this background, I also wanted to point out that prospective families are now becoming consumers as it relates to choosing an independent school and are looking for the equivalent of the Amazon.com “Customer Review” as they evaluate a school. I think that social media and blogging can, will, and is filling that role.

    I hope this all makes sense and thanks again for keeping me on my toes. Maybe this could be my next blog topic…
    -Brendan

  • Liza Fisher Norman

    Brendan:
    I can't agree more. Branding/Brand does, in fact, mean different things to different people. At Turnaround, we like to try to distill it as Brand = Distinguishing Characteristics/Message + Graphic Identity. This seems to help individuals understand that Brand ? Logo.

    Thanks for creating great conversations. I'll be listening.

    Liza

  • Mooney

    Please fix grammar in second sentence: “its” is the possessive, and eliminate the comma splice. Hate to be nit picky, but the errors are distracting.

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Thanks for the suggestion…I’ve made the corrections. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the content of the post.
      Thanks for reading,
      Brendan

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Thanks for the suggestion…I’ve made the corrections. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the content of the post.
      Thanks for reading,
      Brendan

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Thanks for the suggestion…I’ve made the corrections. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the content of the post.
      Thanks for reading,
      Brendan

  • Linda Vasu

    Schools are non-profits and are mission driven…not necessarily brand driven. The conflation of mission and branding is not always a good idea for independent schools. Branding is driven by consumerism, and a school, as a steward of the next generation in developing citizens of courage and compassion, may well want to steer clear of commercial buzz-words. I’m becoming more and more disenchanted with the superficial nature of blogging (and branding, for that matter). Schools are complex, so is learning, so are learners, so is edcuation. I’m all for maintaining complexities.

  • Linda Vasu

    Schools are non-profits and are mission driven…not necessarily brand driven. The conflation of mission and branding is not always a good idea for independent schools. Branding is driven by consumerism, and a school, as a steward of the next generation in developing citizens of courage and compassion, may well want to steer clear of commercial buzz-words. I’m becoming more and more disenchanted with the superficial nature of blogging (and branding, for that matter). Schools are complex, so is learning, so are learners, so is edcuation. I’m all for maintaining complexities.

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Linda,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. If I understand your comment correctly, I couldn’t agree with you more. Mission should rise above all else and as a result, mission should drive brand. If a school is truly focused upon their mission it should help to differentiate the school from other independent schools which, in the end, will allow families to make more informed choices with regard to selecting a school for their child. Parents would then be happy because they will have found the correct educational “fit” for their child and schools will be happy because they will enroll more mission appropriate children.

      I hope you can tell my position comes from marketing independent schools where I think blogging has many benefits including search engine optimization (SEO), offering a level of transparency, and the ability to help differentiate one independent school from another.

      I hope my point is clear. Please let me know if this doesn’t make sense.
      Thanks for reading,
      Brendan

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  • amyfsmythe

    Bredan…I love this post. I have a question though. How do I explain the difference between a blog and a teacher web page? I know in my head but need some help getting this across to my colleagues who are not of the growth mindset when it comes to new things especially with social media.

  • http://twitter.com/Mktadvice4schls Simon Hepburn

    Very interesting conversations! There does seem to be a consensus that both brand and authentic stories matter. My school has a number of different audiences – one is an established community that especially likes stories that can be shared at the school gate, but we also get a lot of people who move into the area and get their impressions from advertising. A final thought – when prospective parents visit, they see real life students – this will pretty quickly (in)validate any non-authentic brand!

    • http://www.schneiderb.com Brendan Schneider

      Hi @twitter-408686626:disqus! Thanks for taking the time to comment and for sharing your thoughts…which I agree with by the way. :-)
      Thanks,
      Brendan

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