So you already have a beautiful school website that’s user-friendly, well-organized, and ADA compliant. But have you thought about your website branding? Branding is the magic touch that helps communicate a cohesive identity about the school/schools/district you love. When you take the time to build branding for school websites, you invest in clear messaging that resonates with current and prospective students and their families. With the new academic year around the corner, it’s the perfect time to consider whether your website branding stacks up to the excellence of your school.
What is Branding?
According to Brandingmag, “Branding is the perpetual process of identifying, creating, and managing the cumulative assets and actions that shape the perception of a brand in stakeholders’ minds.” In other words, it is an ongoing process of defining your brand through various outputs in order to create a clear image of who you are. Although we might often think of this in the realm of big companies selling a product or service through commercials, it is just as relevant to schools. School website branding involves showing what your school is all about through your website, and vying for the trust of families in educating their children. It plays a role in satisfaction, pride, and a sense of community for employees as well.
Why It’s Important
As far as online presence goes, your school website will often be responsible for first impressions as folks search for information on your school. Imagine it like the first meeting with a parent of a new student. What you’re wearing, how clearly you communicate, your level of preparation in that brief interaction will play a major part in their perception of you for the entire year.
For that reason, it is integral that schools communicate their brand clearly, quickly and effectively. This builds a credible reputation and a strong sense of identity among current students and their families, prospective students and their families, as well as employees of your school. If done well, your website branding is the digital equivalent of a school pride day, unifying everyone around the values on which you operate every single day. Here are the major reasons to take time on your website branding:
To Put Your Values on Display Successful school branding communicates a clear set of values, getting everyone on the same page. For something as important as education, a school’s website does the heavy lifting with families and employees considering whether the school is aligned with their own beliefs.
To Show Off Your Distinct Identity Similar to making other buying decisions as a consumer, students, families, and employees will likely choose the school that speaks to them and stands apart from others. When you’ve got a school as special as yours, thoughtful branding should follow suit.
To Build Trust By creating a cohesive identity that differentiates from other schools through your exceptional values, you’re fostering a sense of reliability. Imagine that you’re a prospective guardian browsing several school options. Are you likely to trust a school with a disjointed message and a vague sense of identity? Not only does clear branding communicate credibility and consistency, but it also shows you invested time and effort into executing such clear branding.
Values, Identity, Trust?! That can feel intimidating to figure out…
We’ve created a free School Branding Guide to make it easy! This 2 page, printable resource will walk you through all of the most important facets of outlining your school’s brand. Having it all in one place is a great way to stay organized and united. Simply fill out this form and we’ll send it to you:
The Recipe for Stunning Website Branding
Now that we’ve discussed the what and the why, it’s time to talk about the how. While successful branding does take work, it is much easier when you already have a strong sense of pride about your school. These components of branding work to amplify what you know so that everyone else can feel that pride too.
Differentiators Unfortunately, you are among many other schools who believe they provide the best education and turn out the greatest students every year. However, Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle theory explains that simply demonstrating great results is not enough. Clearly communicating the greater purpose and beliefs of your organization (and why they make you unique!) is essential in providing your students, guardians, and employees with a reason for buy-in. Once you have found the words to define the passion, pride, and purpose behind your school, you can go on to put them into words by way of brand pillars.
Maple Valley Schools describes their overarching belief in a clear and concise way through their “district vision” statement, and supports that belief with a mission:
Brand Pillars Brand pillars help distill the soul of your organization and its core values into a few words. These pillars include “purpose, personality, positioning, perception, and promotion.” Meaning the pillars should communicate why you do what you do, focusing on why you’re different, and how you plan for the public to view and experience these core values.
For example, Hamilton Community Schools does a great job of clearly presenting their brand pillars by using a graphic to communicate them clearly and quickly. Furthermore, visitors will see that they are framed by three core values (Motivated, Adaptive, & Collaborative) that unite the brand pillars together.
Voice & Tone If we compare website branding to creating a beautiful cohesive painting, voice and tone is how we apply the paint. Just as the same landscape can look vastly different in each painting, voice and tone can change the way your pillars are communicated. While the variety of brand voices is extensive, the takeaway is that it should be consistent with your brand values. If you apply a single tone throughout your website, your helpful content will feel more cohesive and thereby more credible to your students, their families, and employees.
Look no further than Oakridge Public Schools as a stellar example of demonstrating a professional, aspirational, ambitious, and collaborative voice:
Positioning Statement By building a positioning statement, you’re organizing your purpose in a way that’s laser-focused. Your positioning statement should be prominent; typically on your homepage above the fold (i.e. positioned so that a visitor doesn’t need to do any scrolling to see it). Donald Miller, author of Building a Story Brand, offers a helpful positioning framework that he calls “The Grunt Test.” This concept postulates that even a hypothetical caveman should be able to visit your website and know the answers to the following three questions in under 8 seconds:
What does this school offer?
How will those offerings make my life/my child’s life better?
If I find that it will improve my life, what are the next steps I should take
As a (biased?) example, here’s how we adhere to the Grunt Test on Foxbright’s website:
For a school, a positioning statement may be “We offer unmatched education for elementary school students to generate inquisitive minds that innovate our community,” or “Unlike many high schools, we bolster creative learning through a nationally-recognized arts program.”
We see Berrien Springs Public Schools uses a Foxbright CMS feature to consistently display their positioning statement in the top bar of every webpage on their site. Then, on the homepage right below the banner image, they include their full positioning statement:
“Together, inspiring students to think, learn, achieve, and care in a global community. At Berrien Springs Public Schools, we strive to serve the needs of all student learners while seeking ways for students to reach their full potential.”
- Consistency One of the biggest threats to maintaining a strong brand is when there are inconsistencies between the logo, color scheme, visual elements, and voice/tone on your website. It’s important these elements maintain uniformity in order to create one harmonious online presence. A far too common misstep we’ve seen on other platforms is that as you add more staff managing different webpages, you increase the danger of one of them accidentally changing the brand standards. The solution we’ve developed on the Foxbright CMS is by creating a tiered access system. All teachers (you can have unlimited users) are still empowered to customize their own online classroom presence, but access to make any high level, site-wide updates is reserved for the direct managers. This way the website ensures the integrity of the brand personality you’ve worked hard to build.
The West Michigan Academy of Arts & Academics provides a solid example of consistency. Their differentiators include incorporating art into the way that children learn, which is displayed clearly throughout their site. Using a Foxbright custom design template, they’ve crafted a vibrant and playful look with bold colors and shapes; the tone invoking feelings of creativity while also conveying approachability and feeling of community:
Despite its importance in building community, maintaining a strong website brand presence is often deprioritized for many schools. The good news is that YOU can be a branding hero by following these key branding tenets:
- Put your school’s core values into words.
- Convey your shining school personality to your visitors by showcasing what makes you unique.
- Consistency is key! The language should match the visual components in order to instill confidence in your students, their families, and employees.
If you’re interested in learning more about website branding for your school, let’s set up a 30min call to talk through what support options will make YOUR brand shine.