Branding and Marketing tips for Schools and Colleges

The branding and marketing of schools and colleges is yet another thing that’s been added to an ever increasing list of things that Headteachers and Principals now have to manage. Chances are that it is not a specialist area for most people in these roles, so where do you start?

Howdy work with organisations, including schools and educational establishments, to create and build strong, distinctive brands and effective marketing materials. We realise that most schools don’t have in-house communications specialists so we help with all aspects of the marketing and communications planning through to the execution and delivery.

We’ve put together some simple tips below to help guide you through the process.

Compass Schools website designed by Howdy

Compass Schools website designed by Howdy

1. Why?
It’s important to think carefully about the reason behind the decision to review the branding or marketing materials.Do you need a new brand, maybe to shift perceptions following a change in the organisation, or is it simply that your existing communications are looking tired and in need of a refresh? It may sound obvious but this initial goal is often forgotten in the process resulting in the project drifting away from the original aim. This should dictate the nature and scope of the project.

2. Identify the scope of the project
Look at what you already have, if anything, and how much needs to change. Do you need a revolution or an evolution of your branding and marketing communications? A rebrand doesn’t have to mean throwing everything that you have in place away and starting from scratch. What are the positives and the negatives of your current materials? An audit of existing materials and their effectiveness is an important starting point.

3. Identify your objectives
What are the outcomes that you need to achieve? Decide on the key messages you need to communicate and who with? This may need to be segmented into slightly different messages for different audiences. What is the purpose of your communications? These will form the core of your design and marketing brief to ensure that you end up with an appropriate communications plan and deliverables. See our five tips for writing a design brief for more help and advice.

4. Identify the challenges and issues
The diverse audience you need to communicate with is a challenge in itself. Engaging parents, students, trustees, governors and sponsors, each with their own priorities, is difficult. Throw in other issues, like social challenges – maybe literacy levels or language barriers – and you have a challenging brief that will need to be taken into consideration and addressed in the design.

Compass School reception signage

Compass School reception signage

5. Get feedback
The best way to find out what people do and don’t like is to ask them. Why try and second guess how parents would prefer to receive information when you can ask them? A small amount of basic research before the project begins can save a lot of wasted time and money developing something that people won’t use. This could be a few questions on your website or an email survey, or simply asking people in the playground face to face.

6. Identify the resources available
By this we mean both time and money. It’s important that you have an idea of how much time staff can realistically commit to updating a website, social media, writing copy for newsletters, etc. This will ensure that your communications plan is appropriate and achievable. Of course it’s important to have a ballpark budget in mind. You’ll need to get quotes from companies to help guide this figure but don’t get sucked in by unnecessary whistles and bells that blow your budget without adding real value and benefits. Having clearly identified the scope, objectives and challenges first, it will be easier to stick to clear parameters.

7. Identify the deliverables
Before anything, you need a clear mission/vision statement, agreed by all stakeholders. This, no doubt, exists in your’s, and your colleagues’, heads, and will have been voiced at many meetings, but it needs to be pared down to a succinct written statement against which every aspect of your brand is measured. The brand is the embodiment of your mission so, without a clear statement, any investment in branding and marketing will be wasted.

As well as the logo/badge, branding includes the colour palette, typefaces, tone of voice, style of photography, illustration, etc. which need to be consistently used across everything. Of course there are all the standard day to day applications such as stationery, signage, uniforms, etc. and, without exception, all schools and colleges need a website and prospectus which form your primary marketing materials. In addition, there is an almost infinite list of things that you can brand with your school badge or logo for marketing purposes, such as bags, pens, badges, etc. and it’s important to ensure that the things you choose, if any, are appropriate to your audience in terms of suitability, budget and effectiveness.

Compass School 2014-15 prospectus

Compass School 2014-15 prospectus

8. Find the right design/marketing company
It’s important that you work with someone that you feel is a good match for you and you’ll enjoy working with. There are many companies who design exclusively for the education sector who may feel like a safe pair of hands, but beware of template based design solutions. The whole point of design and branding is to differentiate and address your specific requirements and brief, rather than deliver a formulaic solution.

The image below, from one such company’s web portfolio, shows a selection of their ‘tailor-made’ designs for schools. No matter what your brief, I wouldn’t mind betting that at least one concept they present would contain a ribbon-like swoosh device on the prospectus cover and website. Having removed all the names from these there’s little to differentiate one from another. Of course there will be a number of commonalities across all school briefs, but the purpose of design is to make you stand out from, rather than merge into, the crowd.

Some 'specialists' offer formulaic, templated solutions offering little or no differentiation

Some specialists offer formulaic, templated solutions resulting in little or no differentiation

Our blog on choosing the right design partner offers more advice on this.

You might also be interested in our Compass School case study.

We hope you found this useful but if you need any further help or advice feel free to get in touch.

What type of client are you?

By Neil Smith

Over the past 30 years, 15 of them as Howdy, I have worked for a diverse range of clients, from incontinence pad manufacturers to major banks. I’ve visited laboratories in Germany and international news agencies in New York, I’ve had meetings at 10 Downing Street and in offices above kebab shops in Finchley. This experience has enabled me, very unscientifically, to identify a number of client types. Obviously I haven’t bothered with the ‘friendly’, ‘efficient’ and ‘reasonable’ clients, as I couldn’t think of anything funny to say about them. New clients are very hard to come by, and we’d be happy to work with any of the following client types. And I’d just like to add that at Howdy we love all our clients, especially our current ones, most of whom fall into the final category.

The well informed client
Not to be confused with the client who thinks they know it all, this client actually does. One particular client’s knowledge of typography, design history and print technology put us to shame. She took a sadistic pleasure in getting us to re-kern lines of text with a scalpel often late into the night (this was pre- Macintosh) and was an intimidating presence whenever she visited the studio. We produced some of our best work for this client.

The randy client
This group of clients doesn’t exist, until you give them alcohol. You’re more likely to encounter this client at a Christmas party or a company launch than in the board room. I encountered one at a party as a young designer, and felt terror and confusion in equal measure as the company’s biggest client tore my favourite shirt off my back and ran her clammy drunk hands across my naked chest. I think she might have even snarled a playful ‘Grrrrrr’ in the process. It still sends shivers down my spine after all these years. I’ve blanked the rest from my memory.

The ‘more is more’ client
This client doesn’t really get Swiss typography or Nordic minimalism. They’d rather buy design by the square metre. A client once phoned and asked if they could have a ‘bit more design’ on the cover of their insurance policy document cover. We argued that the white space was working as hard as the text and imagery. They didn’t buy it.

The deluded entrepreneur
The most troublesome of the client groups. They lure you in with promises of fame and riches, of shares in their new Google / new Amazon / new Starbucks venture (delete where applicable). You commit totally, you submit to their infectious passion and before long you are an enthusiastic ambassador, telling anyone who will listen that this is the next big thing and that by this time next year you’ll be sunning yourself in the Bahamas. Then you get the phone call: ‘The backers have pulled out’ or ‘We have patent issues’. Six months (unpaid) work down the pan and you swear you’ll never be seduced again. The phone rings… ‘Hi, we’ve got this idea for a new range of oxygenated fruit drinks’… ‘Great, when do we start!’.

The ‘more money than sense’ client
Not sure that this ‘type’ exists outside the 1980s. We once worked for a City chap who was setting up his own trading firm. After briefing us on his branding project he took us to his basement to show us his Ferraris (yes, that’s plural). We figured that this gentleman would be happier paying over the odds for this design work so that he could brag to his chums about how much he’d spent on his new logo. Our hunch paid off, our client was as happy as Larry with the estimate and with the finished project, and we were able to fund an extension to our studio Scalextric track (well, this was the eighties).

The ‘design is for girls’ client
Thankfully not so common these days. We presented to the Chairman of a large textile company and his board of directors, who seemed preoccupied by our funny haircuts and blouson jackets. At the end of the presentation the Chairman seemed slightly non-plussed, saying that he thought he liked it, but he would have to show his wife before he could make a decision. We also encountered the following, from a CEO at another presentation: ‘Purple? it can’t be purple – my wife hates purple!’.

The ‘I’ll know what I want when I see it’ client
The presentation went well, everyone’s happy and excited then suddenly you find yourself producing endless variations and colour combinations of the ‘approved’ design because, apparently, its not quite right. The client can’t quite put their finger on what they don’t like, but of course ‘They’ll know what they want when they see it’. These projects can seem infinitely long, but unfortunately not infinitely well paid.

The frustrated designer
The only reason this client doesn’t design it themselves is because they don’t have the time or the software (or the talent). Ideally they’d like to sit next to you listening to your Smiths CDs, drinking espressos and offering handy suggestions on what typeface to use.

The ‘play it safe’ client
This is the client whose logo and pithy strap line gradually morphs into a Novella as they desperately try to keep their bosses and ‘stakeholders’ happy.

The bad driver
You’re collected from a rural railway station and driven at terrifying speeds, in an executive saloon, through narrow lanes to an out of town business park. I’m not sure, but they seem to be saying ‘I’m the client, i’m in control, and I’m going to drive really, really fast and scare the shit out of your trendy, fixed wheel riding, London arse’, or something.

The perfect client
This client is a careful driver. But more importantly, they’re open to ideas and trust your skills and advice as a designer. They provide a comprehensive brief, or enough information for you to be able to write the brief with them. They have an understanding and appreciation of the benefits of design, a realistic budget and realistic expectations. They also don’t leave things to the last minute. They’re pleasant and friendly to work with. That’s about 10 points I reckon. If a client can fulfil six or more of these, I think they’re pretty perfect.

Here we are having fun with some of our perfect clients
Here we are having fun with some of our perfect clients having just won an award for the great annual report we did for them.  

Design trends – how much should they influence branding decisions?

It’s the time of year when annual trend forecasts are published and magazines are full of news on what colours and shapes are ‘in’ and what will dictate 2016’s ‘style’.

This year Pantone have selected two ‘colours of the year’: Rose Quartz and Serenity. According to Pantone’s Executive Director, Leatrice Eiseman: “These colours demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.”

What does this mean to us, as branding and communications specialists, in our day to day marketing and design decisions? Probably not a lot in all honesty. Identity and communication design needs to reflect, enhance and communicate a brand and its values on a longer term basis.

Fast changing trends are essential in fashion, an industry built around seasonal, short term collections fuelling our desire to update our wardrobes every few months, but it’s no accident that most fashion brands’ corporate identities are black and white or neutral, giving them the flexibility to work with and sit above each season’s changing trends. Brands like Chanel, Burberry, YSL, Gucci and Fred Perry, are iconic and have changed very little, if at all, in the past 20+ years, maintaining consistent, well managed and instantly recognisable brand identities.

A brand identity is not a short term investment and, as such, should not be subject to seasonal whims and fancies. Longer term trends do occur and brand identities can become tired and outdated and in need of a revamp, but this should be after years not months.

The key to a successful and long lasting corporate identity is to get the brief right and find a design partner you feel is right for you (see our blog ‘Choosing the right design partner’).

Ensure you end up with an identity that accurately reflects your brand values and personality. Be ambitious and look to the future. Think about where you want the organisation to be in five years and aim for an identity that reflects that vision. Don’t be swayed by this season’s style ‘must haves’. Don’t end up with a logo that’s ‘so last season’ in 12 months time.