The Power of Brand Consistency
Your brand is more than your logo – it’s the sum of how your internal and external audiences perceive your organization. It’s how others describe you. Brands must evolve to fit changing expectations, at the same time staying true to core values. So, as you develop, evolve, and maintain your brand, how do you ensure brand consistency to solidify your identity?
WHAT IS BRAND CONSISTENCY?
Brand consistency includes using the same visual elements, voice, and messaging across all communication channels, from your website to print materials to social media posts. Brand elements help build recognition and trust with your audience, whether prospective families, current students and parents, alums, or even internal staff.
Brand consistency helps establish a recognizable identity that resonates with your audience and the wider community. If you control your brand, you can tell the story you want to tell. “If you don’t define your brand, the internet may do it for you.” says CEL designer Anna Ingemann “And in a weird way.”
Pro Tip — Go Incognito or use DuckDuckGo. Search your organization, and click images. Do you see a consistent brand?
HOW DO WE MAINTAIN CONSISTENCY WITH SO MANY PEOPLE INVOLVED?
Did you flinch when we said brand consistency? We saw that. Decentralized decision-making, lack of buy-in from stakeholders, and inconsistent implementation are common obstacles to brand consistency.
Your communications team (if you have one!) probably doesn’t have the time or inclination to approve every email or newsletter that goes out. That means, over time, your brand messaging and visuals can become scattered or diluted. There are too many different users sending communications, usually with daily loose guidelines.
Do your high schools use district messaging or have their own taglines? Do your elementary schools apply the same communication styles or schedules? How many unique logos, fonts, and email signature lines are floating around? Every school develops its own culture and voice. How does the district brand fit in or vice versa?
“Auditing and revamping school or district communications is a fun challenge,” said CEL Content Marketing Coordinator Ashley Winter. “It allows everyone the opportunity to think through the blend of individual school personas and how they fit together to form the greater district organization. Every school is different and has a unique story, but you also need your stakeholders to view each school as a part of a cohesive whole.”
If we step outside of schools, look at Google, which has masterfully branded its individual tools — Gmail. Chrome. Drive. Analytics. etc — consistently with the corporate brand. General Mills has hundreds of cereal brands under the umbrella of the corporate brand. School districts should work to build the same easily recognizable brand.
“It’s possible to infuse your communications with creativity and personality AND maintain brand consistency that builds stakeholder loyalty and trust,” said Ashley, who has seen it done across different industries.
Fostering Buy-In from Stakeholders
When your district brand evolves, including stakeholder input in a refresh will foster trust and loyalty. Without that trust, stakeholders may ignore your efforts — or worse yet, refuse to use your new brand elements. Incorporating community feedback into your process ensures that everyone feels included and has a sense of pride in the evolution of your brand.
Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 (Colorado) used community feedback in their brand enhancement, ensuring their school district stood out in a recognizable, memorable way. The brand incorporated familiar outlines of the local mountain range in graphics. Additionally, FFC8 used light military-themed keywords in messages to create familiarity for their community, which is 70% military-connected. By building an association with community values, their school district cemented its place as the premier option for families in Fountain, Colorado, and surrounding areas.
South Washington County Schools (Minnesota) knew its former brand didn’t connect with students and no longer communicated its values. The district wanted something memorable, meaningful and equitable. Student voices inspired a complete rebrand. SoWashCo Schools: Be Seen. Be Heard. Be Bold. The colorful brand unified four strong high school brands and all 24 schools with common district language and values embraced by staff, students and families.
Salina Public Schools (Kansas) believes relationships are key to enrollment, retention and family satisfaction. Like many school districts, pandemic upsets and declining birth rates meant their projected enrollment numbers dropped. District surveys identified important district differentiators and opportunities, which became key messages. Using a multi-channel aspirational campaign — Greatness Grows Here — school staff prioritized relationships and personal outreach made all the difference. What started as an enrollment campaign evolved into a brand expansion, with new messaging to inspire pride, engage new families, and reattract lost enrollment.
It can be hard to maintain brand consistency when your organization has many content creators. Emails from teachers, updates from the school nurse, newsletters from each principal, Superintendent letters, district podcasts and radio shows, internal staff newsletters and emails. And how many people are updating your website? To help your organization maintain brand consistency (without having to do it all yourself), deploy brand guidelines and create templates. Make them easy to use and customizable for each school.
“Brand guidelines are the first place to start,” recommends Kelly May, CEL design director. “Your brand guidelines are your foundation. They define your visual and verbal communication styles.” Comprehensive brand guidelines include brand goals and values, logos, patterns and other graphic assets, color palette, typography, image guidelines, taglines and often the tone of voice or persona.
“Accessibility is also a key component of our brand guidelines,” said Kelly. “Not only does accessible design ensure everyone can access and interact with your content, but it also reduces confusion and cognitive strain for everyone. For example, using accessible fonts and colors and adding alt-text—it’s not difficult to do, but it’s also very easy to get wrong. Help those within your organization understand why brand guidelines are important and how to easily comply using pre-designed templates.”
WHY SHOULD I ENROLL MY KID IN YOUR SCHOOL?
Families have more choices than ever regarding education options for their children, which means branding, messaging, marketing and design are more important than ever. So what makes you stand out from your competition?
Chances are you have rockstar staff members who can charm anyone with a phone call or school tour, but not all of your potential families are reaching out for information. Your brand is shouldering the work on its own for those people. What story is your brand telling?
A strong brand includes:
- A visual identity that showcases who you are
- Versatility to meet the needs of different tactics and audiences
- Messaging that communicates the values of your organization
- Storytelling that honors the people inside and shines a light on the students you serve
- Enrollment marketing that helps prospective families understand who you are and how to be successful in your schools
- Internal communications that empower staff to be ambassadors of your brand
Pro Tip —Download our Brand Checklist to kickstart your brand audit.
WHO IS IN CHARGE OF BRANDING?
It’s a trick question: no matter what job titles your organization includes, the answer is everyone. Everyone in your school system is responsible for communicating and representing your brand.
- Imagine you’re a family new to the area, and you call to inquire about school enrollment. The person who answers the phone tells you to go to the website to find what you need—and hangs up. What impression of your brand does that leave?
- You’re a community member without kids and only hear from the school system when they ask for money. What impression might you have of the school system?
- Your school system offers a unique experience for students, but your enrollment marketing efforts aren’t moving forward. Are your marketing efforts reaching the wrong audience or not accurately reflecting your brand?
- You’re a new teacher. Your hiring process began with an online application system, and HR managed your hiring and onboarding process. How comfortable are you as a representative of the school or district brand? Can you clearly articulate district differentiators and values? Did your onboarding process align with the values your new district professes to have?
- Helping your internal stakeholders understand and communicate your district brand means that no matter how someone enters your organization—through a phone call, a mailer, as a new family or as a new hire—they’re being met with your brand values and messaging. Ensuring brand consistency means building familiarity and, ultimately, trust and loyalty within your community, clarifying who you are and what sets you apart from the competition, and reaching families that will find success within your organization.
Published on: March 30, 2023